Many have addressed Lei Jun as the Steve Jobs of China.
To some extent the statement is legitimate, as Lei Jun, widely-known as the founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Xiaomi (HKEX: 1810) spawned a new era in China’s smartphone market since 2011 by offering affordable flagship smartphone products that come with its own Android-based but deeply-customized operating system MIUI, just like how Steve Jobs rocked the world with Apple’s iPhone and iOS.
Furthermore, just like how Jobs built Pixar Animation Studio beside his greatest accomplishment of Apple, Lei is a successful CEO outside of the smartphone and IoT company: he chaired Kingsoft for over 30 years and led the software company to three IPOs for its businesses including Kingsoft (HKEX: 03888), Kingsoft Office (SHA: 688111), and Kingsoft Cloud (NASDAQ: KC).
In fact, in the newly-published biography of Xiaomi, Walk the Line, Lei himself had admitted that Steve Jobs’ story was his initial inspiration to create a “multinational technology corporation” when he was a university student.
Lei even mimicked Jobs’ style, opting for a simple shirt and jeans every time he gets on the stage for a Xiaomi product launch event, which is also in an Apple event style.
However, Lei can be more than just the Steve Jobs of China, for he’s also a well-established investor. Since 2005, Lei Jun himself has invested in a total of 30 businesses, among which two have gone public, three, including app designer RIGO, e-book reader Duokan, and game developer Wali (rebranded as Mi Entertainment now), have been acquired by Xiaomi, one, browser UCweb, by Alibaba, while nine firms have raised their Series C round or later, according to data provided by ITjuzi to KrASIA.
In 2011, Lei Jun set up venture capital fund Shunwei. Many leading internet businesses today can be found in Shunwei’s 445 portfolio companies: from long video streaming platform iQiyi (NASDAQ: IQ), electric vehicle maker Nio (NYSE: NIO), Xpeng Motor, to information distributor Qutoutiao, and AI computer vision firm Cloudwalk.
Shunwei ranked 18th on Hurun’s list of the most active unicorn investor in 2019.
Lei’s success in investment not just provides sufficient cash flow for Xiaomi, but also helps pave the way for the gadget maker to gain advantages in product variety and supply chain support.
In 2013, Xiaomi unveiled its plan to invest in 100 hardware companies over a five-year period to develop a diverse internet of things (IoT) product portfolio. Many of the products sold under the name of Mi (Xiaomi’s IoT brand) today were results of Lei’s investments, acquisitions, and mergers over the years.
For example, Huami, the supplier of Mi Band smartwatches, has received funds from Shunwei and Xiaomi since its Series A round in 2014, as per ITjuzi’s data.
In addition, among the many domestic mobile phone manufacturers, Xiaomi has been the most active in investing in the supply chain. According to Lei Jun, Xiaomi Industry Fund has put money in more than 70 semiconductor and intelligent manufacturing companies, in order to enrich the capabilities of its smartphone chips and smart home appliances.
While Lei Jun has cultivated a diverse business empire, Xiaomi remains far behind Apple in terms of international influence.
After winning a sizeable chunk of the market in China in 2015, the Beijing-based smartphone maker was surpassed by Huawei in the next year. Competition intensified when Xiaomi was undercut by Oppo and Vivo’s entrance into the affordable flagship smartphone market.
Coming into 2020, the souring India-Sino relationship has cast an even thicker shadow on Xiaomi, as growing calls for boycotts against Chinese products could damage Xiaomi’s largest overseas market.
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While canceling the 10th-anniversary events of Xiaomi due to the COVID-19, the 50-year-old CEO delivered a three-hour-long online speech earlier this month to the public, summarizing the company’s achievements in the past while pledging USD 1.44 billion into R&D this year.
Furthermore, he set up an official channel on Bilibili, Chinese youngsters’ favorite long video site, and opened livestreaming sessions on short-video app Douyin, to get close to the consumers and to sell more Xiaomi’s products.
Different from some other tech tycoons of the country who would rather keep a low-key profile and keep their distance from the public, Lei is a widely-known KOL among netizens, thanks to the approachable image he has built over the years through social media interaction, humor and self-mocking.
Up till today, his Bilibili account, with just five uploaded videos, has gained more than 1.1 million fans, making him one of the top bloggers of the site. While his maiden livestreaming show on Douyin broke the app’s sales record.
Looking ahead into the next ten years of Xiaomi, Lei Jun put forward a theme of ”restart entrepreneurship”, suggesting that both the company and himself reignite the passion of founding a business.
As a serial entrepreneur and investor himself, to regain the zeal of founding a company is not difficult for Let Jun, but how to lead Xiaomi out of its current market share dip and rebuild the growth momentum it used to have, remains a challenge.