Skate­board cul­ture seeks new fron­tiers

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - HK | BUSINESS -

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.”

Zeng Chao,

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