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Why Xiaomi's India head hires people who are smarter than him

Time:2016-12-23 06:17Shoes websites Click:

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Manu Kumar Jain, India head, Xiaomi, tells Sangeeta Tanwar how the Chinese smartphone maker won over the Indian market.

Manu Kumar Jain

IMAGE: Manu Kumar Jain.

The meeting with Manu Kumar Jain, India head of Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi, came through after a lot of back and forth on the venue and time.

He is flying down from Bengaluru to Delhi for a day. We decide to meet at The Taj Mahal Hotel, Mansingh Road, New Delhi, for a late morning tea.

I was looking forward to meeting Jain, knowing he would have a lot to talk about given Xiaomi's global success and the rapid strides it has made in the Indian smartphone market.

Indeed, Xiaomi has become so diverse in its product portfolio in China that it is almost unfair to call it a smartphone or even a tech company any more.

As I walk into the Emperor Lounge, the hotel's ground floor cafe, I receive a message that Jain's flight has been delayed due to fog. That essentially means I have an hour to kill.

By the time Jain arrives, I have finished my masala tea. Apologising profusely, he orders a glass of orange and carrot juice.

Manu Kumar Jain with his wife, Minu

IMAGE: Ten years ago, they were best friends. Eight years ago, they got married.
Manu Kumar Jain with his wife Minu on their wedding day.

Sensing that he is a bit frazzled by the delay -- and the consequent changes in his schedule -- I open the conversation with an easy question: What led him to name his (now three-year-old) son Jordan?

Jain says it's after former US basketball star Michael Jordan, who is his favourite sportsperson.

"Even though I'm not a big sporty guy myself, I want my son to be active -- the name might just help him achieve that goal," Jain says with a smile.

Jain's personal and professional lives appear closely intertwined.

He moved out of online marketplace Jabong, which he co-founded, in 2014 when he and his wife Minu were expecting their first child.

He moved back to Bengaluru (from Delhi) to be with his wife and spent about a year figuring out his next move.

His wife's stint with phone maker Nokia and his own interest in e-commerce made him scout for opportunities in these sectors.

He had also been reading about Xiaomi at that time and had marvelled at the quick strides made by the brand in China.

A selfie with the most powerful businessman in India, Mukesh Ambani

IMAGE: A selfie with the most powerful businessman in India, Mukesh Ambani.

Naveen Tewari, chief executive officer, InMobi, and an ex-colleague from McKinsey & Company, knew Xiaomi co-founder Bin Lin, and put the two in touch.

A short trip to China and a series of informal talks later, Xiaomi approached Jain to launch its India operations.

Xiaomi was a late comer. But it did catch up quite fast: The brand sold more than two million devices in India in the third quarter this year, which translates into a year-on-year growth of more than 150%. Jain announced that in a tweet last month.

That was also the highest sales Xiaomi has registered in India since it entered the market in July 2014.

So what did he and his team do differently to build such momentum?

Sipping his juice and taking a few quick bites of the cookies laid out on an immaculate tray before us, Jain says that when he sees an idea he asks two questions: Is it scalable? Is the idea sustainable?

If the answer to both these questions is yes, he takes up the idea as a challenge.

Meeting Narendra Modi

IMAGE: Meeting Narendra Modi.
Flanking the prime minister are Union Information and Broadcasting Minister M Venkaiah Naidu and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu.
Jain thinks Modi is 'one of the awesomest PMs ever'.

Xiaomi, known in India for its value-for-money mobile phones like the Redmi 3S and Redmi 3S Prime, started small in the country, restricting itself to the fast-growing online market.

It launched its products exclusively on Flipkart. Once it perfected the online sales model on the platform, the brand scaled up its operations and today sells through six e-commerce platforms.

"In most cases leaders only think about the scalability of an idea, missing the sustainability aspect. While taking a business decision one needs to ask, does the move lend itself to easy replication; will competitors be able to move in quickly and copy your template?"

The other thing any big brand would bet its shirt on is innovation.

At the Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi

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