What Every Company Can Learn From Xiaomi

I've mentioned a couple of times the rising Chinese star Xiaomi, which could well become the leading manufacturer of Android-based smartphones worldwide if it manages to carry on as it has begun. In another sign of its global ambitions, it held a press conference in the US last week:

Xiaomi’s Hugo Barra, vice president of international for the company, announced at a press event in San Francisco Thursday that it plans to launch its e-commerce website in the U.S. and other international markets soon to start selling accessories like its fitness band, power banks and other accessories.

That might seem rather strange, but apparently localising MIUI, its Android variant, is a non-trivial process. That sounds like some unfortunate design decision were made, but another recent article gives an insight into why Xiaomi has risen to such dizzy heights in the fiercely-competitive smartphone market:

One chief difference between Xiaomi and its better-known rivals Apple and Samsung is how involved its users are, said Hugo Barra, vice president of global. "We have higher engagement with our fans through our own media network than through [popular Chinese social network] Weibo, by like two times," Barra said.


The Mi Forum, which serves owners of Xiaomi branded devices and the company's MiUI (pronounced "mee-you-eye") version of Android, has 40 million users, [Xiaomi's co-founder and president] Lin said.

That is an impressive number for a company that's only been around for four years. What's more, these users show their dedication by posting photos of themselves with Xiaomi products and participating in frequent contests. One group of friends went as far as creating a rap video almost 4 minutes long dedicated to the company's wares.

To a certain extent, this mirrors the kind of loyalty that Apple users show to the company, but it goes well beyond that. In particular, Xiaomi draws on suggestions from users to help it add new features to future products:

Since Xiaomi relies on social media networks and its own forums and events to spread the word among its customers, it doesn't have to pay for pricey advertising campaigns.

Of course, all of this should sound extremely familiar to readers of this column, since it is precisely how open source works in terms of using direct feedback to determine future features, and turning users into a powerful and free marketing force. It's particularly interesting because it gives the lie to companies that routinely claim that they "listen" to customers. Xiaomi shows what listening really looks like: it integrates customers tightly into its development and marketing processes using open source techniques. Every company - whether or not it produces software - can learn from this approach, and its evident success in the case of Xiaomi.

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