China's Xiaomi marshals army of start-ups to build online catalogue of tech products

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 August, 2015, 8:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 June, 2018, 3:17pm

Chinese smartphone powerhouse Xiaomi is looking to expand its circle of start-up partners as the company strives to bring a greater variety of smart, connected devices to its customers around the world.

“We have so far backed 50 start-ups — all in China — that are building hardware products, in many cases with a software component, and then sell them online,” Hugo Barra, global vice-president at Xiaomi, said at the Converge technology conference in Hong Kong on Thursday.

“We have audio products, security cameras and many more to come … primarily focused on technology products for your life,” he added.

Founded in Beijing in 2010, Xiaomi is also a start-up. But it is the world’s most valuable start-up, worth an estimated US$45 billion after it raised US$1.1 billion in funding from investors in December last year.

In a report last Wednesday, research firm Strategy Analytics said Xiaomi was the world’s fourth-biggest supplier of mobile phones in the second quarter. 

It shipped 19.8 million handsets, including 3G and 4G smartphones, to gain a 4.6 per cent global market share.

Data released early last week by research firm IDC said Xiaomi was the fourth-biggest supplier of smartphones in the same period.

Barra pointed out that Xiaomi’s strategy, compared with many of its Chinese and global competitors, included internet services. That is why the company also sells its own advanced home routers.

“The router is sort of the heart of your home when it comes to connecting to different products,” he said.

That strategy has sharpened its focus on growing its portfolio of products with the help of innovative start-up partners, such as headphones specialist 1More and external battery pack maker Zimi.

"These are companies we backed from the beginning and in some cases, as with 1More, we actually put the company together,” Barra said.

These partners are also connected to Xiaomi’s own supply chain of parts makers and contract manufacturers. Barra said this means “they have access to the best components at the possible prices”.

“We also hook them up to our design team, so they have the best-looking products,” he said.

Products from 1More and Zimi, for example, were sold by Xiaomi earlier this year when it launched its online Mi store in the United States and Europe.

Xiaomi is also keen to work with other major technology start-ups. It recently started a collaboration with mobile ride-hailing app pioneer Uber.

Uber last Friday started delivering online orders of Xiaomi's flagship Mi Note smartphone in Hong Kong and Taipei, following a similar cooperation in Singapore early last week.