OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei’s smartphone startup Nothing raises $96M to build the “Apple Of Android”

Nothing, a London-based smartphone startup founded by OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei, has raised $96 million in funding led by European venture capital firm Highland Europe, with participation from existing investors including GV, EQT Ventures, and C Capital also investing, along with house music supergroup Swedish House Mafia.

In conjunction with the funding, Nothing also announced that Tony Zappala, a partner at Highland Europe will be joining its Board of Directors. Nothing will use the fresh cash infusion to fuel its expansion into the U.S. and support the upcoming launch of its new smartphone, slated for later this year.

According to the announcement, Nothing revealed that its highly anticipated Phone 2 is scheduled to be unveiled on July 11. The new device will feature a chipset provided by Qualcomm, a renowned semiconductor giant based in the United States. Pei is betting that his innovative software design and striking hardware aesthetics will result in users relying less on their phones.

Nothing was founded in 2020 by Carl Pei, who was 33 years old at the time, along with Paul Yu and Jesper Kouthoofd. Their shared vision for Nothing was to introduce distinctive designs and user experiences in the realm of earphones and smartphones, aiming to differentiate themselves from what they perceived as a monotonous market filled with uninspiring products. They sought to break away from the “boring sea of sameness” in the gadget industry.

Carl Pei, co-founder of smartphone and hardware startup Nothing

Carl Pei, co-founder of smartphone and hardware startup Nothing (Credit: Nothing)

Their first phone, which runs on the Android OS, had a transparent casing to highlight its technological components, utilized environmentally friendly materials, and included LED lights on the back that illuminated when receiving calls or playing music. Priced below $400, it garnered accolades for its design and garnered a devoted following of enthusiasts. As for their second phone, aptly named Phone (2), Pei has engineered a device designed to assist users in maintaining focus and exercising self-control by mitigating the addictive aspects of their preferred applications.

Back in March, Pei told CNBC in an interview that the company’s expansion into the US market is already getting off to a good start. He said the company has a team up and running, and feels “confident” it will make headway in launching its first phone in the U.S. market this year.

“The product is progressing very well,” Pei said at the time, on the sidelines of Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. “In year one, we barely had any engineers. We had like three engineers. And the factory did all the work. So there were a lot of things that we couldn’t realize.”

While major hardware players like Apple, Alphabet, Samsung, and other industry giants are focusing on developing smartphones to support and capitalize on the lucrative $208 billion mobile app industry, Carl Pei, the founder of Nothing, is taking a different approach. On July 11, Nothing, headquartered in London with manufacturing facilities in India and China, will unveil its Phone (2).

The primary aim is to simplify the digital lives of users. “As a tech company, you have to help the consumer become faster at what they’re trying to accomplish or solve a problem for them,” says Pei, who earned a spot on Forbes’ Under 30 list and made the Asia list in 2016 as a co-founder of phone manufacturer OnePlus.

According to Pei, the focus is on intentional smartphone usage, taking a step back, and reevaluating the role of technology. The goal is to bring tech back to its original purpose and enable users to regain control of their digital experiences.

“It’s all about intentional smartphone usage, rewinding the clock a little bit, and getting tech back where it should be,” Pei said.