Mobike, the dockless bike rental service, announced that it was withdrawing from the Manchester market this week, citing vandalism of bikes as a reason to depart the City. Cue much wringing of hands and the classic “this is why we can’t have nice things.” It’s easy to point to the vandalism aspect, and to some extent there may be a point.
But Mobike’s departure might be for more subtle, perhaps undisclosed reasons. When explaining to investors, it might be far easier to say that local vandalism is the cause than publicly saying that the business model was wrong and the marketplace didn’t want the product. It’s easier than saying than perhaps the product wasn’t adequately marketed. Mobike’s own Twitter account wasn’t very lively and didn’t garner many more followers than the author.
Mobike is huge in other countries, especially in China and in cities all over the world. But success in one location doesn’t necessarily confirm the same in another. There are specific, unique place qualities to Manchester that don’t match other cities – tight, small city centre that’s easily walkable and relatively well-developed public transport system, including free buses around the city centre.
Beer mat maths by some commentators suggest that bike utilisation was extremely low and as a result, the returns that could have been made would not be there. Some vandalism to, and theft of bikes would not help in making the service reliable. Discussion of punitive effects of the gamification in the hiring of bikes (being penalised for traveling too far or parking the bike away from ‘communal’ Mobike parking locations) has been mentioned in why the idea never really took off. The bike design was also heavily criticised.
Mobike’s short time in Manchester could well have been a beta test – testing the market to see of the product was appropriate. If that’s the case, then all well and good. To publicly claim that vandalism is the reason is perhaps a little misleading (trains and buses are regularly vandalised everywhere). Mobikes are vandalised in other locations – indeed they are so cheap to manufacture and own that they are effectively a disposable commodity.
It didn’t work out. Back to the Value Proposition Design Canvas, and rethink some of those customer jobs, pains and gains.