“ofo Bicycle”: Riding Bicycles Anytime And Anywhere

Since the beginning of the new semester, Peking University has been refreshed by the emergence of an innovative system of transportation — “ofo bicycle” — thousands of yellow bicycles labeling with “ofo” icon spring up on every corner on campus, available for all PKU students. This “yellow tide” is now becoming a unique phenomenon of the university. Zhang Siding, Dai Wei and Xue Dong, three PKU graduates as well as initiators of “ofo bicycle,” bring the ideal of “riding bicycles anytime and anywhere” into reality.

 From pastime to career The year 2009 witnessed the beginning of their story, when common interest brings three young people together. Zhang Siding, Dai Wei and Xue Dong first got acquaintance with each other in an outdoor activity organized by PKU Cycling Association, a society for cycling enthusiasts on campus. From then on, their friendship has been established and gradually deepened through several cycling activities afterwards. At the beginning, cycling was only their favorite pastime until Dai Wei, who had some entrepreneurial experiences before, coming up with the idea of converting their pastime into career, “ofo bicycle” in embryo started to shape. Dai was thrilled about this flash of brilliance, He then shared his idea with other two friends and obtained perfect accord. “It is much more gratifying to dedicate to what you really enjoy than hunting for an ordinary job,” remarked Zhang Siding, “I had expected my future life to be the same as many of my classmates, working in museums or cultural institutions. But the idea really inspired me. I would be so much regretful if I miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” Yet starting a business is anything but smooth and simple, especially for the inexperienced college students. They all well acknowledged the difficulties and uncertainties of the process. Nevertheless, as the proverb goes, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” they determined to take risk for what they truly love. Failure paves the way for Success Everything is hard in the beginning. During the first few days, the three friends dove straight into snack bars after class, staying up late for discussing and brainstorming. But the abuzz environment continually distracted their attention; overnight working also interfered with their daytime study. Considering these inconvenience, Dai Wei gritted his teeth, taking out his savings and rent a cell near the school as a temporary office and their dwelling, where a great deal of ingenious plans were raised, consulted and modified. Their efforts have been rewarded by several original cycling activities they successfully held, including cycling and touring across Taiwan and Jeju Island. The auspicious start made them minor celebrities in the cycling circle and helped sustain their business. However, their primitive design of cycling business encountered stagnation due to the limit of target market, yet they gained precious experience from the previous exploration, which further solidified their brand consciousness — “ofo bicycle.” Concise and lucid, “ofo” logo designates the image of a cyclist, signifying the core value of their team — keep advancing. Start afresh: “Campus Bicycle Sharing” project The team began to reconsider and adjust their original scheme. This time, they turned to their own campus. In PKU, the number of bicycles is prodigious, and a large amount of which are lying idle for most of the time; meanwhile, abandoned bicycles block the pathway. “Thus is it feasible to re-allocate all these bicycles and make them handy for all?” Many nights  had they spent brainstorming and gathering antecedent data for reference. Eventually, they all assented to give it a try — “Campus Bicycle Sharing” project thereby came into being. Sanguine as they were, the team were perturbed by unexpected factors: it was much too challenging for three college students, with no resources or experience for bicycle sharing, to prepare for investment issue, audience psychology, brand promotion, etc. Besides, it would be problematic to appeal to students to join in the new project. However, concerning the inconvenience of individual bicycles and the welfare of all fellow students, they decided to venture a second time. Breakthrough: From zero to one Fortunately, a PKU alumnus, who happened to hear of the project and was affected by their craving for “riding bicycles anytime and anywhere,” consented to be their first investor.

Since May 2015, the team appropriated the investment fund for purchasing new bicycles and enticing PKU students to partake in bicycle sharing, taking the first step of the project. In the following two months, the Wechat platform of “ofo bicycle” issued two articles which spread widely among PKU students, bringing in an increasingly broad user base. Through online register of personal information via the Wechat platform, users could get specific password, unlock and ride the bicycle, which is original and convenient However, for Dai Wei, the most important and challenging mission was to let students participate the project of their own accord. Wang Geng, the first staff of “ofo bicycle,” successfully persuaded the very first bicycle owner to partake in the sharing project. “I can still recollect his name and the license plate number clearly,” recalled Wang. Since the appearance of the first bicycle sharing owner, the team’s idea of bicycle sharing has been kindled in more and more PKU students. The brand of “ofo bicycle” and its symbolic yellow color is becoming very much in vogue on campus. Up to mid-October, the number of sharing bicycle has exceeded 2,000, and the users over 20,000. Setback and Resolution The thriving business also confronted varied problems, calling for prompt resolution. At first, the misunderstanding of the students came as a blow to the team. “I went to the bank by ofo bicycle, but it was nowhere to find when I came out,” a students complained. “Some people should lock the ofo bicycle with their own padlocks and intend to keep it for personal use, disregarding the notion of sharing,” said another. The team was once deluged with problematic issues such as bicycle availability, quality, maintenance and security. However, the team is always ready for new challenges. With regard to bicycle maintenance, Zhang Bohan, operation executive of the team, engaged himself in the detailed work of bicycle maintenance, including relocating, repairing and lock replacing. His maintenance group goes wherever they are needed, without a fixed workplace. When it came to bicycle security, Zhang Siding said, “I’m afraid there is no perfect resolution to this problem, for we could hardly avoid bicycle thieves.” But in order to minimize possible loss to a larger extent, the bicycles qualified for the sharing project value no more than 200 yuan each, on the premise of good condition of the vehicles. Starting within PKU, proceeding to a broader stage PKU campus witnesses the progress of the team and now the “ofo” yellow tide has almost become one of the cultural icons of the university. The three young students start their dream within PKU, from where they will proceed, exploring a broader stage in the future. In the next few months, “ofo bicycle” team will keep refining the whole operation, framing a systematic mode of the project. Their next step is to promote “ofo bicycle” to other universities, modeling on PKU bicycle sharing mode. “Imagine one day, everyone in the city can ‘ride bicycles anytime and anywhere,’ that would be my greatest happiness,” remarked Zhang Siding.