Pete Lau: Chinese premium smartphone maker OnePlus has made India its second headquarters

Chinese premium smartphone maker OnePlus has made India its second headquarters hiring not just local talent but even exporting talent from across the globe. The company’s founder and CEO Pete Lau told ET in an exclusive interaction in the company’s headquarters at Shenzhen in China that the online focussed brand is also making India the test market for offline experience zones. Lau says India’s rapid economic rise and technology evolution has happened at a faster pace than China making it the biggest bet for OnePlus .Edited excerpts.

How big is the Indian market for OnePlus?
The Indian market contributes around 40% of our total revenue making it the biggest followed by our entire European operations. In the past four years, we have built a relatively good brand foundation in the market with our users passionate about the brand. And now we are now targeting the premium smartphone market. In the coming three years, this segment of the market will undergo a substantial increase which will help us positively.

Samsung is launching a lot of models in the premium segment and iPhones are getting discounted. What is your take on competition in India?
According to the latest IDC data, OnePlus is ranked at the third place in India at the $400-plus smartphone market after Samsung and Apple and we are really grateful to the Indian consumers for this. Our core strategy is to offer the best product regardless of the market scenario which will help us to win further.

OnePlus has one offline experience store and two offline kiosks in India. Any plans to expand them?
It is really important for us to set up some touch points for users to experience OnePlus. Hence, the experience stores are important. In India, our core users are living in the top ten cities so that allows us to easily copy and replicate the experience zones to other cities. These are company managed but owned by partners. But currently we do not have plans to do this outside of India since we are using the India experience as a global trial.

Is OnePlus looking at opening company-owned stores in India the way Apple wants to?
We are open to look at other business models for these experience stores or touch points but our core objective is to offer the touch and feel option. For that, OnePlus is open to find the best methodology for these stores. So while Apple wants to sell, our first objective is to give experience. We are looking for best way to have our offline presence in India. So our first experience store at Bengaluru also does some sales, but a lot of users also go to see the phones.

Would OnePlus transform into a digital first company with some offline presence rather than just being an online brand?
Digital first is a beneficiary business model for us to try out even in the Europe. We have partnered with the biggest telecom carrier in Finland, Elisa, whereby we have created OnePlus touch points in their retail stores. This has already made OnePlus the best seller there. We are doing similar partnership in UK too.

You had done initial manufacturing in India couple of years back. The eco-system has evolved since then with tax benefits under Make in India. Would you look at re-starting manufacturing in India?
So we have not been looking at the best manufacturing practises in India. For us, it is important which partner can offer the best built quality. If we manufacture, the benefits are same in India whether it is done through a partner or by us directly. But as of now, we have no plans to manufacture.

The Indian government recently gave a notice to all smartphone manufacturers on concerns about privacy, data leakage, security and the notice has come to OnePlus too. What will be your response?
We don’t regard this as a top concern for our brand since our products are sold in major countries in the globe where security is regarded as top priority. The issue is very sensitive in markets like Europe and North America where we are focussing a lot. In fact, this is what we offer to our users as part of owning the brand. We are not really worried about that. We respect the Indian government and their concerns, and we will cooperate as required.

Since you said about co-operation, in case the government wants you to set up servers or cloud storage facilities in India, would you look at that?
Currently, we have not received any direct request or requirement to build these up. We are also trying to get more clarity on this.

Any plans to move ahead from being the third largest to the coveted top two spots in Indian premium smartphone market?
For OnePlus, the priority is not to sell volume in India. Instead, we want to become the top-of-the-mind Android smartphone brand. So, couple of years later when Indian users want to think of Android phone, OnePlus should be the best one and their natural choice. Since our business is currently driven by e-commerce, volume will not be that big.

Any investment plans or go-to-market strategy you can share to make the brand top-of-the-mind recall?
India is always one of the primary market for us and we regard India as our second headquarters. In past few years, we hired a lot of Indian talent and also export our employees from China and other countries to build the team there. So we are continuously investing in India. It is not easy to get top-of-the-mind recall in India and hence we have to invest a lot.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has been talking about India as what China was ten years back. Where do you see India as compared to China?
In certain degree, India can be regarded what China was ten years ago in terms of economic foundation and GDP. But India is skipping over some phases, like it has done the PC era while China went through the whole circle. Indian consumers are using a lot of mobile network and the smartphone is getting utilised. This development is really fast. We are looking at how we can get on that train and seize the opportunity.

The gap between India and China in terms of internet services has been shortened drastically over the past year or so. For instance, cab aggregator service Ola and online food delivery services in India are like China currently. We are confident how India will shape up in the future. What surprises me is the development of e-commerce in India. E-commerce in China has gone through 20 years of development, while in India it is like what China was two years back.

Are you looking at partnering with telecom operators in India?
We actually have been in conversation with Reliance Jio sometime back and did some software and network testing with them. Ever since they started their 4G services, the development has been impressive. We are looking at opportunities for partnership to go to the market.

Since OnePlus is only into smartphones, what are the other technology brands you use personally or admire?
While I am using Apple laptop, I am increasingly trying to use OnePlus for everything. Even couple of years back, you would need an MP3 player, camera, iPad, cellphone, laptop and even a desktop computer. But now OnePlus serves most of my needs, and a laptop is only there in the office. The phone screen is getting bigger and bigger which has replaced the iPad to deal with business stuff. I don’t think the time is very far when consumers can even fully replace the laptop with their smartphone.

Source link