Ex-auto jour­nal­ist Hu Wei­wei drives startup Mo­bike on its global ride

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - BUSINESS - By MA SI masi@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Hu Wei­wei, 35, founder of bi­cy­cle-shar­ing startup Mo­bike Tech­nol­ogy Co Ltd and a for­mer auto re­porter, thinks entrepreneurs and jour­nal­ists have a lot in com­mon.

Run­ning one of the coun­try’s fastest-grow­ing star­tups is not very dif­fer­ent from writ­ing a well-rounded story, she said.

“In a sense, all re­porters are their own bosses. The whole process of se­lect­ing a topic, do­ing the in­ter­view, writ­ing, fact-check­ing, rewrit­ing, giv­ing a dif­fer­ent spin ... all this is time-con­sum­ing, and com­pa­ra­ble to work­ing over­time to re­fine an in­ter­net prod­uct.”

Be­fore set­ting up Mo­bike in 2014, she had been an auto re­porter for al­most 10 years. Sheer en­thu­si­asm for tech­based, GPS-en­abled bi­cy­cles pushed her to a new direction.

Three years on, Mo­bike is a dar­ling of big in­vestors such as Ten­cent Hold­ings Ltd and Se­quoia Cap­i­tal.

In June, Mo­bike raised more than $600 mil­lion in its lat­est round of fi­nanc­ing, tak­ing this year’s fund­ing past $1 bil­lion.

“Both jour­nal­ists and entrepreneurs bet on log­i­cal think­ing to make crit­i­cal de­ci­sions and they are driven by a strong in­ner de­sire for break­throughs,” Hu said.

Pur­suit of a break­through in com­muters’ last-mile con­nec­tiv­ity drove Hu to give up her ca­reer in jour­nal­ism and be­come an en­tre­pre­neur.

That was the easy part. Lead­ing Mo­bike on its ride to the top of the bike-shar­ing mar­ket was tougher. And, Hu said, it’s not easy to coast on past suc­cess in the fast-ex­pand­ing mar­ket.

Mo­bike is locked in a fierce bat­tle with archri­val Ofo Inc for pole po­si­tion in the bur­geon­ing sec­tor, both at home and abroad. Both com­pa­nies claim their ser­vices are now avail­able in more than 150 cities glob­ally, but mostly in China.

Mo­bike said it now op­er­ates in five coun­tries (China, Sin­ga­pore, Ja­pan, the UK and Italy). Ofo is run­ning pi­lot projects in six coun­tries, in­clud­ing Thailand, Sin­ga­pore, the US and Kaza­khstan.

Hu said ex­pe­ri­ence in jour­nal­ism is use­ful but not enough in helm­ing Mo­bike to out-com­pete Ofo. “I used to be a lone hand, but now team­work is the key. I used to be highly in­di­vid­u­al­is­tic, but now I need to build and lead a team. That’s where I have made the big­gest progress and I need to keep learn­ing.”

To bet­ter run daily busi­ness op­er­a­tions and deal with fi­nanc­ing is­sues, Hu in­vited Wang Xiaofeng, for­mer man­ager of Uber Tech­nolo­gies Inc’s Shang­hai branch, to be a co-founder and CEO of Mo­bike, and as­sumed the role of pres­i­dent her­self.

“Wang is more like the brain, while I func­tion as the heart,” Hu said, ad­ding that should not be taken to mean she is high­light­ing male-fe­male dif­fer­ences. In work on prod­ucts, pas­sion needs to be com­ple­mented by busi­ness sense to avoid neg­a­tive out­comes, she said.

In re­cent months, Hu’s fo­cus has been on ac­cel­er­at­ing over­seas ex­pan­sion. Mo­bike aims to ex­pand its pres­ence to 200 cities glob­ally by the end of this year.

It is an am­bi­tion shared by Ofo, which is backed by Alibaba Group Hold­ing Ltd and Chi­nese car/taxi-shar­ing mar­ket leader Didi Chux­ing.

To make Mo­bike stand out, Hu has been per­son­ally in­volved in over­seas pro­mo­tions. Europe is a fo­cus area for Mo­bike. Late July, she rode a Mo­bike bi­cy­cle along with Dario Nardella, mayor of Florence, and Beppe Sala, mayor of Mi­lan, in Florence, Italy.

Com­mer­cial ser­vices will start this month with about 4,000 bikes launched in each of the two cities.

Ear­lier, she at­tended an ex­hi­bi­tion in Am­s­ter­dam in the Nether­lands ex­plain­ing the com­pany’s phi­los­o­phy to gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials from dif­fer­ent coun­tries.

“Bike-shar­ing is a Chi­nese in­no­va­tion, dif­fer­ent from pre­vi­ous tech­nol­ogy fads learned from the West. We’ve the scale and ex­pe­ri­ence to help for­eign con­sumers ben­e­fit from our in­no­va­tion,” Hu said.

But not ev­ery city is wel­com­ing as Florence and Am­s­ter­dam. “Some are rolling out the red car­pet while oth­ers ... well, we spend a lot of time to ease their concerns.”

So, Mo­bike is tai­lor­ing its pro­mo­tions to the spe­cific sit­u­a­tion of each city. For ex­am­ple, it high­lights how bike­shar­ing ser­vices can help ease ur­ban traf­fic con­ges­tion, or fo­cuses on build­ing tech­based trans­porta­tion projects, or en­cour­ages so­cial par­tic­i­pa­tion.

Mo­bike has launched a new bike model to abide by UK laws that stip­u­late all bi­cy­cles must have head­lights and tail­lights. It also part­nered with lo­cal gov­ern­ments to en­sure that users do not park bi­cy­cles hap­haz­ardly on side­walks in­con­ve­nienc­ing pedes­tri­ans.

On a per­sonal note, Hu said work-life bal­ance is not easy to achieve run­ning a Chi­nese startup. Hu of­ten takes her 7-year-old in­ge­nious son along to of­fice where he plays games such as count­ing the num­ber of bi­cy­cles in the park­ing lot while she is busy with work.

“I be­lieve show­ing him how mom looks like when at work and show­ing the big­ger world is also im­por­tant (ed­u­ca­tion for a child).”

Bike-shar­ing is a Chi­nese in­no­va­tion, dif­fer­ent from pre­vi­ous tech­nol­ogy fads learned from the West.”

Hu Wei­wei, founder of Mo­bike

ZHANG YUWEI / XIN­HUA

Hu Wei­wei, founder of bi­cy­cle-shar­ing startup Mo­bike Tech­nol­ogy Co Ltd, speaks at a news con­fer­ence in Bei­jing.

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