Edited: Paul Chong / 18 November 2014 Source: Forbes/Bloomberg/New York Times/South China Morning Post
Lei Jun, the man dubbed “China’s Steve Jobs”, Xiaomi Founder, Chairman & CEO
Position: Founder, Chairman & CEO, Xiaomi Inc.
Net worth:55.69 billion yuan (US$9.1 billion)
Source of wealth: smartphones
In China Lei Jun is among the top ten richest men & his founding Company
Xiaomi is the hottest Smartphone Company. Quick & progressive it might have another phone coming & it looks gorgeous. It’s the Mi5 phone looking better than the previous Mi4 (pictured below).
The Xiaomi Mi4 was launched in July this year, and it’s interesting to see that the company is already starting the production of the Mi5. In any case, we quite like what the phone is shaping to be.
Next year they’re expecting to sell 100 million of these units, so the Xiaomi Mi 5 may play a big part in the Company’s plan. The unit shown above is very slim and elongated compared to modern flagships and it looks like it could be used easily with one hand. Rumors say we’re going to get a Quad HD screen here, a Snapdragon 805 processor and 3 GB of RAM.
The Mi 5 is expected to be announced in 2015, maybe at some tech show like CES or MWC 2015. This bezel-free approach is getting more and more popular these days, but if you look closely, you’ll see there’s a tiny edge in there, since there’s the screen black and another deeper black on the sides. Also, from what can be seen the body seems to be made of metal.
Xiaomi is one of the buzziest smartphone makers out there today, even though it only sells phones in China and a few other markets in Asia . It recently just passed Samsung to become the No. 1 smartphone maker in China during the second quarter of this year, as research firm Canalys reported.
It’s also the third largest smartphone maker in the entire world in terms of global shipments, according to Bloomberg. That means Xiaomi falls right behind Samsung and Apple, and the company is also believed to be raising money at a $US40 billion valuation, so the company is going to get more and more active as time goes by.
Xiaomi’s Lei Jun gives a briefing, Steve Jobs-style, on a new smartphone Mi4 in Beijing in July, Photo: Kyodo
Lei, worth an estimated US$9.1 billion according to Forbes, was inspired by the late Apple co-founder at an early age. While studying scientific engineering at Wuhan University, Lei read Fire in the Valley, Paul Frieberger and Michael Swaine’s account of the early days of the PC industry and vowed to follow in Jobs’ footsteps.
Xiaomi borrows heavily from Apple’s marketing strategy. For example, Xiaomi’s CEO Lei Jun wears blue jeans, white sneakers, and a black shirt, just like Steve Jobs did. Jun also showed a “One more thing …” slide during Xiaomi’s last product launch, a tactic Apple made famous when it was about to introduce a surprise product.
Xiaomi is the fastest-growing smartphone maker in the world. It makes Android phones with high-end specs that rival what you’d find in other top-tier phones like Samsung’s Galaxy S5 or the iPhone 5S. But Xiaomi sells its smartphones for about half the price.
Xiaomi’s newest flagship will cost about $US320 U.S. It has a 5-inch screen, powerful processor, and really nice design. The Samsung Galaxy S5 costs at least $US600. The iPhone 5S starts at $US649.
“I was greatly influenced by that book, and I wanted to establish a company that was first class,” Lei told The New York Times in 2013. “So I made a plan to get through college fast.”
After leaving university, Lei helped found software developer Kingsoft in 1992, becoming chief executive in 1998 and guiding the company to a successful initial public offering on the Hong Kong stock exchange. While at Kingsoft, Lei was heavily involved in the establishment of Joyo.com, an online bookstore and e-commerce site which was sold to Jeff Bezos’s Amazon.com for US$75 million in 2004. Around that time, Lei became a leading Chinese angel investor, with stakes in online clothing retailer Vancl and video-based social network YY, whose US-traded shares have risen more than three-fold in the past year according to Forbes.
“If Lei’s career stopped after Kingsoft, Joyo, [mobile internet company] UC Web, and YY, he would still be a remarkable entrepreneur and investor,” Hamish McKenzie, author of Beta China: The Dawn of an Innovation Generation told the South China Morning Post. “What he’s doing with Xiaomi however, is likely to be his legacy, and the start the company has got off to already suggests he deserves to be considered in a similar class to Steve Jobs, Larry Page, and Bill Gates.”
Founded in 2010 by Lei and former Google executive Lin Bin, Xiaomi has seen huge success with its cut-price, high-quality smartphones, most of which sell for less than half the price of similar Apple or Samsung devices. This year, Xiaomi led China’s second-quarter smartphone shipment rankings with a 14 per cent market share, according to research firm Canalys, followed by Samsung, Lenovo, and Yulong, each with 12 per cent. In 2013, Xiaomi was valued at more than US$10 billion, on a par with Lenovo, a company with over 10 times as many employees founded a full 26 years earlier.
“Lei Jun is an incredible self promoter and supreme marketer, which is why he and his company get far more attention than other CEOs and companies [making] comparable products,” Young said.
Similar criticisms were levelled at Steve Jobs, once called the “master evangelist of the digital age”.
Lei’s relationship to the late Apple co-founder has not always been idolising. In 2011, he wrote an unusual essay in which he seemed to look forward to Jobs’ impending death, accusing the American of blinding the world with “his light”, adding “we’d rather live in a more colourful world”.
“I’ve said on many different occasions that if I had been called the ‘Steve Jobs of China’ as a 20 year old, I would have been very honoured,” Lei told a crowd at a Xiaomi publicity event in January. “As a 40 year old however, I don’t want to be considered second to anyone.”
At times, Lei has been a fierce critic of Apple. In a recent interview with CNN he accused the company of dictating “what users want” rather than listening to feedback.
Unlike many of its rivals however, Xiaomi has so far struggled to achieve great success outside China. In August 2013, Xiaomi hired former Google executive Hugo Barra, who Lei called the first “true foreigner”, tasked with overseeing the company’s international expansion.
“Barra is the perfect guy to take them overseas,” Hans Tung of GGV Capital, an early Xiaomi investor, told Tech in Asia. Since Barra’s hire, the company has launched in India, Singapore, and the Philippines and is gearing up to enter other major Asian markets as well as Brazil, Mexico and other parts of South America. In April, Xiaomi bought the domain mi.com for a record US$3.6 million, the most expensive domain name ever bought in China, simplifying what some inside the company reportedly saw as one of the biggest hurdles to international expansion: a tricky to pronounce name.
This aggressive push to court non-Chinese consumers has netted Lei an endorsement that must have been dear to the heart of the old Fire in the Valley fan: that of Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak.
“Xiaomi has excellent products, they’re good enough to break the American market,” Wozniak said during a Q&A with Lei at an event in Beijing earlier this year. Asked about similarities to his old firm, he said, somewhat tongue in cheek: “Xiaomi is in a very different age. It’s hard to compare apples to apples.”
Despite its success, Xiaomi has its critics. Apple fans are quick to point out that Xiaomi devices look a lot like Apple’s iPhones and iPads.