What the next smartphone startup can learn from OnePlus and its stumbles
OnePlus is the Cinderella story that wasn’t. A company poised to break all the rules launched a marketing campaign that encouraged everyone to “Never Settle”. With a tagline like that, expectations ran high – but it didn’t stop there.
OnePlus took an interesting approach, making end-users like you and I feel like the device was being crafted just for us. In the end, it looks like this was based more in marketing spin than in reality. Nonetheless, it bootstrapped the genesis of the company and its premier device.
Next, apparently wanting to avoid any opening-day rushes (and the associated crashes that accompany them), OnePlus opted for a sort of lottery wherein users were encouraged to apply for “invitations” to buy the phone. As one might expect, these invitations were eventually bought and sold, some were even fraudulently peddled by people who didn’t have an invite at all. Of course all this reflects back on the company behind it all – and in this case, not well.
Lastly, after all the marketing hype we came to learn that much of the executive staff and all of the funding for the company comes from OPPO. OPPO owns OPPO, which shares executives with OPPO and is staffed by OPPO. The whole thing gets mired in unnecessary details regarding proper names and business units.
Regardless of how staffing and funding are structured between the several companies, the impression was that the OnePlus was a shell, or at least trying to hide its true roots. Whether that was a good thing or not doesn’t really matter, it looked like smoke-and-mirrors and customers balked.
Some in the industry might take this opportunity to profess that the smartphone market is already supersaturated with OEMs, and there’s simply no room for the little guy to compete. The barriers to entry are simply too high, and we’re too stuck in our ways when it comes to relationships with carriers – at least in the States.
Others, myself included, are a bit more positive.
Today’s OEMs, Apple notwithstanding, are a bit too large, and far too deeply in bed with carriers. Ideally we’d have one flagship device from each manufacturer every year. Mid-tier devices would be last year’s flagship, and devices for emerging markets would be from the year before that. Every device would be carrier-agnostic and work anywhere in the world. Can you imagine how much easier it would be if you only had half-a-dozen devices to compare and choose from? It would sure make my job a lot easier!
However, since carriers will continue to demand customized hardware with just enough oomph to get you to trade-in your old phone for a new one with a new contract (but not enough power to last you through the duration of that contract), the big OEMs will continue to satisfy the carrier’s lust for shackling customers with lengthy contracts and sub-par devices.
This is where smartphone startups can shine!
To really succeed, a startup has to be clear of any unsavory ties to any of the major OEMs. Sure, components can be sourced from them, but executives and especially majority funding? That just doesn’t pass the “smell test” – regardless of whether or not it’s above board.
The device needs to be what customers want, when they want it. It’s got to have high-end specs, though it probably doesn’t have to be the best in every aspect – just noteworthy for most of them.
It’s got to be priced more competitively, too. Remember, you’re battling carrier subsidized phones that (on the surface) look like they only cost US$299 (though in reality cost much, much more).
Ordering the device needs to be a no-brainer. Sell what you have in-stock and let people pre-order when you run out. How hard can that be? No more silly invites.
Be truthful and accurate with your shipping dates. Don’t miss one, not by a single day. If the market gets a whiff of a rumor that you might be delayed, your drop reputation points left and right.
Deliver a quality device for a fair price with adequate availability. The recipe isn’t very hard to put on paper, but it’s apparently quite difficult to master in practice. Regardless, startups, don’t get discouraged, your customers are out here, and we’re waiting to see what you have to offer!