Will Carl Pei Ever Settle? Never! [Interview]
“How do you get the idea of a company like OnePlus?“, “Oh and THEN how do you get about setting it up?“, “Oh wait, and what did you do at school before that?“… what if you get a chance to ask Carl Pei, the co-founder of OnePlus, all these questions? We did. And so we asked them. And a lot more. So here is us getting up, close and personal with innovator extraordinaire, radical thinker, and dramatic blogger, Carl Pei in a detailed interview.
1. The world knows Carl Pei as the person behind OnePlus. But tell us, how on earth did he get into technology in general and mobile phones, in particular?
I got interested in technology relatively late. In 1998, my family got our first computer, a Dell laptop, and it was my first encounter with the internet. I remember being gifted Warcraft II but was too scared (or young) to actually play it. My heart would skip a beat every time one of my characters died.
As I learned HTML and started spending more time online, I was really fascinated by the amount of information available, and also how you could hang out with cool people across the world you would otherwise never get the opportunity to meet.
A few years later, I got really into graphic design and mobile phones, and would design themes for Sony Ericsson and Motorola phones. I was super happy when I won my first theme contest! Too bad a lot of the online communities that were popular back then have fallen off the wayside.
2. They say one’s school and family play a major role in what one becomes. How would you say yours have influenced you?
Towards the end of university, as a part of a group exercise, we had to say a few nice parting words about a pre-selected fellow classmate. When it came to me, my classmate told me that I probably learned more outside of school than in school. Looking back, it was likely a correct observation.
During the day, I would go to school and do the minimum required. After going home, I would spend all of my time on the internet doing things I was more interested in.
Naturally, my family was quite concerned about the amount of time I was spending on the computer, and kept trying to nudge me towards a more balanced and healthy life. This is something you learn to appreciate as you get older.
3. How was Carl Pei as a student? And we are not just talking about grades and studies.
I was quite interested in science, language, and philosophy, but had a short attention span. Daydreaming was a frequent occurrence, as was skipping class to play DotA or sleep in. In the end, I managed to get above average grades.
4. What was your first job? Why did you take it? Oh all right, and why did you leave it – if and when you did?
My first job at a real company was probably in 6th grade at a game store. In Sweden, you get to try out different jobs for a week each from 6th to 9th grade. I spent that week shrink-wrapping games, restocking the shelves, and eating hotdogs.
5. On to OnePlus then. Where did you first get the idea of OnePlus? And well, why did you call it OnePlus?
We started OnePlus to do things better. It came from a realisation that very few people in this market were doing well, despite the vast size of the smartphone market. We thought product experience was what users actually cared about, and set out to focus on that, doing our best to make great products.
The name OnePlus is quite simple. One is the status quo. Plus is an improvement. We’re looking to change and improve upon the status quo. Our name is also an idea that people can easily understand across geographies and cultures.
6. Getting an idea is one thing, how did you follow it up – what were the challenges you faced?
Everything has been challenging, but in different stages. Earlier, challenges revolved mainly around awareness, building a team, and scaling up operations. As we move on, it’s about growing up and maturing as a company. It’s about finding your place, and taking more responsibility, while deciding how you want to make a positive impact on the community around you.
7. The business model you have followed for OnePlus has been very different from those in the market. We are sure people must have tried to make you stick to a more conventional route. What made you believe you were on the right path?
To be honest, a lot of it has been gut feeling coupled with the realisation that few people actually know what they’re doing. Why follow everyone else when everyone else is struggling? Isn’t that the riskiest move you can make?
8. The one thing that has always struck me about you is just how emotional you are. There is a lot of heart in Carl Pei, and it becomes evident in your blog posts and your conversations. Have you always been like this or do you have a cold, logical side?
I guess I can be pretty bipolar like that. I can quickly switch between being emotional and rational.
9. It has been more than a year since you launched the OnePlus One. You now have three phones in the market. What do you think you have learned and if you were given a chance, what would you do differently?
Two things. Focus and confidence.
Focus is extremely difficult, and you can see a lack of it in a lot of places. We often tend to want to capture every opportunity, while the real value tends to lie in doing few things very well.
On confidence, people tend to put others, especially prominent people or companies, on a pedestal. In reality, we’re all pretty similar. We all have strengths and weaknesses, and all have something to learn from each other.
10. Confess: who came up with the term: Flagship Killer?
I did. The fact that others have adopted it means that it’s quite catchy.
11. Confession time continues: who came up with Never Settle? And why did you adopt it as a rallying cry?
I did. Pete came up with the Chinese version.
We felt it captured ourselves, and the type of users we wanted. People who aren’t happy with accepting whatever is out there, and who genuinely want to improve things, be it their careers, community or broader society.
12. Every person has heroes. Who are yours?
This is a difficult question, as it isn’t something that I spend time reflecting on. I guess I’ve just been heads-down and busy with work.
13. We keep getting this query: what does it take to work in OnePlus? Who better to answer it than you?
We look at two things, culture fit and results. Nothing else matters as much.
As an example, don’t jump ship to OnePlus if you haven’t produced killer results in your previous role. You will not enjoy your time here.
14. If there is one thing you would like to change about yourself, what would it be?
I would like to improve how I balance my health, career, and relationships.
It’s easy to be great at one, difficult to be great at two, and near impossible to be great at all three at once.
15. When not working, what does Carl Pei do?
Catching up on good food and quality sleep.
16. Finally, will Carl Pei ever settle?