Everyone in the tech world may find the practice of labeling every up-and-coming creative mind “the next Steve Jobs” a bit tiresome. However, Lei Jun may be one person who is deserving of the moniker. One of the great success stories coming out of the ongoing Chinese tech boom, the meteoric rise of Jun and his company Xiaomi is something for any business leader to behold.
Indeed, Xiaomi currently ranks as the fourth largest smartphone maker in the world, which is all the more impressive considering it has yet to enter the U.S., focusing mainly on China, Malaysia, and Singapore. In addition to this success, Lei Jun is also leading the charge in challenging Western perceptions of Chinese companies and creating a tech ecosystem that turns fans into creators and evangelists. Lei Jun has rejected the “next Steve Jobs” title before, and having seen what he has accomplished, it is clear he is looking to forge his own path.
Who Is Lei Jun?
Lei Jun’s entry into the tech world began in 1992, when he joined Beijing-based software company Kingsoft Corp when it was just another struggling enterprise. But by 1998, he became CEO, and began a companywide transformation through which it became a powerhouse. The main factor behind this change came from the diversification of products – Kingsoft grew from a company focused on word-processing programs to makers of videogames and computer-security software. Jun would also lead the company through its 2007 IPO, which raised nearly $100 million on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. He would leave shortly afterwards before founding Xiaomi in 2010.
From the onset, Lei Jun worked with a number of partners including former Google executive Lei Bin, and focused the company’s production line on smartphones and consumer electronics. Xiaomi operated under one key difference compared to established giants like Samsung and Apple. Instead of showcasing its product line in brick-and-mortar stores, the company focused its sales and distribution exclusively online, and skipped out on traditional advertising in favor of direct social media interactions with its customers. These cost-saving measures enabled Xiaomi to undersell its competitors and gobble up market share in the Chinese market. By 2014, it was valued at $46 billion, making it the most valuable tech start-up in the world.
The Xiaomi Way
In spite of this success in making smartphones, Jun has always maintained that he doesn’t consider Xiaomi to be a smartphone company, but rather an internet company. In a Wired interview, he explained that we should “Think of Xiaomi as a company that is bringing innovation to everyone. We put an emphasis on high-quality products that help to create a connected lifestyle for everyone as we move into a new era of technological innovation.” As such, the company has been a leading force in China of the Internet of Things and smart lifestyle products.
Another driving Xiaomi philosophy is the idea that less is more. “By focusing on making a small number of products, we can be the best at what we do. But when less is more, it means you need other companies to help you do more things,” Jun explains, evidenced by Xiaomi’s aggressive investments into other companies and forging partnerships to co-create new products. This strategy has been a major asset in his mission to challenge some of the stereotypes held about Chinese technology such as the perception that Chinese products are of lower quality, but also that many Chinese creations are lifted from other ideas. One example that Jun cites is WeChat, a messaging app that has grown to incorporate gaming as well as payment and internet services, making it a far more sophisticated service compared to its Western rivals like WhatsApp. In time, he expects that the other countries may begin copying and adopting Chinese offerings.
Today, Xiaomi is building on its momentum by continuing its product line expansion that includes: the Mi series smarphone, Redmi Series, MIUI operating system, MiWiFi network router, MiTV smart TV line, MiBox set-top box, MiCloud cloud storage service, MiTalk messaging service, MiPower Bank external battery, Mi Band fitness monitor & sleep tracker.
However, the dazzling array of products are only part of the story – after years of dominating in its home market, Xiaomi is turning its sights on the emerging markets across the world including Indonesia, the Philippines, Brazil, and most crucially, India. Shortly after making its debut in India, Xiaomi broke a world record for the most mobile phones sold on a single platform in 24 hours.
As one of the premiere forces behind the Chinese tech revolution and a leader of creative disruption, Lei Jun has made an art out of rapid growth in the tech industry – in the not-so-distant future, there may come a time when we refer to the a Western tech innovator as the next Lei Jun.