TechCrunch Disrupt: Beijing opened its second day with a fireside chat with Lei Jun, the Great Wall Club’s current Chairman, on his experience with Chinese entrepreneurship, his successes, and his most recent venture, the mobile brand Xiaomi. Touted as the “future of Chinese innovation”, Lei Jun is famous for his involvement with Kingsoft and Joyo.cn(now owned by Amazon.com).
Lei reflected briefly on how the introduction of the iPhone changed the market, but was quick to point out that companies like Xiaomi can seize market opportunities by finding the right integration of software, hardware, and the internet. With the right approach, he felt the gap that exists between Western and Chinese brands could be closed, leading Xiaomi to eventually become a Fortune 500 company. In fact, keeping this goal in front of his team has given him the ability to hire top talent and keep them motivated.
Asked if China was ready to have another Fortune 500 consumer product company, Lei Jun discussed Chinese and U.S. market differences and how Xiaomi could succeed. Whereas the U.S. market requires a strong relationship with the telecom operators to reach consumers, the Chinese market is more open to allowing companies like Xiaomi to directly market to buyers via the internet. Building here first, they can then leverage the company abroad.
It was also clear that he did not expect to make money from Xiaomi’s hardware, but instead was focused on software. That said, Xiaomi will continue to press their sourcing and procurement capabilities in order to offer the Chinese market a better phone at a better price.
Asked about the importance of national pride behind Xiaomi, Lei Jun quickly downplayed its importance. While admitting it is a factor in their growth, it is not the most crucial. He believes the ability to bring top-of-the-line hardware combined with MIUI and more China-oriented functionality like MIchat, seasonal greetings, and photo-editing features will enable success. Leveraging previous experience with internet marketing and the internal ability to update software weekly based on user-feedback was also cited as important.
Regarding his own differences with Angel investors in the West, Lei Jun remarked on the amount of the time he spends developing his investments from the initial idea to established company, almost to the point of being a co-founder. He attributes much of his investment success through his ability to foresee the development of mobile internet, e-commerce, and social networking, with 20 of his companies invested in these three areas.
In closing, Lei offered the straightforward advice for aspiring entrepreneurs in China of doing what you want to do and doing what you like to do. Once you find that, you’ll have the motivation and passion to succeed.