Five minutes with: ofo

The Five minutes with series presents a company with five short, sharp and to-the-point questions about who they are and what they do. This week, we’re joined by ofo MD Joseph Seal-Driver.

Can you tell us the history of the company?

We were founded by a group of students at Peking University in 2014 who named the company ‘ofo’ because the word looks like a person riding a bike. We launched in Beijing in 2015 and expanded to other Chinese cities the year after. In April last year we came to the UK for the first time and started a small trial in Cambridge, which has since grown massively. Now we’re also in London, Oxford, Norwich and Sheffield, and will be launching in Leeds in May. Today we have 10 million bikes in use in over 250 cities across 21 countries, with 32 million hires every single day.

What are you ultimately trying to achieve?

We’re driven by getting the world cycling. We want to create an easier way to make short journeys, one that’s simple, cheap, green and fun. We want to make it possible to explore every corner of the globe on an ofo bike. Cycling solves so many of the problems that society faces at the moment: inactivity-related illnesses, air pollution, congestion. Sometimes it’s difficult for people in cities to store their own bikes, or you may want to take a train in one direction but ride home. We solve those kinds of problems.

What gives you an edge over other brands in the industry?

In the UK we have a three-speed bike while many competitors have single-speeds. Our bikes are also much lighter; Boris Bikes are 23kg, for example, and we weigh in at just 17kg. Cyclist magazine reviewed all the dockless bikes currently available in London, as well as the Boris Bikes, and rated ofo best. So we’re confident that we have a great product and that people will recognise that.

What innovations in the industry are exciting you at the moment?

The industry as a whole is a recent innovation and it’s having a dramatic effect on cities. In London, we’re seeing people take to hire bikes where previously this hasn’t been an option because Boris Bikes only cover a small part of the city, which is really exciting. Our founder Zhang Yanqi has previously said that he’d like to see 150,000 bikes in London and to boost cycling levels to rival those seen in Amsterdam. The next couple of years will be really exciting.

What does the future hold for the company?

We’re constantly improving our app, back-end systems and bikes, and we learn new things every day from operating in our various cities, which inform how we do things. You may have seen in the news that we’re currently trialling a cryptocurrency-based rewards system in Singapore. We also have lots of new launches coming up in the UK and globally, so there’s plenty going on.

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