Ask people in China to name the country’s most successful and innovative new mobile phone brand and most will immediately declare Xiaomi. Ask tech-savvy Americans and Europeans and they will just as quickly suggest OnePlus. Though largely still unknown in China, Shenzhen-headquartered OnePlus, established less than 18 months ago, has achieved more success more quickly in US and European markets than any other Chinese mobile phone company. It is also possibly the China’s most successful start-up since Xiaomi was established five years ago.
OnePlus, by my estimate, has now joined the most exclusive club in the technology world, a “unicorn”, meaning technology start-ups with a valuation of over $1 billion. Other Chinese unicorns besides Xiaomi are China’s Uber, Kuaidi Dache and group buying site Meituan. Unlike those other Chinese companies, OnePlus has not yet raised any money from venture capitalists. OnePlus is also the only truly international Chinese unicorn, since most of its sales and growth are outside China.
With just a tiny amount of capital, mainly contributed by its two founders, Pete Lau and Carl Pei, the company began selling its phones little more than a year ago in late April 2014. Its 2014 full-year revenues were $300mn, well behind Xiaomi’s $12 billion. But, unlike Xiaomi, OnePlus chose to focus its efforts on the US, Western Europe and India. In these places, OnePlus is doing far better than Xiaomi, and is now considered a legitimate competitor to major international Android phone brands like Korea’s Samsung (SSNLF), Taiwan’s HTC (HTCXF), Japan’s Sony (SNE) and America’s Google Nexus (GOOG). OnePlus is cheaper than these others, but that doesn’t seem to be the main reason its winning customers as well as enthusiastic reviews from experts. It’s mainly because of the quality of both OnePlus’s hardware and Android software.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the One Plus phone is “exceptional” and it “beats Apple iPhone 6 and Samsung Galaxy S5 in many ways.” The New York Times has called the OnePlus phone “fantastic, about the fastest Android phone you can buy, and its screen is stunning “. Time Magazine chimed in with OnePlus is “exactly how a smartphone should be.” Engadget, the widely-read US technology blog, recently rated the best phones to buy in the US. Oneplus came out on top. That’s certainly a first for a Chinese brand.