“Not being consumer-hostile is our top priority” – Carl Pei, Co-Founder – OnePlus

Carl Pei

OnePlus has now become a force to reckon with in the smartphone market and the past years have seen the company move from strength to strength in terms of brand value and top of the mind recall. India has become a stronghold for the brand and the community has been their big plus. I recently had a freewheeling chat with Carl Pei, Co-Founder of OnePlus. Here are the key parts of our engaging chat.

The whole idea was to get deeper insights into the way OnePlus thinks as a company and how their product strategy works. There were insights that were valuable and hitherto not talked about. So here goes

Do you start with a specific feature set in mind or a price-point or a battery? How are your products conceptualized?

For us, the key is the right balance in terms of the customer getting unmatched performance and value from the device. We don’t start with a battery capacity or a certain feature set alone. For us the main thing is that the customer or the user gets a future-proof, reliable and sturdy device that performs very well from day one of the purchase throughout it’s entire lifespan. And true to that, you see many people still using even the OnePlus One, which was our first device even today.  With that as the starting point, we then set out to pick and decide what is the right combination of things that will get us to that balanced point where the experience is premium and stays premium. That being said, we will also be abreast of what the current value adds in the market are. That way, it is a win-win for us and the customers in terms of brand value and user experience. We will not shy away from updating technology six months after a release so that our users get the best delivered to them as soon as possible. So in a nutshell, we start with the customer in our mind and everything else falls in place.

There are some strategic decisions like no IP rating and no wireless charging that people want to understand. Can you explain that a bit?

We have to continue from the previous discussion for that, you see, there is no check-list that we have to tick off for our products. The best chef never starts with a preset ingredient list in mind, quality and class are a matter of expertise and habit. When we talk about IP ratings for the OnePlus 6, you will see that we have actually thought of conditions like exposure to drizzle from rainfall etc and provided protection for it, if we were to actually chase an IP rating as a product feature, it will make our device consumer-hostile as we have to add cost to it and that will change the entire proposition.  Coming to wireless charging, let’s hypothetically say that we added wireless charging to the OnePlus 6 as it is made of glass. Now what does that consumer have to do? He/She needs to get a wireless charging point in every location they need – like office, home etc. Our rapid charging tech gives you a better and more efficient and completely reliable solution without overloading the cost of device. Our top priority is being not being consumer-hostile, when you get that approach, you will understand why we made these decisions.

Is OnePlus still a disruptive startup or has it evolved into a major brand? What are your thoughts?

I wouldn’t want us to be called a disruptive startup anymore. We are a segment defining product company that has a unique product strategy where we say no to a lot of things that others are doing in order to keep a laser sharp focus on our playing field and the flagship segment. So I would say that we are a respected, loved, followed and reputed brand now. Having said that, we never lose track of our beginnings and priorities that got us here. We have resisted the temptation to play in too many fields and stayed true to our strengths. That has stood us in good stead. What we are is a product company that is loved across the world and we would very much like to stay that and improve upon our strengths.

The OnePlus One costed INR 19,999/- and the OnePlus 6 now starts above INR 30,000/- Can you explain the rationale behind this?

It is very simple. The components back then and the components now do not cost the same. And we always go with top end hardware for our phones. It is merely a reflection of the changing costs for doing that. This is not a strategic decision, it is more an incidental and time incremental factor. But despite this change that you have mentioned, we are still very aggressive and sector-defining in terms of premium experience and overall cost of acquisition of our devices.

Where do you see OnePlus in 2020? Will you still be doing two devices a year?

When we talk about future roadmap, there are a few key things that come to mind. The first is the fact that India is very important to us. The community support and sheer exponential word-of-mouth love that we get in India is loved and respected by all of us. So by 2020, we will definitely be doing a lot more in India. Our community is our strength and we will continue to draw from the amazing energy from there. Coming to our overall vision, in 2020 I see us still striving to keep the healthy balance between features, performance and consumer satisfaction. Will we be doing two devices a year in 2020? Actually the number of devices is  more driven by the focus on delivering performance and not by a calendar, so there is no specific answer for that. But we will be a reliable, globally respected and loved brand like we are now.

At the end of the chat, I had the answers for all my questions. I also had an insight into Carl Pei, the man beyond what is otherwise known about him. This just piqued my interest further in both OnePlus and Carl going forward. Stay tuned for updates

About Shakthi

I am a Tech Blogger, Disability Activist, Keynote Speaker, Startup Mentor and Digital Branding Consultant. Also a McKinsey Executive Panel Member. Also known as @v_shakthi on twitter. Been around Tech for two decades now.

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