Xiaomi’s tale may sound like merely another iteration of that now familiar headline, tech unicorn gallops into wall. But Xiaomi (pronounced “SHAO-me,” with the first syllable sounding like the “show” in “shower”) isn’t just any privately held, multibillion-dollar startup. It’s a rising power in a nation eager to prove that its consumer-oriented companies can compete globally. ... The company didn’t attain that valuation on the strength of its phones, though those get raves in the tech press (and have even made Xiaomi modestly profitable) while selling for half the price of an iPhone. No, private investors judged Xiaomi to be more valuable than FedEx or Caterpillar or Delta Air Lines because of the promise that it could build a network of products, services, and recurring revenues—an ecosystem like Apple’s—not just in China but around the world. ... If anything, Xiaomi’s idea of an ecosystem is more ambitious than Apple’s. Apple focuses on services like iTunes and a tightly focused suite of tablets, computers, and smartphones. Xiaomi envisions a sprawling Internet of things. The company hopes you will someday control your Xiaomi water purifier, Xiaomi air filter, and Xiaomi mood lighting—an entire Xiaomi smart home, essentially—with a few taps on your phone. ... as Xiaomi’s progress slows, there’s growing skepticism that a startup without innovative technology of its own or much success outside of smartphone sales can produce an ecosystem anywhere nearly as big or “sticky” as Apple’s and Google’s. ... Xiaomi’s team works primarily with outside companies. The company partners with hardware startups (and often creates new ones), providing seed money for ecosystem products. Xiaomi avoids taking full control, encouraging the founders to act like risk-taking entrepreneurs. The company gets an exclusive deal to sell most of the startups’ products, and in turn the startups, now numbering 55, get access to Xiaomi’s supply chain, marketing, and even its industrial engineers.