Xiaomi is making a push to be a local player in India. Days after unveiling its first phone customized to the South Asia country (the impressive $205 Mi 4i), Xiaomi announced that it has taken investment from leading Indian businessman Ratan Tata.
Tata (pictured above with Xiaomi VP of global Hugo Barra and head of India Manu Jain) is chairman Emeritus of Tata Sons — a conglomerate with shares in over 100 businesses, including Tata Motors and Indian Hotels. 77-year-old Tata has taken an active interest in India’s technology startups of late, and his portfolio also includes an investment in Paytm, the payments firm that took money from Alibaba at a billion dollar valuation.
Xiaomi did not reveal the size or value of Tata’s stake, nor did it confirm a valuation, but it did say that he would act as an “advisor” as well as an investor. The smartphone maker’s last round came in late 2014, when it raised $1.1 billion at a $45 billion valuation. (That makes it the world’s most valuable startup, depending on how you define ‘startup’.)
Speaking at the Mi 4i launch event, Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun said India is an important part of Xiaomi’s business focus. Getting a major tycoon like Tata on its side is sure to help open doors and provide a further validation of its efforts to be a local player in India.
Barra said that he is “incredibly honored by this extraordinary vote of confidence,” while Jain tweeted added his belief that Tata could help Xiaomi build a “truly Indian” business.
This investment is yet another indicator of the size of Xiaomi’s ambition in India, the country that it entered in July 2014 selling its Mi 3 smartphone through an exclusive arrangement with e-commerce firm Flipkart.
Xiaomi went on to bring other devices to India, including its $150 Redmi, and it clocked one million sales within its first five months of operations. Analyst firm IDC currently pegs it fifth in India’s smartphone standings, but it could rise up the rankings thanks to the launch of the Mi 4i — which will debut in India and includes localized tweaks — and the widening of its sales channels, which now include physical retail stores and Amazon and Snapdeal’s online commerce sites for the first time.
Xiaomi sold 61 million smartphones in 2014, and it ranks third in the world overall based on shipment numbers. CEO Lei Jun previously projected that the figure would reach 100 million in 2015 thanks to international expansions and new devices — India is sure to be a key factor in making that happen.