Skateboard culture seeks new frontiers
Road traffic in major cities on the Chinese mainland has undergone a revolution in the past few years with the proliferation of new innovative modes of transport, including hoverboards and, more recently, shared bikes.
Zeng Chao, a 25-yearold entrepreneur based in Shenzhen, wants to add another option on the roads — an electric skateboard called Exway.
Mounted with four flamboyant orange wheels on a black deck with a rugged surface, Exway is propelled by two hidden motors, with a bluetooth remote to activate the board.
Portability is what sets electric skateboards apart from other forms of transport, says Zeng, founder and chief executive officer of Sunto Technology Co Ltd, which developed Exway.
He says the skateboard is easy to use even for learners, as the company has made numerous optimizations on traditional skateboards, including an e-brake that allows users to stand firmly on the deck before it’s activated.
Looking cool is another appeal to young people. “One of my users told me that just standing on a skateboard gives him a complete change in temperament. To them, it’s a transportation mode for selffulfillment,” Zeng tells China Daily.
Exway is not the first such device to go on the market. Foreign brands like Blink, Boosted, ZBoard 2 and China’s own Stary Board have already become popular among skateboarders worldwide. Exway aims to challenge them by tackling their pain points.
One of the problems is the inconvenience of having to turn the skateboard on. Most electric skateboards require the rider to turn on the remote, flip over the deck to switch on the skateboard, and then place the remote to the sensor on the deck to pair up with the board.
I n Z e n g ’ s v i e w, t h e s e steps are unnecessar y and counter-productive in using skateboards. “Skateboarding should be free. The rider should be able to just throw the board to the ground and take off.”
E x w a y ’s a p p r o a c h to enabling hassle-free activation is to build a stronger bluetooth that can pair up the remote and the skateboard without physical contact.
“A good electric skateboard is not just adding electronics to a skateboard, but allows integration and optimization of both. The electric part of it should never cause inconvenience to users,” says Zeng.
An electric skateboard as a mode of transportation is a viable but usually overlooked option for the market. Nevertheless, Zeng sees strong competition on the horizon.
“The market might have been a blue ocean last year, but it will turn into a red one this year,” he believes.
According to the entrepreneur, dozens of skateboard manufacturers in Shenzhen are planning to enter the fray this year, most of them being former hoverboard makers which took a hard blow after the marke t saturated and demand shrank.
According to the Guangdong Electric Vehicle Association, less than 10 percent of Shenzhen’s 600 hoverboard companies have managed to keep their heads above the water and are still in the market, while the others have shut down or moved into other fields.
Zeng does not see the new competitors as an immediate threat. He believes they don’t stand a chance as these companies don’t understand what skateboard users really want or the devices concerned.
The problem with these new entrants, he believes, is that they’re still harboring the “hoverboard mentality”, which will lead them into the same conundrum as they did with hoverboards — a hegemonic products market. In that case, the companies will have no choice but to keep up the fight with lower and lower prices, sacrificing the quality and safety of the product.
“We’re not making a product similar to others in the market in the hope of getting a slice of the pie. We want to be a benchmark for the industry and set our own standards as to what electric skateboards should be like.”
Zeng reveals he got the idea of making an electric skateboard as he wanted to find a suitable personal mobile device to enable him to commute daily.
Calling himself someone who always wants to be different, Zeng wasn’t impressed with the hoverboards and electric unicycles on the streets until he came across electric skateboards. Although not a skateboarder himself, he decided to go ahead with the idea after being convinced that the products currently available in the market could not meet his needs.
In his bid to obtain a better understanding of skateboards, Zeng met Dou Weixuan, a seven-year skateboarder and game designer from tech giant Tencent. Inspired by Zeng’s idea, Dou decided to join the project as co-founder and chief marketing officer of the company.
“What interested me most was that when we talked about personal transporters, the first thing that came to Zeng’s mind was skateboards or, more specifically, electric skateboards, rather than bicycles or hoverboards. It proves that there’s a market for electric skateboards,” says Dou.
An acquaintance of Zeng decided to pump 5 million yuan ($740,000) into the project, paving the way for research and development to get off the ground in June last year.
Sunto Technology is looking beyond the Chinese mainland for business — major overseas markets where skateboard culture originated from a more mature user base. “Markets like the United States are no stranger to the idea of electric skateboards, but Chinese consumers have yet to be educated on the use of skateboards,” says Dou.
The company plans to put the first batch of Exway electric skateboards on the market in September.
Skateboarding should be free. The rider should be able to just throw the board to the ground and take off.”