Xiaomi’s Lei Jun Shares How His Company Will Take On Apple

To kick off Day Two of TechCrunch Disrupt Beijing, our own Sarah Lacy interviewed Lei Jun — one of the most successful entrepreneurs in China, whose resume includes cofounding Joyo.com (sold to Amazon in 2004), sitting on the board of Kingsoft, and chairing the board of massively popular mobile web browser UCWeb (he’s also made numerous investments in successful Chinese startups).

Most recently, Jun is the founder of Xiaomi Tech, a startup with a very ambitious goal: it wants to take on the likes of Apple in the mobile phone industry, by producing a high quality phone that’s sold at prices significantly below the competition. You’ll find a video of the interview above, and here are some of the highlights:

Asked about the fact that his new company includes many former employees of tech giants, Jun recounted a joke — he said that if he could merge Microsoft, Google, and Motorola, he’d be able to take on Apple. So he went after employees from each of them as he builds a new mobile phone company.

Lacy then asked about the difficulty involved with launching a new phone, which isn’t something many (if any) startups in the US would attempt. Jun pointed out that the Chinese mobile phone market is more open that the US market — unlike the United States, where the phone you use is largely dictated by the carriers, in the Chinese market the phone manufacturer doesn’t need to maintain good relationships with carriers, as consumers can buy and use what they want.

Jun also discussed the long-term strategy for Xiaomi: they’re going to sell their hardware at around cost, then make money through the software, which gets updated every week. The phone sells for 1999 RMB, which is not cheap, but is less expensive than competitors — it’s around $240 in the US. The company has faced unforseen challenges in managing the supply chain (recent floods impacted some suppliers), but Jun says he’s confident they’ll push through them.

Asked whether Jun thought Chinese consumers would favor his phone over, say, Apple, Jun said that he thinks that there will be some sway, but that it won’t be a crucial factor. He points out that half of the OS’s users are international.

Asked about his success as an investor, Jun outlined his strategy. Five years ago, he identified three key areas to invest in: mobile internet, ecommerce, and community/social networks. Those twenty or so investments have proven to do quite well: Jun says that the companies now have over $1 billion cash combined.

Finally, to conclude the interview, Lacy asked Jun about his key advice to entrepreneurs. His answer?

“Do what you want to do. Do what you like to do.”