Iconic Indian business leader Ratan Tata added to his growing list of tech holdings by acquiring a stake in Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi. The company declined to disclose the value of the stake, but the investment has been made by Mr. Tata personally and not through one of his companies.
"We are truly excited to have Mr Tata on board. We will seek his advice in our journey to becoming an Indian company," said Xiaomi India Head Manu Jain.
At its last funding round the red hot Chinese smartphone and tablet maker was valued at $45 billion. Its latest funding was confirmed at $1.1 billion and was led by All-Stars Investment, DST, GIC, Hopu Fund and Yunfeng Capital among others. There was a noticeable absence of U.S. based investors in the deal.
“We’re really excited to announce our newest Xiaomi investor — Ratan Tata, Chairman Emeritus of Tata Sons. We’re incredibly honored by this extraordinary vote of confidence. Mr Tata is very excited about Xiaomi and our plans for India, and we’re really looking forward to working with him as an investor and advisor!,” said Xiaomi VP Hugo Barra Barra via a Facebook post.
Tata retired as head of the $100 billion conglomerate in December 2012 and currently serves as chairman emeritus of Tata Sons. He has emerged as a major venture capital investor since his retirement.
He has made personal investments in Indian e-commerce players like Snapdeal, Urban Ladder, Bluestone and Cardekho.com. In March he also invested in mobile commerce firm Paytm.
"India is our biggest market outside of mainland China and also an extremely important one. Our goal is to become number one in the next 3-5 years and we are keen on partnerships here," Xiaomi co-founder and President Bin Lin said.
Last week, Xiaomi announced its first 'made for India' handset Mi 4i, priced at Rs 12,999 (about $200)
The move has significant implications for Apple, the world's dominant smartphone player. While Apple focuses on high end devices, Xiaomi has built devices nearly as good at significantly lower cost. The company is the 3rd largest and fastest growing smartphone maker in the world.
It has also shown an ability to innovate in products, particularly batteries. One of the company's hottest selling products is a portable backup battery which it makes in a variety of colors and capacities.
By turning its attention to the massive Indian market the Chinese company is choosing to compete with Apple by focusing on markets where price is the critical success factor in selling units. This is a worrying trend for Apple as its premium brand leaves it little room to sell phones at the lower end of the market. This leaves it vulnerable to losing market share, especially in fast growing emerging markets.
"Mr Tata is one of the most well-respected business leaders in the world. An investment by him is an affirmation of the strategy we have undertaken in India so far. This is just the start of an exciting journey, and we are looking forward to bringing more products into India," Xiaomi CEO Jun said.
"We want to become an Indian company. That is why we are building an R&D team here and setting up data centre. We want to manufacture and also invest in start ups in India," Lin said.