Corporate China

Weibo: Oppo eyes Singapore, Dangdang's Li chases son

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 May, 2014, 4:43pm
UPDATED : Monday, 12 May, 2014, 4:45pm

China's crowded field of smartphone makers is quickly splitting into two camps as companies step out of their overheated home market in search of new growth opportunities. One group of larger, better-funded players like Huawei, ZTE (0763.HK; Shenzhen: 000063) and Lenovo (0992.HK) are choosing bigger, trickier markets like Western Europe and India, where campaigns can be costly but potential rewards are bigger. The second group consists of younger more entrepreneurial firms that are eying smaller emerging markets. The latest member of that group is Oppo Electronics, which is hinting at a launch in Singapore.

Meantime, Li Guoqing, the talkative co-founder of fading e-commerce pioneer Dangdang (NYSE: DANG), spent much of the past week regaling followers with laments about his own shortcomings as a father. I found Li's series of posts about his sputtering relationship with his son both interesting and revealing. The musings, which sound almost desperate at times, hint that perhaps Li's attention is shifting to a neglected personal life as his business empire that was one of China's earliest e-commerce players shows rapid signs of aging.

Let's start our weekly microblogging round-up with Oppo in Singapore, which is rapidly emerging as a preferred starting point for global expansions by China's field of smaller but feistier smartphone makers. The fast-rising Xiaomi was first to eye Southeast Asia for its initial step outside China, with the launch of its phones in Singapore back in February. Just last week rival Vivo announced a similar plan to tap Southeast Asia by moving into Malaysia, Thailand and Myanmar.  

Now Oppo, which makes a wide range of electronics for sale in a number of markets, is hinting at its own big new move into a new market. The campaign is quite vague, and comes in a series of photos relayed by the company's public relations chief Liu Tie on his microblog. The photos show the Oppo logo plastered all over a shopping mall with his accompanying message "Guess where this is?"

I'll admit the photos don't look too country-specific to me, but a number of followers are guessing the promotional materials auger an imminent launch in Singapore, presumably for Oppo's smartphones. Frankly speaking, this kind of move looks like an easy one due to the market's small size. But it also seems just slightly strange, since the market is also very small and quite competitive.

In a series of related posts that show just how competitive Singapore is, Xiaomi co-founder Lin Bin was chattering last week about how quickly his company is expanding its Singapore offices after entering the market earlier this year. Of course Xiaomi probably sees Singapore as more of a base for a broader Southeast Asia expansion, and perhaps Oppo's move into the market -- if it comes -- could auger a similar regional expansion plan.

From the rapidly overheating Southeast Asian smartphone market, let's turn our attention to Dangdang co-founder Li Guoqing, who loves to comment on just about anything on his microblog. I'm personally not a big fan of Li, as I think his current strategy of trying to keep Dangdang independent isn't a good one in China's rapidly consolidating e-commerce sector. But that said, I do have to at least admire him for his dedication to the company he co-founded with his wife more than a decade ago when e-commerce in China was still in its infancy.

Now it seems that Li is starting to realize the years he spent building his company may have hurt his relationship with his son, who is in the US studying. In a very public series of posts, Li laments how each time he sends text messages, his son gives the same simple reply: zhidaole , which translates roughly to "I see". After a week of continual pestering from Li, his son finally responded by calling and asking if his father was feeling ok.  

I'll admit I feel a little sympathy for Li, who is clearly having some regrets that his dedication to Dangdang probably cost him his relationship with his son. That kind of choice is almost a cliche in today's China, where many parents often have to choose between jobs and family and pick the former. But perhaps it hints at a change of focus for Li, who may decide to place less emphasis on Dangdang and pay more attention to neglected personal matters in his life.