Say Hello to the Apple of the East

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I am so lucky to be writing DigiDame because it forces me to focus on tech subjects that I think you, my 50-plus crowd, would like to know more about. Sometimes I get stories on the job, contacts, research, and even from industry discussion groups.

I learned about the “so called” Steve Jobs of China from a techie girl friend who just returned from a whirlwind Asian tour. She actually met the young, billionaire entrepreneur who consistently wears black turtlenecks and jeans and behaves a lot like the Apple founder. The Chinese media is already calling Lei Jun and his company, Xiaomi, the “Apple of the East.”

We all heard of Chinese knockoffs but this is too much. All kidding aside, Lei Jun is nothing to snicker at. His company is selling millions of mobile phones (some say they look just like iPhones) and the Chinese market is counting on him to put that country on the map in the innovation category.

The reason Xiaomi (pronounced SHAO-mee) is being taken so seriously is because it did actually sell $2 billion in handsets last year. The potential is huge. China is the world’s largest mobile phone market.

Just like Jobs, Lei is highly regarded as a successful startup expert. He has a software company called Kingsoft that he took public in 2007 and walked away with $300 million. He also invests in other successful software and Internet companies, takes them public, and accumulates more and more wealth. His first success was a biggie, Amazon paid $75 million to acquire his e-commerce company Joyo.com. in 2004.

Forbes calls Lei one of China’s wealthiest entrepreneurs, worth $1.7 billion. It’s going to be interesting to see if Lei becomes as popular and beloved as Jobs on a worldwide basis. Can it happen twice in one lifetime?

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