September 3rd, 2014
06:57 AM ET

The rise of Xiaomi

Executives in wigs dancing and singing on stage. Hundreds of fans clad in the same orange shirt cheering them on. Fans racing on stage to win plush toys.

I wasn't sure what to expect from my first Xiaomi fan event. But I didn't expect this.

Xiaomi is now China's leading smartphone maker. But its fans have always set it apart from rivals like Huawei and ZTE. The company has long cultivated a passionate following. In fact, most of the people working at Xiaomi's event were volunteers who say they were not paid by the company.

Of course, there are other tech companies with an active fanbase. Apple's cult-like following is well known, and gamers often take sides between Microsoft and Sony.

And the cynical side of me wondered how many people at the event were there for Xiaomi - and how many were there simply to win free stuff, including phones and even TVs. Indeed, as soon as the final prize-winner was announced, a number of people got up and walked out. Many fans also told us they liked Xiaomi because their phones were cheap, which doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in their loyalty to the brand. What if someone builds a cheaper phone?

But Xiaomi's efforts to embrace their fans makes this relationship stand out. This was Xiaomi's first fan event in Hong Kong, but they've held several in China. And then there's the sight of executives singing and dancing on stage. That posed an extra challenge for Xiaomi's Hugo Barra, who joined the company from Google a year ago. Barra had to sing in Cantonese to a Chinese crowd - and they loved it. Barra seemed to enjoy it too, and to have the chance to do something he'd never have done in Silicon Valley. After all, can you imagine Tim Cook in a wig dancing in front of Apple's fans?

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Filed under: China • Technology • Titans of Tech
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