The fifth anniversary of Apple’s disruptive innovation of the mobile phone market with its launch of the iPhone seems an appropriate time to look at the explosive success of one of its imitators.
US-based media’s fixation on communications platforms – last week’s sale of Yammer to Microsoft for $1.2bn just being the latest – has not extended to its country’s corporate venturing units supporting Xiaomi, a China-based smartphone maker that in less than two years has raised more than $300m and now has a reported $4bn valuation.
The world’s two leading business newspapers, Wall Street Journal and Financial Times (FT), have yet to cover Xiaomi’s $216m series C round that closed last week with undisclosed investors, although earlier investors have included chip maker Qualcomm and IDG Capital, the local corporate venturing unit of US-based publisher International Data Group. Their interest has been part of what the FT last month said was more than 2,000 minority equity stakes in Chinese companies bought by overseas investors over the past decade.
However, in December the FT correctly noted Xiaomi’s $90m B round showed it “does appear to be making impressive early progress. This is a company to watch.”
Xiaomi’s trajectory since launching its first phone, Mi-One, in September has been phenomenal with 300,000 pre-orders in the first 34 hours as the phone, designed by Kingsoft chairman Lei Jun, offers broadly comparable functunality as its peers but at about half the price.
Qualcomm’s investment came after Mi-One chose its Snapdragon S3 chip as its processor, while IDG has legendary status as an investor having effectively created China’s venture capital industry and a powerful model of using its technology news journalists and analysts to spy out trends and growth regions and support portfolio companies.
Depending on where Xiaomi goes from here –and the latest round gives it options to scale, become international and develop its next models – it is not too hard to foresee a time when Apple the disruptor becomes the disrupted of the part of its business making up more than half its revenues (see a nice piece by Mashable on the iPhone’s impact).