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But critics say the firm has simply copied the look of Apple's iPhones, thriving because of weak intellectual property protection in China/XINHUA-File

Kenya

China smartphone maker Xiaomi wants a bite of Apple

– ‘Millet and rifles’ –

Beijing-based Xiaomi has come from nowhere, growing from a 2010 start-up in Zhongguancun – China’s “Silicon Valley” – to a company valued at $45 billion after its latest funding round in December, when the founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba Jack Ma was among the investors.

Like Apple founder Steve Jobs, Lei, 45, has a fondness for black tops and jeans, and he told a panel at the Internet conference in Wuzhen in November: “In this magic land, we produced not only a company like Alibaba, but a small miracle like Xiaomi.”

A serial entrepreneur and angel investor, he has a string of successful companies and investments, including software developer Kingsoft and online retailer Joyo.com which was bought by Amazon.

Explaining why he chose the name Xiaomi, Lei has said: “We want to conquer the world using millet and rifles,” using a phrase coined by Chinese leader Mao Zedong.

The second character “mi” can also stand for mobile Internet or “mission impossible” in English, he added.

One analyst called Lei “the last but most important ingredient for the success of Xiaomi”.

The firm has scooped up talent from Microsoft, Motorola and Yahoo, with president Lin Bin and global operations vice president Hugo Barra hailing from search-engine Google.

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