Once Valued at $140 Million, Bluegogo’s Ride is Filled With Bumpy Roads at Home and Abroad

Written by: Nichakorn Prateepsawangwong on November 30, 2017

The Background

Name any Chinese bike-sharing company that you know of and chances are that ofo and Mobike are among your top choices. There is however, another bike-sharing company worth talking about.

Founded as early as November of last year, Bluegogo is a Tianjin-based bike-sharing firm and has quickly become the third largest company of its kind in China, following, of course, ofo and Mobike.

Similar to its competitors, the dockless bike-sharing brand is equipped with a GPS tracker and users book the bikes through the Bluegogo app.

Because the bikes are station-less, they are scattered random spots throughout the city. In the first half of 2017 alone, Bluegogo already has 70,000 bikes in three Chinese cities: 35,000 in Shenzhen, 25,000 bikes in Guangzhou, and 10,000 in Chengdu.

Source: Mashable

Bluegogo has drawn several investors to fund its business and was valued at $140 million after pocketing a Series A round of $21 million in November last year and $58 million earlier this year.

With two large funds raised within a single year, the company seemed to be performing well in China that it began looking into overseas expansion to leverage the hype surrounding the share economy. What could possibly go wrong?

The Challenge

Like other share-economy startups, think Uber, ofo, etc., Bluegogo needed to find a way to become profitable.

One way to prove its worth to investors is its ability to expand.

“Bluegogo, being a latecomer to the bike-share game, needs to be aggressive” – Mashable

Bluegogo has not only been aggressive in expansion at home but also reaching as far as the US. The Chinese company chose San Francisco, the second most bike-friendly city in the States as its first venture into North America.

In January this year, the company was the first smartphone-enabled bike-sharing platform to launch some 20,000 dockless bikes in San Francisco, USA.

However, Bluegogo’s American Dream was not smooth sailing. Instead of a warm welcome by SF city dwellers accustomed to miles of bike lanes and high quality cycling facilities, Bluegogo faced angry lawmakers.

The company having achieved rapid success in China, implemented the same strategy in the US by placing dockless bikes everywhere on the streets of San Francisco. The problem was that the city ended up with large, messy and unsightly piles of bikes.

Leftover bikes from bike-sharing firms such as Bluegogo pile up in China. Source: Mashable

San Francisco has historically been known for its welcome mat, but in recent years we’ve let ourselves become a doormat. It’s time to put the public’s interests first, even if that means disrupting the disruptors,” said Aaron Peskin, Supervisor of the San Francisco Board.

Peskin even called the bikes a “public nuisance,” and vowed to destroy or even sell the bikes if they clogged up city streets.

In Bluegogo’s defense,

There was a problem in communicating,” said Ilya Movshovich, BlueGoGo‘s North America VP of Operations. “The people we reached out to initially were not the people we needed to get to. We didn’t quickly enough communicate with the appropriate heads.”

Until even now, San Francisco has yet to approve Bluegogo’s presence and even imposed a new law to increase the penalty for Chinese bike-sharing companies planning to litter its city.

If expansion wasn’t success, monetization would have to come from deposits provided by Bluegogo’s claimed 20 million cumulative users. If only 10 million users paid a $14.96 deposit, it would mean the company has collected around $149 million in deposits, in addition to the $0.08 per half hour charge to ride.

So why was the company owing roughly $30 million in total outstanding payables to vendors, unpaid rent and overdue salaries?

Bluegogo’s empty Beijing office. Source: China Money Network

It also owed users $15 million worth of deposits as of November 2017.

To make things even worse, Bluegogo’s CEO Li Gang went missing early November 2017 and was later discovered to have fled the country. What was this once promising company going to do?

Li Gang, Bluegogo’s CEO. Source: Linkedin

The Strategy

In attempt to explain the disastrous situation, Li released an open apology letter. As cliché as it sounded, he blamed the company’s state on lack of financial support, claiming that Bluegogo was ‘on thin ice in the face of two well-funded players’, pointing fingers at ofo and Mobike backed by Tencent and Ant Financial, respectively.

The bike-sharing market is full of challenges, and my mind is too childish and naive to succeed in the sector.” – Li Gang

But there could be some light at the end of the tunnel. Li took the opportunity to announce a partnership with another small bike-sharing startup called Biker, who would be in charge of operating Bluegogo as usual under its management.  

The Future

The merger of small startups like Bluegogo and Biker is considered to be a typical one for competitive and costly markets. Li admitted that he will use the revenue generated from the partnership with Biker to pay off its debt.

Bike-sharing is an asset-heavy industry. As investors become increasingly cautious and reasonable about their bet, a timely merger or acquisition may be the only chance for second-tier players to survive,” – said Shi Rui, Analyst with consulting firm iResearch

Despite a promising partnership with Biker, there has been no word from the company itself to confirm the partnership.

The fall of Bluegogo has spurred the question, has the bike-share economy bubble finally burst?

There have already been three Chinese bike-sharing startups – Xiaoming Bike, Mingbike, and Coolqi – collapsing within a span of one year; the latter actually teaming up with Biker.

Even ofo and Mobike investors are said to be in talks for a possible merger to survive in China’s bike-sharing market, which was estimated to be worth $1.5 billion this year. Is the future of bike-sharing M&A and endless funds?

Without support from a wide range of investors and good financial planning capabilities, even the best bike product is powerless,” wrote Li Gang.

We beg to differ. A company that relies on solely on funding in the long run needs to rethink its business model. Good luck Bluegogo/Biker/Coolqi.

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