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Mobike’s Shanghai General Manager on the Future of the Company

SmSh talks to Mobike's Michael Yao on the first year of the company, the new bike, and where they're headed next. (Everywhere, basically.)
2016-12-13 16:34:23
Back in May, we tested Mobike, the bicycle-sharing service. I say service, because it’s not just an app. Unlike Uber, Mobike actually has to build and supply their own bikes. Aside from our own gripes about the actual bike during SmartShanghai's test, several of our readers commented that the ride was heavy and uncomfortable, with user SZTallBike saying, “These bikes look nice. App is easy to use. Everything else is shit!”

Well guess what, SZTallBike, Mobike read the article and your complaint, along with feedback from thousands of their users. They’ve got a new and improved bike coming out soon. I headed up to their Shanghai headquarters in Wujiaochang to give the new bike a spin and learn more about where the company is heading.

The new Mobike. Doesn't look all that different does it?

There’s a quiet hustle and bustle at the Mobike office. Employees work from behind rows of workstations. No one is looking up or glancing over as I walk by. They’re deep in their work.

"For us, our biggest challenge is ourselves."
Michael Yao, Mobike’s Shanghai General Manager, greets me and shows me the new bike. It doesn’t look particularly different from the original Mobike, but it’s got a new kickstand and a latch that lets you adjust the seat. Despite reports on some media outlets that the bike is already out, the new bike won’t be released until February. When it comes out, it'll slowly begin to replace the original.

“Based on feedback, consumer behavior, and other data, we redesigned our classical version bike,” Michael says. “The new bike is [compatible] with different riders and different distances. You can ride this bike for an hour and it’ll still be very smooth."

I take the bike for a quick ride around their office. And wow, they aren’t kidding, the difference to the original Mobike is night and day. I’m 192cm, and although the seat could still be a bit taller, it’s a comfortable experience even for me. More than that, the ride is much smoother and noticeably lighter.

The new bike is geared lower too, which means turning the pedal takes less effort. Depending on the user, that might mean a lower top speed, but speed isn't the most important attribute in a rideshare bike. Most of all it needs to be a convenient, pleasant experience that gets you from point A to point B on city roads. In this, the new bike delivers.

"For a penetration rate of say 20-30%, we'd want 2-3 million bikes."

On the way back to the office, I can’t help but notice some Ofos (an up and coming bike share company backed by the likes of DiDi and Xiaomi) parked near the plethora of Mobikes. Back inside, I ask Michael about the competition.

“First, I think it's good for more companies to come in to help this industry develop," says Michael. "But for us, our biggest challenge is ourselves. How can we develop the best ride experience? How can we ensure safety? This is why our bikes have a GPS and electronic lock. When our bikes have problems we can find the bikes and replace them. And we can lock the bike remotely so no one uses a damaged bike before it is replaced.”

Michael only answers in regard to Mobike’s own challenges, but he’s being clever with his answer. The features he mentions are ones that Ofo lacks. Mobike’s 300rmb deposit is hefty compared to Ofo’s 100rmb, but it’s got a GPS chip, electronic lock, and technology that charges the battery to power these devices as you ride. That means it is indeed easier for Mobike’s users to find bikes and avoid getting on bikes that are damaged. Ofos in the Huangpu River aren’t going to get found.

“Did you catch that guy who threw the bikes in the Huangpu River?”

“The police arrested this guy. He was a Hong Kong citizen, so they sent him back to Hong Kong," Michael says.

(Someone needs to check Victoria Harbor for missing bikes.)

Michael says that these situations are overstated. It grabs the media's attention. "Most people take care of the bikes and give us feedback on how to improve the experience. We do get these problems from time to time and some of our users will submit the problem into our system. But the percentage of this happening is very small."

A staff member knocks on the glass door. Something urgent. Michael has to take it. Throughout the interview, he’s been answering emails, picking up phone calls, and taking quick meetings with his colleagues outside. When he comes back in, he’s apologetic. But the staff already warned me that this was to be expected. The man works 16-17 hours a day.

“Weekends?” I ask him.

“Usually Saturdays too. Sometimes I’ll take a break on Sundays.” He shrugs, smiling. “It’s a startup.”

"People often say they want to be sustainable, so the question is how can you truly get people involved with this?"
It’s a startup, growing rapidly. Mobike began in December of last year. They have yet to release the number of active users, but they have 80,000 bikes on Shanghai's streets as of the beginning of this month. They plan to hit 100,000 before the new year.

“Next year we expect to add at least another 100,000 bikes,” he tells me.

That sounds like a lot. It already feels like Mobike is everywhere. Michael thinks it’s just the beginning.

“To give a rough estimate, if Shanghai has 30 million residents, say 10 million families, for a penetration rate of say 20-30%, we'd want 2-3 million bikes. Most people today use cars for transportation, but we hope they will switch to bikes.”

That’s not just a business. That’s a movement. Michael agrees, but it didn’t start out that way.

“When we first began we just wanted people to experience and enjoy bikes. We wanted to bring bikes back into the city,” Michael says. “But we’ve grown rapidly. Now the government is supporting us by working with us on bike parking, giving us advice, and helping us promote bike riding.”

“Over the past 10 years, the entire city has been in car development. The city has suffered from car pollution. People often say they want to be sustainable, so the question is how can you truly get people involved with this? I think Mobike is a great opportunity to let everyone be green and carbonless.”

Pollution is a serious hazard in Shanghai. It’s obvious why the government and the environmentally conscious are supporting them. And when their new bikes roll out in February, they’ll have some new taller folk on board as well, myself included.

I ask him one final question before I go: Anything you want to say to Shanghai’s foreigners?

“I think we’ll eventually expand overseas. Please apply to Mobike and help us grow!”