Lei Jun and his team at Xiaomi have turned inexpensive Chinese smartphones into objects of desire, with almost no marketing budget. Three years after releasing its first product, Xiaomi is already the No. 3 smartphone maker worldwide.
Some might be surprised to see Mr. Lei lauded for creativity, since he's so often accused of aping Apple (even his Steve Jobs-esque fondness for black shirts and jeans has been picked apart.) But calling Xiaomi a copycat overlooks a whole lot of innovation. Xiaomi won a fan base by taking users' suggestions into account when it updates its operating system -- every week. It peddles its sleek wares online, cutting out middlemen and retail shop costs to keep pricetags low. It builds buzz through flash sales that sell out in minutes. Now Xiaomi is investing $1 billion in TV programming and getting into the content game.