What if you could complain directly to Google about every little thing that bothered you about the Android operating system? And what if every time you complained, Google fixed a bug just for you?
The Chinese handset maker, Xiaomi, has built an empire of 100 million users worldwide on this exact premise. “We’re an Internet company,” said Bin Lin, President of Xiaomi, at a press event on Thursday. “We’re not just interested in making handsets.”
While it’s true that Xiaomi has been particularly successful selling directly to customers rather than through other retailers or carriers, that’s not what Lin was referring to. He was boasting about the company’s massive user base overseas, which has grown rapidly thanks to savvy social media tactics. “They are not our customers, they are our fans,” added Hugo Barra, a former Google executive who left in 2012 to serve as Vice President of Global Operations at Xiaomi.
Xiaomi has gone to great lengths to accommodate these “fans.” For instance, when the company launched its first ROM in 2010, there were only 100 users, but after it started making devices and its marketshare grew, Xiaomi honored those that had stuck with them from the beginning by printing their name in the MIUI boot loader.
Then there was the time a fan requested that Xiaomi make it easier to turn on the flashlight from the Lock screen. He argued that his parents wouldn’t have caught him coming home drunk if he wouldn’t have made such a racket dropping his keys. A week later, the developers pushed out a software update that included that exact feature. “Everything we do is with social as a platform,” said Barra. “Every market we enter has its differences, but at the core everyone is social, everyone is emotional, everyone loves to be spoken to—to be marketed at.”