Chinese entrepreneur Lei Jun is best known for founding a certain 2010 startup that has taken the Chinese smartphone market by storm over the past few years. Xiaomi is now the single largest smartphone manufacturer in the country, and is reportedly valued at over $45 billion. Having attained a somewhat cult status in Chinese tech-circles, the company has expanded its operations beyond its borders in recent times with resounding success. Few people however, are aware of Mr. Lei’s rise to the top of the tech industry. As expected, it started long before Xiaomi was even a glint in Mr. Lei’s eyes – as far back as 1992 to be precise, according to a new interview of the founder and CEO of Xiaomi.
It all started with Kingsoft, the makers of Kingsoft Office Suite, a software suite containing Writer, Presentation and Spreadsheets (WPS), thereby competing with Microsoft’s Office Software suite which offers Word, PowerPoint and Excel in the same categories. Mr. Lei said, he joined the software maker back in 1992, just three years after the company was founded. He was fresh out of college and the long hours he put into the job was an early indicator of his ambition, drive and determination, which initially earned him the nickname “model worker” and eventually led him to the corner office at the company in just five years’ time. However, with rampant software piracy in the country, the company found it difficult to catch traction, and turned its attention towards e-commerce, launching Jojo.com in 1998. The e-commerce venture however would be sold to Amazon six years later, in 2004. Three years further down the line, after 15 years working for Kingsoft and 10 years as its leader, Mi. Lei quit Kingsoft, after the company launched its IPO and started trading publicly on the Hang Seng Index in Hong Kong.
Looking to explain his decision of leaving the company he’d worked so diligently to build from the ground up, Mr Lei said, he was beginning to appreciate that at Kingsoft, his dreams of founding a global company would probably remain just that. He knew he had to get out and think bigger. “By 2007, I thought the software era in China was already finished. We had entered the Internet era”, said Mr. Lei. By 2011, a year after Xiaomi became a reality, Mr. Lei returned to Kingsoft as its Chairman, and till this day, remains the company’s single largest shareholder. While running a company the size of Xiaomi on a daily basis would be challenging enough for most people, Mr. Lei takes an active interest in the corporate strategy of Kingsoft, in addition to fulfilling his daily obligations at Xiaomi as its CEO. It was under his guidance, that Kingsoft shifted focus from PC software to mobile applications, and launched its cloud computing services for its enterprise customers, thereby taking on industry leader Alibaba – China’s largest technology company. Kingsoft has also predictably, worked in close association with Xiaomi, and has seen its share-price double in a short space of time.
Speaking on his working relationship with Mr. Lei, Kingsoft CEO Mr. Zhang Hongjiang said that a meeting between the two of them last year convinced him “to go all-in cloud”. He also credits Mr. Lei for the company’s change in strategy of developing for the mobile internet. Mr. Zhang however, refused to divulge Kingsoft’s revenues from its cloud-based services, but claimed the unit is on course to triple its revenues from last year. He also let it be known that Xiaomi is the company’s single largest cloud customer. According to earnings reports announced publicly as part of Kingsoft’s compliance as a publicly traded company, the company’s quarterly revenues rose 64% year-on-year in Q1, 2015 to 1.1 billion Yuan ($177.4 million), and revenues for the entire calendar year 2014 grew 54% to 3.4 billion Yuan ($550 million).