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Chinese unicorn Mobike readies Brazil launch

The dockless cycle hire startup plans wants to emulate the success it enjoys in its home market in South America.

Chinese startup unicorn Mobike will start a pilot of its dockless cycle hire operation in the Brazilian city of São Paulo next month with plans to replicate the success it enjoys in its home market.

The company has been accredited by the São Paulo Mayor's Office in April. The idea is to start the operations in the country with 2,000 bikes and ramp that number up to 100,000 in the coming months and to expand into the cities of Rio de Janeiro, Salvador and Belo Horizonte.

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Within a year of launch in Beijing, China the company surpassed 500,000 bikes and 3 million trips per day. According to the startup's Vice President of international expansion, Chris Martin, Mobike is "focused strongly" on achieving this scale of success in Brazil.

Mobike also has plans to set up operations in other countries in the region. After the company proves its business model in Brazil, it also plans to assemble its bikes locally - and according to the company this might also include the development of custom features and bike versions for the Brazilian and the South American markets.

The largest economy in South America represents "a major opportunity" to Mobike, as challenges in urban transportation faced by the country's major cities grew in the same proportion as cities themselves.

"By providing smart transportation solutions to Brazilian cities and citizens, we expect to quickly meet and perhaps surpass our global standards on user acquisition, and rides per bike," Martin told ZDNet.

In terms of what will differentiate Mobike from other bike sharing options in terms of customer-facing technology standpoint, Martin argues Mobike's proprietary smart locks with built-in GPS and Internet of Things (IoT) technology create a "sophisticated and highly adaptable solution" to mobility challenges. Customers scan a QR code on a Mobike nearby and immediately use it. Once at their destination, they only need to find somewhere safe to leave the bike after locking it.

The company claims to operate the largest IoT network in the world, which enables it to quickly and effectively deploy its assets to meet consumer demand, something Martin says that rivals are (still) unable to do.

"We are also the only company in our industry that is able to track every one of our bikes in real time, at all times," the executive says, meaning that users can see and locate the nearest bike through a mobile app.

The IoT capability also means that Mobike can monitor the location and the maintenance needs of its bike fleet and intervene when necessary.

Other local companies are also readying their dockless bike hire operations - including Yellow, the company founded by local ridesharing unicorn 99 - but Martin does not see this as a major challenges given the Chinese startup's international experience. Mobike is present in 7 of the 20 biggest cities in the world in a diversity of mobility and geographical environments, which according to Martin, significantly improved the firm's strategic playbook and likelihood of being successful.

"Product, and management technology, are what makes bikeshare successful - Mobike operating in every type of city, at massive scale, really certifies our ability to succeed in large and complicated global cities," Martin points out.

Commenting on the technology set-up that is typically required to set up Mobike's operations in a new country, the executive highlights two key pillars: the IoT-based bike locks are permanently connected to the internet, with a specific IoT SIM card in place, with connectivity provided by a local telecom company. Servers are hosted on safe environments provided a "major global technology company" and compliant with local data and privacy regulations.

The IoT smart locks are well tried and tested, according to the executive at the startup - the devices are able to withstand extreme weather conditions, ranging from harsh winters in Northern Europe to long wet summers in Asian locations such as Singapore.

When it comes to hiring technology staff to support operations in Brazil, Martin says Mobike has been "inundated" with applications from Brazilian professionals: "Brazil is such a vibrant economy, and high-talent market, we're already seeing that some of company's best global staff will join the team here."