You may be familiar with OnePlus and its wide range of OnePlus phones that have been launched over the past four years. You might have also heard that the company has been tagged as the ‘flagship-killer’, which offers high-end smartphone features without breaking the bank.
So, how did OnePlus come about and who is the man behind the rising fortunes of this phone maker? Meet Pete Lau, the founder and CEO of the brand. Unlike a Google, Apple or even Samsung, OnePlus seems to have a better grip of the basics – listening to consumer demands.
This is something Lau has imbibed from his days as vice president at Oppo, where he started off his journey in the industry as a hardware engineer. We take a look at how Pete Lau has been instrumental in shaping his brand and helping it succeed in a highly competitive mobile space.
Always Cared for Detail
Going through the archives of Pete Lau’s interactions with media, it became evident that the man was obsessed with details. This trait of his became famous in tech circles during his time at Oppo when he apparently smashed a Blu-ray player's logic board to express his disappointment about the circuitry design.
Such a trait brings him much closer to Steve Jobs, the man who built Apple as a brand.
Having said that, it’s worth noting that OnePlus is nowhere close to the valuation or scale of Apple, which doesn’t seem to be of concern to Lau just yet. OnePlus was one of the first brands to offer its product with the invite-only model, which was seen as a sign of arrogance by many at that time. As time went by, Lau cleared those rumours by explaining the reason to go for such a sales model.
During our early days, around the launch of OnePlus One, we weren’t sure how many people wanted to buy a phone from a brand which had just entered the space. As things turned out, the demand for our first product exceeded expectations, which is why the invite model worked for us.Pete Lau, founder, OnePlus
After the first success, Lau and Co worked on meeting demand, which was one of his biggest challenges, and this is where his former employer, Oppo, came to the rescue.
Pete is soft-spoken and prefers to converse in his native tongue, which has been the hallmark of other Chinese entrepreneurs like Jack Maa of Alibaba and Lei Jun from Xiaomi.
Mission to Build “the Perfect Smartphone”
Lau never gave a reason for leaving Oppo, except for mentioning that he wanted "to spare no expense" to build "the perfect smartphone”. This is what he wrote on his way out of Oppo.
Over the course of my career, I have worked as a hardware engineer, eventually became the director of the Blu-Ray division and finally led our marketing team through many challenges in our pursuit of creating a great mobile brand. There are a lot of memories I will cherish from my time at Oppo.Pete Lau post
He left Oppo in November 2013 and just a month after that, Lau reached out to the world with his plans to start a new and different brand. One that marries fast, high-end hardware with equally high-end design.
We will create a more beautiful and higher quality product. We will never be different just for the sake of being different.Pete Lau post on The Verge
And from what we’ve seen with OnePlus over the years, Lau has more or less lived up
OnePlus and the BBK Connection
This name might have sprung across the internet many times, but what’s the connection between BBK Electronics and OnePlus? Most reports from global media put OnePlus as a brand owned by BBK Electronics.
BBK Electronics not only owns OnePlus, but it has also got other China-based giants like Oppo and Vivo under its helm.
Unlike Vivo and Oppo, BBK Electronics with help from Lau ensured that OnePlus always stood out in the family, offering premium-ranged products via online channels. This and the product’s standard ensured that OnePlus phones can be sold in the US, UK different parts of Europe and India as well.
OnePlus uses its family links with Oppo for manufacturing of its devices. If you take a look at the OnePlus box, it says designed by OnePlus but manufactured by Oppo. BBK Electronics has been smart in the way it has put three of its brands; Vivo, Oppo and OnePlus on the roadmap.
Lau along with Carl Pei, co-founder, OnePlus have focused on making devices that feature everything that a consumer wants. They even resort to social media for opinion polls on features, and whether OnePlus should offer them.
For instance, they regularly check with the consumers on its forum and Twitter to know if they should retain or remove the audio jack, which Apple and Google have done recently.
“Consumer inputs ensure that we’re able to construct and design a phone that’s not only user-friendly but easy to carry in the hand and even pocket”.
Here, speaking to BloombergQuint, Lau illustrated this point. “After feedback we got for the vibration motor not being effective on the OnePlus 3T, we decided to change that and make it powerful with the OnePlus 5,” he mentioned during the interview which you can watch below.
OnePlus has made rapid strides, attaining over 45 percent market share in the Indian premium phone market (Rs 30,000 and above), where it competes with Samsung and Apple.
With of its focus on a single product (smartphones) and selling via online channels, Lau once said that the margins in his business is much higher, and that helps with future product planning for his team.
OnePlus has recently launched the OnePlus 6 in India and other markets, which is priced much higher (Rs 34,999) than how things started with the OnePlus One (Rs 18,999) few years back.
Does that bother Lau? Well, as long as it continues to churn out powerful phones at below-flagship prices, that endear buyers, nobody’s complaining.