OnePlus founder Pete Lau sets sights on becoming global smartphone brand

Pete Lau believes top design and keen pricing can make his smartphones the 'next big thing'

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 February, 2015, 1:44am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 February, 2015, 1:44am

OnePlus' office in Shenzhen has all the vibe of an edgy start-up and the associated perks - table-top soccer, billiards, a gymnasium and even a company dog named Una.

Founder Pete Lau does not have his own corner office. Instead he sits at a desk with the employees and, unlike other Chinese bosses, insists that colleagues address him by his first name.

"My colleagues call me Pete or brother Hu. I like that. I've been to the offices of Facebook and Twitter, I like their corporate culture. And we've adopted a similar one here," Lau said.

A graduate of one of China's top universities, Lau was a latecomer to the world of smartphones. He began his career as an engineer in 1998 at Oppo, a Guangdong-based electronics manufacturer, spent the next 14 years making high-end DVDs and rose to be vice-president.

He only paid attention to smartphones in 2012 when he was made head of Oppo's phone marketing division. But a year later, he and four colleagues quit Oppo to launch their own start-up, OnePlus.

"The smartphone has a much bigger impact. It's something everyone needs. So to make an influential brand globally, nothing is better than smartphones," Lau said.

Lau decided to venture out because he was dissatisfied with the phones on the market, and he was certain he could make high-quality phones at a modest price despite the domestic competition from giants such as Xiaomi, Huawei and Lenovo.

"For 2,000 yuan, there are many phones on the market. But none met my standards. I felt I could make a much better product at that price. That was how I saw my opportunity," Lau said.

So, with his knowledge in hardware and love for design, Lau focused on delivering on both these fronts.

On his obsession with design detail, he revealed: "Our release date of OnePlus One was postponed for more than 20 days because the screen was bigger by 0.1 millimetres than originally designed. Most users wouldn't feel it, but I felt uncomfortable with it so we decided to change it and delay the release."

"We have very big dreams and want to be the next big thing," Lau added.

But Lau declined to reveal who his investors were and brushed off rumours that OnePlus was an offshoot of Oppo. "That suggestion is ridiculous. Just because we have some investors who also invest in Oppo, they say we are still the same company. But these investors also have stakes in Apple - are we the same company as Apple?", he said.

With a talented and diverse young team from different parts of the world, Lau has set his sights on building a global brand.

"Smartphone users are predominantly young. Young people understand the demands better," said Lau, who turns 40 this year but believes it is important to have a "90s worldview", referring to those born in the 1990s. He founded the company with Carl Pei, who is 15 years his junior.

"Many of our foreign colleagues came to work for us at reduced salaries here because they think we are doing something meaningful," Lau said.

Lau was born in 1975 in a village in Hubei . Another big name from the same province is Xiaomi founder and CEO Lei Jun, who was also an engineer.

But that is about the only comparison Lau will entertain, as he said firmly he did not want to dwell on competition as it could be distracting. Rather, he wants to focus on building the OnePlus brand. "We want to be different and let others emulate us. When we first talked about the feel of the phone, no one cared. But now every maker is talking about feel. Isn't that better?"