By all measures, OnePlus is doing alright for a brand new startup about to launch their first phone. They were doing phenomenally until about a week ago when a series of leaks and controversies mired what is still a highly anticipated launch.
Still, the employees at OnePlus are probably fairly busy right now, putting out virtual fires or whatever it is manufacturers do when things go wrong.
So what did OnePlus do wrong? How did they go from the darlings of Chinese tech world to arguably its most controversial in about a week, before its first product even launched? How have they managed to burn through so much goodwill so quickly?
First, lets talk about how they got to a point where them messing up their launch is a major story. You could say that, to a certain extent OnePlus has been a victim of their own success.
Hype, Leaks and an Unfortunate Familiarity
China is full of big name tech companies. OnePlus certainly had some big name recognition, being created by former Oppo Executives, but it still managed to get an inordinate amount of attention. Their advertisements seemed to resonate with the average fan of Chinese tech, vague as they were. Its #NeverSettle slogan seemed rebellious and pointed towards a future of innovation and a more international approach to launches.
Unfortunately, hype is a double edged sword. When leaks of the OnePlus One started coming out and the device looked quite a bit like Oppo’s Find 7, the tower of hype they had built fell back on them.
Which brings us to said leaks. Had OnePlus managed to launch their product while it was still surrounded in mystery, they could have controlled the narrative a lot more. They could have shown us what makes it different than Oppo’s device. I don’t personally know what makes the OnePlus One unique. If I did, I assure you, I would tell you. The point is, if anything is drastically unique about the phone, other than its slight customization of Cyanogenmod and recent leaks of proprietary battery technology, OnePlus lost its opportunity to lay that out for us themselves while we have a blank slate in our minds. Now, whatever happens on April 23rd, everyone in the audience has a preconception that the OnePlus One is directly derived from the Find 7, that is a problem.
Worse still, the “leaks” appear to be coming from the Chinese division of the company themselves. Showing a possible skism developing within the two branches of the young company.
If the big difference is the software, the custom version of Cyanogenmod, well first thing, that would be disappointing, but OnePlus never got to lay out its argument on why that is important, and that is completely its own fault.
The Appearance of Arrogance and Free Stuff Gone Wrong
Then there is, of course, the invite debacle. While the OnePlus is undoubtedly popular for what it is, the fact is, it still is a brand new company launching its first phone. In this case, the road to hell seems to be paved with good intentions. OnePlus seemed to be realizing that its manufacturing capabilities are not yet prepared to meet the expected demand. An invite system could seem like a reasonable way to prevent a situation where people who ordered their phones are waiting months to get one.
What it ended up appearing to be was an arrogant move where a company has to deem you worthy of it taking your money. Such a strategy might work for a company like Google, but it left a sour taste in the mouth of fans of OnePlus. OnePlus would have probably been better off having a limited number of presale units, and letting it sell out quickly. That isn’t the end of OnePlus’ missteps, however.
With OnePlus Ones already in short supply compared to its expected demand, OnePlus came up with an idea that probably seemed fantastic in a meeting room somewhere: Host a contest that rewards its most loyal fans, the ones that make up its community message board. Sight unseen, it seemed refreshing. Rather than opening it up to any Twitter or Facebook user that wants to win a “weird” new cell phone, the message board contest rewarded those that have been following OnePlus since the beginning.
While the Chinese language forum had QR codes to give forum members access to the contest without broadcasting all over Weibo, the English version of the forum relied on a number of posts being hit in a particular thread on the forum. Winners at the 5,001 post, 10,000th post and 50,000 post would win a OnePlus One (plus minor prizes for other posts).
What happened next is open to some debate.[Update: A previous version of this post stated that OnePlus deleted a complaint thread, they instead merged the posts onto another topic. The post has been updated with the necessary corrections]
According to OnePlus’ version of the events, Multiple posts started showing up as the winning posts as the backend of OnePlus’ board couldn’t handle the high volume of posts.
OnePlus recalculated the posts, adding posts that were deleted before OnePlus disabled deleting within the thread and completely screwing up the count. Suddenly people who had thought they had won for days found out that they had not won anything afterall.
This understandably led to hurt feelings and accusations of cheating. It is hard to figure out exactly what happened here. One user got in contact with us with screens of his winning post that was moved 72 posts down the line, the same is said to have happened to the poster of the 10,000th poster as well. The current winner of the 10,000th post doesn’t even seem to be aware that he or she has won.
Unless it is the most sophisticated piece of vaporware in history, it seems unlikely that OnePlus would purposefully ruin its promotion to scam the internet out of three of the phones they themselves are creating, but that hardly matters. Their refusal to reward the previous winners as well has built up an extremely large amount of bad will among the community.
But the blunders didn’t stop there. OnePlus moved the posts into an older topic, breaking links to the complaints and creating an perception of censorship, even if that wasn’t the desired action.
I’ve never seen a company screw up giving away a product so badly.
I have reached out to OnePlus asking for a statement on the giveaway, but have yet to hear back.
The winners of the contest will be “officially” announced after the phone’s reveal. So OnePlus still has a chance to make this right, but by shuffling their feet they are only hurting themselves.
Where Does OnePlus Go From Here?
The OnePlus One is still in a fairly favorable position, all things considered. Sure, there has been significant backlash to these very serious missteps. It might even be enough to negatively impact sales, but OnePlus still has our attention. In business, infamy is better than anonymity. If the OnePlus One launches on the 23rd with some killer, yet unannounced feature, then many of the mistakes of the past few weeks will be forgiven.
On the other hand, if the leaks have shown everything OnePlus has in its hands, or worse yet, OnePlus under delivers, then OnePlus still sits as a cheaper alternative/clone of one of the more popular Chinese flagship phones.
Being a Oppo knock-off manufacturer probably doesn’t match the ambitions of the OnePlus brass, but they will be starting with a huge amount of press and larger companies have started with humbler beginnings.
This Wednesday should be an interesting one for fans of Chinese tech.