• Sat
  • Aug 2, 2014
  • Updated: 4:49pm
Corporate China
PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 April, 2014, 3:22pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 April, 2014, 9:24am

Weibo: Xiaomi's strange name, Tesla's Musk charms techies

BIO

Doug Young has lived and worked in China for 15 years, much of that as a journalist for Reuters writing about Chinese companies. He currently lives in Shanghai where he teaches financial journalism at Fudan University. He writes daily on his blog, Young’s China Business Blog (www.youngchinabiz.com), commenting on the latest developments at Chinese companies listed in the US, China and Hong Kong. He is also author of a new book about the media in China, “The Party Line: How the Media Dictates Public Opinion in Modern China.”
 

I've become a fan of smartphone sensation Xiaomi over these past two years, not because I actually own one of their phones but because I'm continually amazed at how good the company is at manipulating the media and general public to create buzz around its products. So I was somewhat puzzled and even a bit disappointed to read about the company's choice of English name for its new global brand, which included a hefty price tag to purchase the relevant Internet domain.

Meantime, another master of buzz was also well represented in the microblogging realm, as Elon Musk, CEO of electric car sensation Tesla (Nasdaq: TSLA), won kudos and praise from many of the tech world's top executives. Last but not least was a quirky microblog post from an executive at fading smartphone maker HTC (Taipei: 2498), showing that Edward Snowden was quite the common man. The HTC executive revealed the US intelligence super-leaker opted for super-cheap accommodations and dined on ordinary fast food during his brief stay in Hong Kong last year.

Let's start our weekly microblogging round-up with Xiaomi, whose officials were buzzing about their recently acquired Internet domain mi.com, which will serve as the company's main platform as it tries to go global. The site itself is still all in Chinese, and all queries to its original domain at xiaomi.com are now re-directed to mi.com. Launch of this new domain comes as Xiaomi announced plans last week to enter 10 global markets, following a Singapore launch in April that became its first debut in a non-Chinese speaking market

Xiaomi executives including co-founder Lin Bin were all buzzing about the mi.com purchase, which carried a hefty price tag of $3.6 million (HK$28 million). Vice president Li Wanqiang speculated the figure was the highest price every paid for an Internet domain by a Chinese company. I expect that's probably true, though my bigger question to Xiaomi's executives is: Why this name?

The choice of Mi as its global brand name isn't a huge surprise. Xiaomi gave its main low-cost model, known as hongmi in Chinese, the English name of Red Mi during the Singapore launch last month. Still, this Mi moniker, which means "rice" in Chinese, will mean nothing to most people outside China. Something with "rice" in the name would have been much catchier, or at least the name "Me" or "Mee" instead of "Mi". But now that it's paid such a big price for the name, the world will just have to digest this fast-rising Chinese company under the new Mi brand.

From Xiaomi let's turn to Elon Musk, who was all over the headlines in China last week as his company delivered its first Tesla cars to eight Chinese buyers on the sidelines of the country's biggest auto show happening in Beijing. It was hard to avoid Musk during that time, as his visage and quotes were present in just about every print and broadcast media that I follow during his trips to Beijing and Shanghai.

Musk was also all over the microblogging realm, as his visit became the subject of posts from numerous tech executives. Lenovo (0992.HK) vice president Wei Jianglei said he and company CEO Yang Yuanqing went to hear a dialogue featuring Musk and CCTV host Chen Weihong. He commented how Musk was the quintessential Silicon Valley executive, expressing his thoughts clearly and logically while maintaining a soft-spoken demeanor. Qihoo 360 (NYSE: QIHU) CEO Zhou Hongyi also had plenty of praise to offer, and executives from a wide range of other tech companies, including Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT), Sohu (Nasdaq: SOHU) and Sungy Mobile (Nasdaq: GOMO) were all full of similar admiration.

We'll end this weekly round-up with the quirkier revelation about Edward Snowden that came from Lu Jianshen, head of HTC's operations in Hong Kong. Anyone who thought that Snowden might be a paid spy might have to revise their opinion after reading Lu's post, which said that the American stayed at the divey Chunking Mansions and ate at McDonalds during his brief stay in Hong Kong a year ago. Lu doesn't say where he got the information; but based on Snowden's scruffy appearance and scrawny physique, I wouldn't be at all surprised if he did stay at Chunking Mansions and dine at McDonalds, which are both popular in Hong Kong among budget travelers.

To read more commentaries from Doug Young, visit youngchinabiz.com

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