Is a startup all about implementation and execution?

Start ups are getting a lot of coverage recently. It’s all about coming up with a great idea, getting some funds together and implementation. I love start ups. The thrill of it all including the fast moving pace is so exciting. Stay hungry and stay foolish as Steve used to say. But I often ask the start up, what’s your moat? Or in simple speak, what’s your barrier to entry to prevent people from taking your lunch. Executing fast doesn’t really cut it as it purely goes on the lines of speed. How fast can you introduce different facets of the solution can’t really protect you from the competition. Some go along the lines of guerrilla marketing as another form to protect themselves. Ramp up the number of customers to achieve some form of critical mass. But is marketing or customer acquisition really the answer. Maybe it’s perfecting the solution and making sure that it accurately solves a problem for the customer. Have an appropriate business model that captures the value of the services offered. Communication and adoption strategies can then follow.

Well, over the last weekend, I decided to give one of the startups a try: OBike. The “bike sharing” idea was an interesting one following the heels of Uber and Grab. But the idea is not purely a sharing economy model as compared to the others as the product (ie bike) doesn’t actually belong to the user. Anyway, I downloaded the app (simple enough) and paid my $49 deposit before trying to locate one close by. $2 per hour in terms of cost of rental sounded attractive as well compared to those at the park that charged over $10 per 2 hours. Eureka! Just 200m and a short walk. Got over and scanned the QR code before unlocking the yellow bike. Then calamity struck. The handle bars started wobbling and fear struck. What if these guys thought i caused it and deducted my deposit! Luckily, there is a reporting function within the app and did my best job to capture a photo and describe the situation. Locked it back up and left it there. Thereafter I located another bike on the app. Went over to the location but bike no where to be found.

Determined, I decided to go all out to get a bike. Hopped into my car (yes, I really did that), and started driving around looking for a bike to rent. The next had the pedals damaged, two more were had broken seats and another didn’t unlock (scanned the code but nothing happened). After 6 tries, I finally gave up. OBike guys, I really did my best to give it a shot but hey perhaps they were still fine tuning the solution.

OBike was the first to launch in Singapore beating Mobike and Ofo. But the solution needs to be finetuned. Is it a problem of implementation? Well partly but first mover advantage was probably what they were looking for. Would additional marketing help? Not at all. Marketing a yet to be perfected solution is promoting a pill that doesn’t actually cure. Perhaps the problem laid in the solution itself. Back to my original point, the idea is not truly a bike sharing solution and unfortunately, people don’t usually take care what is not yours. You heard of people damaging the bikes, parking within their premises and some even painted it and parked it outside their flats. When something is yours and you rent it to someone, they typically have a unscripted responsibility to retain it to you in a working order.

So it’s time for a change (caveat emptor). OBike could look at providing some form of ownership to the bike. A carrot might work better than a stick (a deposit). Get people to adopt it. Sell ads on it. Put in a tool that provides a curated tour done by someone. Establish a link to a human to the two wheeler.  Make the bicycle belong to someone and hopefully the responsibility to return the item intact would come into play. Then hopefully we can find an OBike the next time that actually works.


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