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The 'Apple of China' expanded into 80 new markets in four years. Here's how Xiaomi grew so rapidly

VIDEO8:4608:46
How Xiaomi broke out of China to go global
Key Points
  • Creating premium smartphones and selling them at low price points is what made Xiaomi find success throughout China, and the same strategy would later be its secret to winning over India's consumers.
  • Since its first overseas foray into Singapore in 2014, the company has expanded internationally and launched in more than 80 markets.
  • It is now India's most popular smartphone, according to IDC, and recently become the youngest company on the Fortune Global 500 list.

Chinese tech giant, Xiaomi has often been dubbed, "the Apple of China" — due to its similarities with the i-Phone maker in terms of its sleek product design, or retail stores which feature bright lights and eager employees donned in solid-colored T-shirts.

But, despite its outward appearances, Xiaomi disputes their similarities.

"I think Apple is a great company, they do a lot of technology innovation. We are doing the same, but our model is different," Xiang Wang, Xiaomi's global senior vice president and head of international business, told CNBC at its Beijing headquarters. "We want to sell as low as possible, instead of at a premium price."

Creating premium smartphones and selling them at low price points is what made Xiaomi find success throughout China, and the same strategy would later be its secret to winning over India's consumers.

80 news markets in four years

Xiaomi was founded in 2010 in Beijing.

Since its first overseas foray into Singapore in 2014, the company has expanded internationally and launched in more than 80 markets. It is now India's most popular smartphone, according to IDC, and recently become the youngest company on the Fortune Global 500 list.

Today, Xiaomi has more than 1,000 retail outlets, including in cities such as Mexico City, Dubai and London.

Yet, referring to Xiaomi as the "anything of China" might no longer be accurate. About 40% of its total revenue now comes from outside mainland China.

Chinese tech giant Xiaomi opens its first store in Spain in 2017.
Getty Images

Xiaomi had previously said it plans to expand into the U.S. market in 2019, but those plans are now on hold amid rising U.S.-China trade tensions and as its homegrown rival, Huawei faces expansion challenges into the U.S. and is now under scrutiny in Washington over security concerns.

"The U.S. market, I think, is no doubt the most important market, for everyone," Wang said. "We are still very, very young. Our challenge — one of the biggest challenges: the resources. U.S. market is very, very different."

"So far we are working very hard trying to design a product for the U.S. market but still, resources is the big issue," he added.

Growing pains

Xiaomi has faced numerous challenges, too.

The company temporarily left the Brazillian market reportedly over economic instability and operational issues, and saw the resignation of its high-profile tech executive and entrepreneur Hugo Barra, who was the face of its international expansion.

Xiaomi also lost a trademark case to Apple over the name of its tablet, Mi Pad.

The stock has fallen about 45% since going public on the Hong Kong Exchange in July last year.

Smartphone shipments have been on the decline in both China and globally, as consumers are holding onto their devices for longer periods.

But an impending sales slump in its phones could be mitigated by Xiaomi's push into tech-enabled products — such as refrigerators, air purifiers, and rice cookers — all of which are connected to its app, which enables users to control their appliances with their phones.

Xiaomi claims to have more than 190 million connected devices being used under its ecosystem.

— Correction: This article has been updated to correctly reflect that Xiaomi's first overseas expansion was to Singapore in 2014.