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The upstart consumer-electronics company, just three years old, is a neophyte no more. Xiaomi released four new smartphones last year and sold almost 19 million, up more than 150% from 2012. It's staking out a significant piece of the Chinese market with its low-cost, feature-rich devices. One model sold out its initial run--100,000 units--in less than two minutes.

Although founder Lei Jun is reflexively compared to Steve Jobs, Jun's strategy is hardly the same as Apple's: He sells his phones--in buzz-generating flash sales--at a razor-thin margin and then takes advantage of the longer potential revenue stream from software. (Another difference: Xiaomi actually shipped its smart TV in 2013.)

Last year, revenue at the Chinese startup hit $5.2 billion, another 150% bump, as users downloaded more than 1 billion apps, helping the company generate revenue from paid apps, games, advertising, and other fee-based services. Jun's goal is to sell 40 million devices this year, pushing into India, Southeast Asia, and other emerging markets where the battle for the next wave of smartphone users will be waged.

Helping lead that global expansion is a high-profile recent hire, former Google product star Hugo Barra. Given how important Google and its Android platform are to Xiaomi's plans, he represents a major coup.