Ina Fried

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Xiaomi’s Bin Lin on Hiring Hugo Barra, International Expansion and Selling 100,000 Phones in 90 Seconds

It’s still the case that many people haven’t heard of Xiaomi, but that’s changing fast.


The Chinese phone maker has been on a tear, selling seven million phones last year, and on pace to sell 15 million devices or more this year. The company recently made some headlines when it reached a reported $10 billion valuation.

And, of course, it is back in the news this week, after AllThingsD broke the story that Xiaomi had nabbed Hugo Barra, a Google VP and top Android executive.

The company has historically focused on the China market, though it has branched out to Hong Kong and Taiwan and is considering further expansion.

Barra will be a key part of that, Xiaomi co-founder Bin Lin said in a phone interview on Thursday.

“He has a keen understanding of the product itself, what features work globally,” Lin said. Lin, who previously worked at Google, said he has known Barra since 2008 — shortly after he joined Google. The two have been collaborating more closely since Xiaomi phones hit the market in 2011.

“From our perspective, it is a great addition to the team,” Lin said.

It was only this year that Xiaomi began selling outside mainland China, but Lin said that, with Barra’s help, the company hopes to expand to other countries late this year or early next year.

“We are trying,” Lin said.

Lin noted that, with Taiwan’s third-largest carrier, Xiaomi’s Mi-2 handset is the third-best-selling phone model, behind the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4.

In China, Xiaomi recently introduced a lower-cost model, known as “Red Rice,” that sells for 799 Chinese yuan (or $130, including the country’s value-added tax). Lin said that product is redefining the sub-1000 yuan market.

The company sold 100,000 of the devices in 90 seconds when it offered Red Rice online. That’s how Xiaomi does much of its selling in China — offering a batch of phones online and selling them out in a matter of minutes.

Lin said that demand is much higher than the company forecast, and said it will be at least a month or two before it can increase capacity enough to satisfy demand.

“It’s just crazy,” Lin said. “We are working really hard to increase the capacity.”

The company also plans to launch some new products Sept. 5 at an event in Beijing, though Lin didn’t give specifics.

As for the company’s $10 billion valuation, Lin said it is a nice display of confidence by the company’s backers, but not what he is focused on.

“It doesn’t mean much,” Lin said. “The work we are doing every day has very little relation to the valuation.”

For more on Xiaomi, it’s worth watching the video of what Bin Lin had to say when he spoke at our D: Dive Into Mobile conference back in April.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik