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OnePlus Co-Founder Carl Pei Has Abruptly Left the Company

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In the last few years, OnePlus has gone from being a plucky upstart with questionable advertising to a 5G powerhouse that regularly partners with US carriers to launch new flagship smartphones. All through that meteoric rise, co-founder Carl Pei has been a director at the company. Until now. Pei unexpectedly left OnePlus this week to start a new, as-yet-unnamed, company. 

Pei, along with co-founder and current CEO Pete Lau, started OnePlus in 2013. They immediately embarked on a “flagship killer” advertising and social media blitz, and this was long before the phone was ever announced. They ran the company like a scrappy startup, but it was actually backed by Chinese tech giant Oppo. Regardless, OnePlus didn’t have much cash on hand at first, which is why you needed an invite to purchase the first few OnePlus phones. Pei said he only expected to sell about 50,000 of the first phone, known as the OnePlus One. However, sales eventually reached nearly 1 million. That’s impressive for an invite-only product. 

Pei’s role had always been amorphous to those on the outside, especially in the last few years. However, he came out of the woodwork in 2020 to spearhead the OnePlus Nord, a budget phone that launched internationally with the company’s customary mix of great specs and a low price. That came at a time when the company’s primary product line pricing had crept up into traditional flagship phone territory. 

The OnePlus Nord. Credit: PCMag

Publicly, OnePlus was enthusiastic about the Nord, but privately, I’ve been told that there were two camps internally. One, headed by Pei, pushed to make the Nord a reality. The other, under Lau, didn’t want to devote resources to another budget phone line as they were finally gaining traction witch carriers. 

We don’t know if this is an amicable parting, but OnePlus didn’t announce Pei’s departure. That suggests to me the parting might not have been on the best of terms. The company circulated several memos on management changes with Pei’s name notably absent. Someone leaked those documents on Reddit, of course, which is how we know about the Pei’s departure. OnePlus declined to comment on the matter, which is as good as a confirmation in this case. 

Later, several sites were able to corroborate the news. TechCrunch claims Pei left within the last several weeks, and that he plans to start “his own venture.” It’s uncertain if that means a OnePlus competitor or something entirely unrelated. The future of the Nord line is uncertain, but OnePlus has assigned its head of India operations to oversee the project for now.

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