When Chinese bike-sharing company Mobike first formed, investors and suppliers were skeptical. The idea of a bike share program without storage docks had been tried before in China. But when Mobike launched with a few bikes last April, the service exploded, especially on social media.
“It became more of a lifestyle in the city, rather than just a boring bike-sharing service,” cofounder and CTO Joe Xia said on stage this week at the Web Summit conference in Lisbon. The company had initially aimed for a million trips by the end of 2016. It ended doing three to four times that, he said.
In just two years, investors have poured an astonishing $928 million into the company. That cash has propelled Mobike to a leading position in a fast-expanding category. It now operates in more than 180 cities, with 8 million bikes and more than 200 million registered users.
But investors weren’t the only ones to notice the company’s runaway success. More than 70 bike share startups now operate in China, and local competitors are springing up around the world. (In the US, that includes has LimeBike, Spin, and Motivate.) Xia says he expects consolidation to happen, and Mobike is looking at acquisition opportunities outside of China.
One deal Mobike isn’t exploring is a merger with its largest Chinese rival, Ofo. In October Bloomberg reported that the two companies were holding talks to merge, creating a market leader with a valuation of more than $4 billion. But Xia denied any deal was in the works.
Instead, Mobike is racing to expand as quickly as possible, to fend off competition and to keep investor interest high. Xia said Mobike’s fast growth is what attracted the investor interest, and it’s crucial to keeping momentum going. “We’re kind of the company where we will have a plan for two to three months, but we want to achieve what a company would do in maybe a half-year or 12 months, so it’s kinda crazy,” he said.
Among those crazy plans is expansion beyond simple bikes. Mobike has been reportedly working on rentable electric bikes, and electric cars as well. Xia would not comment specifically on the company’s plans, but said the company is looking at “the whole transportation perspective” in China. “Bikes cover only the one to five kilometer category. We are also looking at the same business model to power services that cover three to eight kilometers, eight to 15, 15 to 25. In the next three months, you’ll be able to see more and varied product from us happening in the China market in large scale.”
The company embraces a Silicon Valley-style ethos of radically changing its industry. “Anything we do we want to totally just disrupt,” Xia said backstage at the conference. “No matter what no business we bring to the customer, it’s definitely going to be different.”
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