Who is Carl Pei, the man who built OnePlus?


Early in the morning, the team at warpcore woke up to a shocking bit of news, which was the fact that Carl Pei, the co-founder of OnePlus had reportedly left the company. This had not just us, but other tech journalists confused, considering he was the one who built OnePlus from the ground up and can be attributed for its success and the position that the brand is in. This also comes one day before the smartphone maker is slated to launch its latest flagship phone — the OnePlus 8T. So, we thought of tracing the beginnings of Carl Pei and how a kid with a passion and drive helped form the company known widely in the world. How a youngster who once openly invited Samsung to hire him as an intern helped build a company that beat Samsung from the top of the perch in one of its most strategically important markets. Let us begin with what this young 24-year old did and then, we will be discussing the implications of his departure from OnePlus.

How did Carl’s journey start?

Carl Pei or Pei Yu was born on September 11, 1989. His parents moved to the United States post his birth and, then when he grew older, the family relocated to Sweden, where Pei was brought up. He pursued a Bachelor of Science degree in 2008 from the Stockholm school of Economics, but dropped out in 2011 to work full-time in the Chinese smartphone industry. This had a serious impact on his career. Before he dropped out, Carl joined Nokia in 2010, wherein he worked for about 3 months, and, from there he moved to Meizu’s marketing team in 2011. After about one year with Meizu, Pei joined Oppo as it’s international markets manager, where he met Pete Lau, this was when the two founders of OnePlus met for the first time.

The formation of OnePlus

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The catalyst behind the formation of OnePlus was the advent of iPhones and their popularity. (Surprising is it not?). A few friends of Pete and Carl met them at a coffee shop, and Carl noticed how everyone around the table was using an iPhone, even though they worked for Android smartphone manufacturers, which led to the question, “Why do people around this table all use an iPhone?” `This led to some thought, post which, the two founders Carl Pei and Pete Lau decided to start OnePlus, a company aimed to create a balance between quality and price, an ethos evident by the brand’s tagline of that time, Never Settle. 

Interestingly, this company would also be backed by Oppo’s parent BBK and their offices would also be in the same building. 

Lau when asked about this, said “We will create a more beautiful and higher quality product and everything that will be done, will be one to improve the user’s experience in their day to day life. We both just want to create the best product, no matter what,” he said at the time, but the result would be more refined versions of the technology that Oppo was working on. 

After founding the company, post some discussions with Pete Lau, Carl and Pete launched the OnePlus One, which sold close to a million units in 2014, even though they had a sales target of 50,000 according to Pei. In July of 2015, Carl also went on stage to hold the first VR product launch event for the OnePlus 2, which became a popular video, since it was a new concept.

Carl was perhaps instrumental in bringing the brand’s phones to other markets. In the process, he became the face of the brand and he became well acquainted with the fans as well. He mimicked the Steve Jobs-like founder/product visionary persona. 

He also wanted the brand to focus more on India and western markets. His efforts have led to where the company is and how well known it is in India. The first launch in India happened in collaboration with Amazon and the hype was palpable even though the OnePlus One was dated by the time it launched in India. Pei also helped navigate issues around the use of Cyanogenmod which had a license with Yu. 

It was this that led to OnePlus developing Oxygen OS in-house which is now even considered to be better than stock Android that Google makes. Over the years, the relentless iteration of OnePlus phones and focus on features that people care for like a high refresh rate screen, a clean user interface, focus on design and fast charging has helped OnePlus stand apart and catapult itself even ahead of leviathans like Samsung. 

The Implications of Carl’s Departure

Now that there are reports of him leaving the company some sites claim he has left to start his venture, though this is still unconfirmed news. The first signs of the departure were reported by a Reddit user, who stumbled upon some confidential office memos, wherein, Carl is not mentioned. It is also being said, according to leaked info, that his post as the leader of the Nord line has been taken over by Emily Dai. When Android Authority and Android Police reached out to the brand for a comment, they did not get any reply. 

This it seems has been in the works for a while. Some time ago, Pete Lau joined Oppo as the acting senior VP and head of product experience at Oujia holdings Ltd (also known as OPlus). This company is also a major shareholder of both Oppo and OnePlus, which meant that Pete would pay attention to both. Now, you might be wondering, how does this affect OnePlus? With Lau joining this company, we could see some changes to how different OnePlus and Oppo are and we may even see a crossover of both companies, meaning the unique feel of OnePlus could cease to exist. This also is reflective of the fact what’s happening with the redesign of the user interface. 

Coming to how Carl’s departure plays a role in this, he was the face of the brand, the one who asked everyone to Never Settle and with his departure, it raises a whole other set of questions as to why the person who was the reason for the brand’s success would leave it. Also, with his departure, we could see some massive changes in terms of product strategy and the gap between OnePlus and other similar brands could lessen. That being said, these are just theories proposed by multiple people and are yet to be confirmed, so, we ought not to comment too much regarding the same.

To conclude, Carl Pei was perhaps the only product visionary we have seen on the Android ecosystem and taught us to Never Settle. He gave the brand the sense of being a disruptor, he was the one because of whom, the company became a Flagship killer and his departure is huge for OnePlus. Wherever Carl moves on to, they will gain a great leader and a terrific person, whose presence will be missed at OnePlus gravely. We had already seen OnePlus move on from its flagship killer matra, but if that wasn’t a sign of winds of change, then surely Carl’s departure is.