Monday, 24 November 2014

We want to give each user the best possible experience: Vikas Agarwal of OnePlus india

OnePlus, a very new Chinese mobile phone company, has big plans for India. After Xiaomi's success, this small start-up will be the next entrant with a similar proposition: top-spec hardware at a price that is less than half of the nearest big brand competition. Demand for the company's first handset, the OnePlus One, has been so strong, that they have had to resort to an invitation only model for device sales.

This is no surprise, considering the company's philosophy (Never Settle) and their primary aim of creating the best (and best value) Android phones in the market. The One was launched globally in April this year and it has received rave reviews since - they truly can't keep up with the demand. The combination of an excellent full HD screen, high-quality hardware, high levels of build quality and the super-customisable Cyanogenmod Android software make for a phone that is hard to beat. The company also chooses to sell directly to consumers, spending little to none on promotions and passing along all the benefits.

ET spoke to Vikas Agarwal, OnePlus' India GM, on the merits of the invite system, their launch plans for India and how they will handle the imminent backlash and complaints about their model.

Can you explain what the invite system is and why OnePlus uses it?

The invite system allows users with an invite to enter our store, input their code and purchase the One. For every invite, there is a device waiting in our warehouse so the phone will ship almost immediately after an order is placed and get to the user in just a few days.

The invite system allows us to manage the volume of units sold. By doing this, we ensure that our support and logistics teams are able to keep up with the growing demand for our device. We want to give each user the best possible experience and that means making sure the company can scale in a smart, consistent manner.

Invites also enable users to share the phone within their communities. When you use an invite, you will eventually get more invites to share with friends. It is a great way for users who perhaps haven't heard about us to learn about our brand and products, which is a great tool for a company as young as ours.

Where will the device be sold? OnePlus' own e-store or in a tie-up with other e-commerce portals?

We are entering an exclusive partnership with a leading e-commerce company to sell our products in India. We will be sending out India specific invites to users in this market. These users can claim the invite in their OnePlus account and then click on the invite to bring them to our partner's site where they may purchase the device.

If someone wants an invite to buy a OnePlus One - how can he/she go about getting it?

Invites will initially be available through our community. This means contests on social media or giveaways on our forums. Invites will become available within communities as well; I mentioned that each buyer receives more invites to share with friends and family. Our e-commerce partner will also be a source of invites for interested customers.

Flash sale models used by some competitors have drawn a lot of flak: complaints mentioned in social media and other reports include 'rigged sales', 'marketing gimmicks', 'leading customers on' and 'creating artificial shortage for free publicity'. How do you plan to handle any similar complaints?

We know that we'll never be able to please everybody, try as we might. If we were to open sales to everyone, our support and logistics processes would suffer and create an unfavorable experience for customers with the phone. The invite system allows us to manage those processes while still ramping up production and making the phone increasingly available.

It's more important that we build a sustainable company and a brilliant customer experience. Right now, the invite system is the best way for us to do that but we are always open for comments and feedback.

There were some reports in August this year that OnePlus was considering abandoning the invite system since manufacturing process had caught up with demand. Is this happening any time soon?

Our production output has significantly increased but demand continues to outpace supply by a good margin. For that reason, we have kept the invite system intact while also introducing a certain number of pre-order windows. Pre-orders allow users who are unable to find an invite (or don't want to look around for one) the chance to order the phone without any restrictions. We are constantly evaluating what works best for our users and will continue to adapt our sales models to offer the best possible user experience.

Note: The OnePlus One is expected to launch in India in the first week of December. Specifications include a 2.5Ghz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 quad core processor with 3 GB RAM, 5.5-inch 1920 x 1080 pixel display, 13MP f2.0 Sony Exmor camera, 5MP front camera, 3,100mAh battery and weight of 162 grams. The device is sold in two variants: silky white 16GB and sandstone black 64GB. It is a single SIM, 4G-ready device and memory is not expandable. The 16GB variant is expected to be sub Rs 20,000 while the 64GB variant will be sub Rs 25,000.