BEIJING, June 12 (Xinhua) -- Following Huawei and Xiaomi, more of China's telcom companies are looking overseas.
The Apus Group was founded last year by Li Tao and the fledgling company swiftly established itself globally with a launcher app for Android phones.
A launcher gives users tools to personalize wallpapers, reorganize icons and customize the way their phones launch programs.
"In many ways, Android is not as user-friendly as iOS. Our Apus Launcher gives users more power. The app itself is tiny -- just 1.4 Mb and runs smoothly on low-spec phones," said Li.
Since its launch in July 2014, Apus Launcher has climbed the Google Play download charts and is now the seventh most popular Android app worldwide, installed on nearly 200 million phones.
After raising 100 million U.S. dollars in venture capital, Apus Group last month moved to a building in northeast Beijing, and may soon have other IT stars, such as Alibaba, as neighbors.
Unlike China's biggest Internet companies who focus on the domestic market, Apus set its sights on becoming an international company from the very beginning.
The launcher supports 25 languages and over 90 percent of its users are overseas. Foreign employees account for nearly one quarter of all staff.
"China's smartphone users have been 'over-exploited' with a great variety of apps and services," said Li, adding that the cut-throat competitive environment had turned the domestic market into "a sea of blood".
With many emerging markets flooded with cheap smartphones, customers crave customized services; "a sea of opportunities," according to Li.
"The popularity of lightweight launchers like Apus has been driven by the large install base of low-end, memory-constrained devices in emerging markets," according to APP Annie, an analytics and data platform, in a recent report.
In Li's view, China's telecom equipment producers and smartphone vendors prepared the foreign market for Chinese apps.
Li is now working on "Project 42", which showcases domestic companies to foreign users through his app.
"If we want to be strong, we have to be united," said Li.
Li was the deputy CEO of IT company Qihoo 360 before he founded Apus in June 2014. He was given the nickname "bulldozer" at Qihoo for his ability to solve even the most demanding of software problems. At Apus, they call him "captain", as he leads a group of young programmers "charting foreign waters".
Li visits California's Silicon Valley, several times a year and is quick to say that the environment for entrepreneurs and innovators is no different there to China.
"Still, more must be done to protect intellectual property rights and to speed up patent approvals," said Li.
Apus, short for "a perfect user system", is also the name of a constellation in the southern sky. According to Li, people usually attach a myth to a constellation, but there is no such narrative about his company, yet.
"Our success will write that story," said Li.