5 Things Apple Can Learn From Xiaomi

Speaker phone

For its October 8 edition, The Wall Street Journal interviewed Lei Jun, founder of Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi. I saved the article because Jun made a number of important points for Internet companies generally:

1. Selling things for free

Lei alluded to the concept of an "Internet thought process," in which users see the Web as inherently free. Therefore, sell products "as close to the cost of materials as possible" and make money from selling add-on services, such as apps, movies and accessories.

2. Have a mascot for your brand

Xiaomi has a rabbit. You can pick your own mascot. But you should have a physical, visual symbol that is accessible to fans. Another company, Sweet Frog (yogurt), does something similar through selling their distinctive frogs.

3. Include users in the design

Users are in the best position to know how well the product is working and they feel a sense of engagement when you let them into the design process, says Lei. This is not exactly a new idea conceptually, but letting people into the operating system of a smartphone takes things to another level. Lei also makes the point that allowing users to participate in the design means they will serve as brand ambassadors.

4. Don't be afraid to copy what works

Lei emulates the late Steve Jobs by wearing distinctive clothing (dark shirts) and making visible appearances at "high-profile product releases."

5. Be honest, but not overly so

Asked to compare his company with Apple and Samsung, Lei says, "We have some parts that are weaker than them, some parts that are better." He does not tell the whole story, nor does he feel compelled to.