From Sweden to China: How Nothing’s Carl Pei Entered the Tech Industry

The entrepreneur shares his journey from Meizu to OPPO, OnePlus, and now Nothing.

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7:01 PM HKT, Fri June 7, 2024 2 mins read

In the ever-evolving smartphone market, few names have been as disruptive as OnePlus and Nothing. Central to the narrative of both these brands is Carl Pei, a Swedish-Chinese college dropout who somehow found his way into the tech industry.

Pei was born in Beijing in September 1989. At the age of four, he moved to the US and then Sweden, but over time, he became increasingly fascinated by the rapid developments occurring back in China.

“After high school, to my parents’ dismay, I went for a year to China just to see what was going on,” the rebellious Pei said. “I was exporting stuff from China back then, and my parents called me to go back to Sweden for uni, so I went reluctantly.”

Still, Pei kept tabs on the Chinese market. He soon spotted a then-popular Chinese mobile brand called Meizu and became a fan — so much so that he ran an online forum to cater to its international fanbase. Meizu eventually recruited him to help out with its international rollout in 2011, and he would also drop out of the Stockholm School of Economics that same year.

OnePlus 5 launch event in New York

Image via OnePlus.

In 2012, Pei jumped ship to another Chinese mobile brand, OPPO, which would eventually lead to the formation of a sister brand, OnePlus. During this stint, Pei became the international face of OnePlus, and his role was instrumental in building the brand’s loyal community and reputation for innovation. But over time, Pei reached the ceiling and was ready to try something new.

“This was back in 2020 and I had been doing OnePlus for about seven years, and I felt it was going well and I was learning a lot,” Pei recalled. “But somehow, we were just integrating technology, you know, taking mature technology from suppliers and packaging it into something consumers like. So I was thinking, ‘Is this the only thing that I’m going to do in my entire life?’”

Pei left OnePlus in October 2020. Three months later, he unveiled Nothing Technology, a startup with a mission “to remove barriers between people and technology.” Nothing operates out of London for the creative talent, as well as Shenzhen for the hardware talent, and Taipei for the software talent.

Nothing Ear (2024) on top of a Nothing Phone (2).

Image via Nothing.

Nothing’s first product was the Ear (1) wireless earbuds, which caught the market by surprise with its unique transparent design and competitive price. In the following year, the company launched its first smartphone, the Nothing Phone (1), with a similar design language complemented by customizable LED light patterns on the back.

Nothing has since released two more smartphones and a few more wireless earbuds, with the entire product line having received updates to integrate ChatGPT for conversational AI.

“I use it for brainstorming; I ask it questions and then I will go back and forth until I have some clarity on the issue,” Pei said about ChatGPT. “It’s more like a thinking partner. But I think, you know, there’s also other generative AI services that really help us be more creative as well. Like there’s now music generation, image generation, and I’m sure there’s more to come.”

Nothing Technology at BEYOND Expo 2024.

Not only does Pei believe that AI is going to change the world in unimaginable ways, but he also sees it as an opportunity to catch up with or even overtake the big brands.

“When we were younger, you know, Nokia and BlackBerry were huge companies that were untouchable, but then the mobile internet age came and they kind of shuffled away,” Pei said. “So now you have companies like Apple and Samsung who look huge and untouchable. But my belief is that in the next wave that’s coming, they might also be shuffled away.

“So for us, it’s a huge opportunity to leverage the changes in technology to really come out ahead. That’s what I’m thinking about every day.”

Carl Pei’s journey from Meizu to OnePlus and now Nothing highlights his role as a pioneering force in the tech industry. Even though it’s still early days for Nothing, there’s no doubt that Pei’s perseverance inspires a new generation of entrepreneurs and tech enthusiasts.

All images by Richard Lai unless otherwise noted.

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