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SPARK OF THE CORPORATE

Not long ago, a Chinese smartphone start up was all over the internet with glowing reviews for its first product which could be bought without breaking your bank, with comparable features and quality with smartphones that costs double or more. Pete Lau, CEO of smartphone start-up OnePlus came up with a smartphone better, cheaper and custom made to what customers want than anything offered by competitors.

And if you think handling English effortlessly is a must for being a successful global entrepreneur, you have one more reason to admire the CEO of this hottest smartphone of the town which is making giant ripples in the industry - Pete Leu doesn't speak English. What is important is believing in yourself, sustaining and taking the path you’ve set for yourself and focusing on your vision.

Technology always fascinated Pete. He did not throw party with his first salary; rather he got himself a pager. He followed the developments in tech world since young. He couldn't stop himself when the first generation iPhone was launched. He immediately got one even though it couldn't be used in China. He wanted to play around with it.

A decade and a half with Oppo...

Pete Lau began his career in 1998 as a hardware engineer in Oppo Electronics, where he developed the passion for electronic products, especially the design side of it. Over the years, Pete rose through various positions and became the director of Oppo's Blu-ray division. This hardware engineer later turned out to be the head of marketing team and then got elevated as the Vice President of the company. During his reign as the VP, he spearheaded to bring Cyanogen Mod in the android operating system on Oppo N1 smartphone.

The turning point...

It was 2013 and the smartphone market was emerging and was slowing moving into everyday life from being a luxury gadget. Peter Lau and his then fellow Oppo-er, Carl Pei were never satisfied with the mobile phone industry. The flaws made them look deeper and wanted to work towards the same. One of the main issues they found was the higher price of the premium smartphones. They eventually quit their jobs at Oppo to start something on their own and cofounded OnePlus in December 2013.

The OnePlus journey..

Sitting in a cafe on an evening, the OnePlus team, which was five in number then, poured out their ideas and experiences about smartphones and brainstormed on building an efficient Android phone. It was quite striking that most of them were using an iPhone though. It made them think why and listed out the reasons. They instantly realised what was missing in the market and saw an opportunity to build a great Android device with good built quality, attention to detail and a beautiful design. Thus was born their first product, OnePlus One.

With his knowledge in hardware and love for design, he dug deeper and it pointed that a Flagship Killer device can be created at a much affordable price than what the competitors charged. Unlike the rest in the market, they focussed on the product and on giving positive long term user experiences. In April 2014, OnePlus made its debut in the smartphone market breaking the duopoly of Apple and Samsung by launching OnePlus One internationally, which was a huge hit.

After the success of OnePlus One, this company which thinks outside the box grew exponentially world wide launching high quality smartphones OnePlus 2, OnePlus X, OnePlus 3, OnePlus 3T and OnePlus 5 with simplistic, user-friendly designs at an affordable price, which were all well received. Time and again, OnePlus proves that there is no reason that a smartphone should come with exorbitant price tags.

In a matter of four years, Pete Leu took the start up with five employees in a tiny space to a global brand with a talented and diverse young team of six hundred employees from different parts of the world serving 42 countries with its headquarters in Shenzhen, the electronics manufacturing hub of China. However, he takes customer feedback very seriously. He says it is only by listening and tuning in to their real needs that the best smartphone experience can be provided. The team is always active on the user forums with eyes and ears wide open to provide phones with high end specs without high end price tags. On asked if the company would expand to other products like tablets or smartwatches, Pete replied with confidence that, if you have a OnePlus smartphone, you wouldn't need anything else!

Notes from marketing...

Instead of selling the smartphone through the retail stores, OnePlus initially took the online invite only route, which was eventually discarded. They went by the logic that if you find a good phone, you will definitely recommend it to your family and friends. Though the critics called the approach as “maddening” and the phone as “the best smartphone that you can't buy”, the smart brains behind the smartphone proved them all wrong by selling 1.5 million phones globally by end of the year. It went ahead to become the most talked about phone of the year disrupting the smartphone industry. What's even more surprising is that the company did not shell much on marketing. The company grew through word of mouth publicity converting customers to brand advocates, avoiding middlemen and by providing high value for the money paid by its customers. Taking the e-commerce route, they could offer the first product at a price half of the like from Samsung and a third of that from Apple. The attention to detail and the design made the phone unique and stand out. With hardly any marketing budget, it turned to it's customers spread the word. Well, a great product will sell itself without any individual marketing, they say!

Obsession to detailing and perfection...

Pete is known for his obsession to design detail. True to the company's philosophy, Never Settle, Pete settles for nothing less than the best. "Our release date of OnePlus One was postponed for more than 20 days because the screen was bigger by 0.1 millimetres than originally designed. Most users wouldn't feel it, but I felt uncomfortable with it so we decided to change it and delay the release", he says. OnePlus One has gone through 36 revisions in a month's time. He has also spent over three months getting the curvature of OnePlus 3’s back just right to make it feel good in the hands.

Hiccups in the Indian market...

Not unlike any other successful business, OnePlus had to go through a lot of controversies globally. Indian market was no different. On his visit to India, Pete was surprised to find that many Indians had already laid their hands on OnePlus One even before it was launched in India. The concept certainly attracted many. But before the company could celebrate it's success in its second biggest market outside China, it had to start its legal battle as Delhi High Court banned the sale in the country as Micromax, an Indian competitor litigated the same claiming themselves to have the exclusivity to sell phones with cyanogen mod software in India. However, the ban was lifted later and OnePlus then came up with custom Rom called Oxygen OS, a version of the Android operating system for its future devices.

A word to the future entrepreneurs...

His two cents to the upcoming entrepreneurs is - If you are an entrepreneur, it is expected that you will be lonely at the top. In a company no matter what position you are at, there is always somebody holding up the sky for you. But when you are the only one holding up the sky, there is a lot of pressure.

Like many new generation CEOs, Pete Leu who does not have his own office cabinet office sits at a desk with his employees and insists that they address him by his first name. Pete is never actually off the CEO's shoes. When not at work, he is hooked to Pinterest, browsing through the designs.

Quotes

Decide if your product should be just good enough or of top quality.
When you start a company, it’s not only about yourself, but the people around you, your family, your friends. I didn’t want to let them down and that’s what kept me striving.
It is very easy to be famous but very hard to be respected.
We will never be different just for the sake of being different. Everything done has to improve the actual user experience in day-to-day use.
We want our users to be part of this company, to grow with us as a company, to share experiences with us. It's not 'my' brand -- it's 'our' brand. They're more than customers -- we're growing up together. We create together.

Hope readers caught up the spark …

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