6 July 2017
After successfully launching two successful start-ups – the last-minute hotel booking app, HotelQuickly, and food delivery platform Foodpanda.com – French entrepreneur Raphael Cohen began asking himself what other everyday services would be welcomed in Hong Kong.
Mr Cohen found his answer in bicycle-sharing, a service widely offered in other global cities, but not Hong Kong until April 2017, when he launched Gobee.bike.
“With 14,000-plus users using our fleet of 3,000 bicycles in a short span, Gobee.bike’s adoption rate is about five to 10 times faster than those of public bicycle-sharing services launched previously in Europe and the United States,” said Mr Cohen, who is the company’s CEO. “The large and fast-growing customer base is testament to the service’s demand in the Hong Kong market.”
Taking his cue from Paris, where bike-sharing is entrenched in urban culture, Mr Cohen saw end-user issues, which he set about addressing in his latest Hong Kong start-up.
“The main limitation in Paris is its fixed-station system – either you cannot find a station to return the bike to, or the station has run out of space,” he said.
Technology solves that issue on the Chinese mainland, however, where bike-sharing is booming (the biggest operator, Ofo, has 2.2 million bikes in 43 mainland cities, according to Reuters).
“When I heard about the China solution where you don’t need a station to return them to, I thought the technology was amazing,” Mr Cohen said. “Since Hong Kong is a world-class city without a bike-sharing platform, I immediately saw the potential.”
Hong Kong, he said, has a strong bike-path infrastructure, and parking space for 57,000 bikes, both of which are largely underused. Mr Cohen was further encouraged by government policy promoting bike riding, as well as the lack of competition in the sector. Gobee.bike is based around a technology-driven business model similar to that found on the mainland, whereby cyclists locate a bike and pay for its use via a GPS-enabled mobile app, and leave it wherever they please.
Ease of Operation
“To unlock the bike, you simply scan the QR code on your phone at the rear of the bike, or enter the bike’s barcode into the app,” Mr Cohen explained. “Then ride your bike to your destination of choice, park it at any location eligible for bicycle parking, and lock it via the app to finalise your trip.”
The Guangdong-manufactured bikes are smart e-cycles equipped with solar panels in the basket to power the lights and locking mechanism. The cost-competitiveness of Chinese production, in a convenient location, boosts business efficiency.
Before launching the business, Mr Cohen met with representatives from various government departments, including the Hong Kong Police, to discuss and finalise the legalities of such a system and public-area usage.
Martin Turner, Chairman of the Hong Kong Cycling Association, endorses the service. “App-based bike share has already transformed major Chinese cities and is about to conquer the world,” he said. “It’s fantastic that Gobee.bike has launched in Hong Kong, where cycling has so much to offer. I am very confident that Hong Kong people will quickly adopt Gobee.bike to reclaim and re-discover our wonderful city.”
Gobee.bike was seed-funded by the Swiss Founders Fund, with participation from Cocoon Ignite Ventures, Lastminute founder and Chairman Fabio Cannavale, Lamivoie Capital, Goldman Sachs alumni, and other individual investors. A second round of funding worth US$12 million, currently being finalised, will enable its rapid expansion.
Mr Cohen says he is “overjoyed” by the response to the business in Hong Kong. “By the end of June, we had 5,000 bikes in Hong Kong – by September that number should rise to 20,000 bikes,” he said. “In four months, we can put as many bikes in Hong Kong as Paris did in 10 years.”
But Mr Cohen is not stopping there. By this year, he expects to expand to North America, Europe and elsewhere in Asia. “We welcome comments from the public in order to improve our service and ensure the best possible experience for customers that benefits Hong Kong as a whole,” Mr Cohen added. Suggestions may be lodged via the Gobee.bike website or through the company’s Facebook page.