Ofo is a fast-growing bike-sharing company with big ambitions. Co-founder Yu Xin shares the business vision as well as how it uses big data to get the right number of bikes in the right place at the right time.
Ofo describes itself as “the first non-docking, bike-sharing platform in the world,” allowing users to find and park a bike ‘anytime, anywhere’.
Since launching a little over two years ago, Ofo now operates in 170 cities in nine countries. It has 10 million bikes, serves 4 billion people and sees 25 million transactions each day. This is just the beginning, Yu Xin, Co-founder, OFO, told delegates at Smart City InFocus in Yinchuan last month.
By the end of next year, the company aims to cover 200 cities and 20 countries and to eventually become the household brand name associated with bike-sharing.
“We [hope]our small yellow bicycles can one day become like Starbucks, McDonald’s or KFC, to cover the whole world,” Xin said.
An example of this global vision is Ofo’s nifty logo – three simple letters which together look like a bicycle. “A common language [across]the world, no national boundaries,” Xin explained.
He said the time is right for the growth of a company like Ofo because it offers a green, low cost environmentally friendly mode of urban transport and “will solve the problem of the last mile”. It can also help better manage city operations and maintenance.
How many bicycles?
One of the challenges Ofo has to manage is: how many bikes to deploy?
“This cannot be decided by the mayor or our CEO, but by big data analysis,” Xin said. The company analyzes bicycle density over a certain period of time, alongside the usage efficiency of the bikes.
“At the beginning, the efficiency does not increase dramatically but when we reach a certain level of bicycles there is a turning point,” he explained. “Then we have a second turning point…when the number of bicycles reaches a certain level the average time of use for each bicycles is reduced, which means we need to stop more deployment of bicycles.”
It is also important to put bicycles where they are most needed, which is also supported by Ofo’s big data platform. In the image below, for example, the red spots mean there is a lack of supply; green spots mean it’s very easy to find a bicycle.
Ofo also works with cities and their transport authorities to track and share real-time information on bicycle parking. Dynamic maps show the location of bicycles and highlight areas where there are more bicycles as well as the moving direction of bicycles.
“This is very helpful for our maintenance and also very helpful for enhancement of the transport system,” Xin said.
Maintaining millions of bikes
Ofo encourages users to report damaged bicycles by offering incentives, such as vouchers. Big data and GPS can help to pinpoint inaccurate or false damage reports – for example, if a bicycle is reported damaged but then someone rides away on it. If a bike isn’t used for a certain amount of time, Ofo is alerted that there may be a problem with it and sends an operator out to check.
When bikes are damaged, Ofo says it can typically have a maintenance operator out within 15 to 20 minutes in a big city, minimizing down time.
Xin highlighted the role shared bicycle schemes can play in creating jobs. He says Ofo has created over 100,000 jobs so far, including 70, 000 this year. They vary from roles in the lock industry to manufacturing, maintenance, logistics and more.
In China, there is a problem with a large number of unregistered taxis, which the government is eager to stop, but has found it difficult to do so. “Many of the drivers of the unregistered taxi drivers have become the maintenance people for our shared bicycles,” Xin claimed. “Whenever we enter a new country we will create more jobs and employ local staff for work such as maintenance, administration, software development, etc.”
He added: “We believe whenever we enter a new city or country, we can complement the local transport infrastructure. There is the public transport system, metro system – but the public bicycle system is not complete.” And public bikes can provide that last mile transportation.
Ofo grows up
Many cities already have shared bike schemes in place, although a lot of them are based on fixed collection and drop-off points. Xin said: “Our kind of bicycle is more flexible and we believe this will be the trend in the future…Even if you already have a scheme, we can also launch a partnership. We are not only competitors.”
He concluded, “We plan to set up various centers overseas like R&D centers, data centers and logistic centers. As Ofo grows up, we will cover the whole world.”