Q What’s the story behind how Spin got started?
Mr Ko I studied computer engineering at Purdue University, which is where I met Zaizhuang. We started food website Yum.sg together back in 2007, straight out of college.
Zaizhuang worked at the Defence Science and Technology Agency as well as a Singapore-based start-up before moving back to the US to join Disqus, a comments platform for bloggers.
I have been in the (San Francisco) Bay area for about five years – I came here to join a start-up which was subsequently acquired by ride- sharing company Lyft.
I met our third co-founder Euwyn in Silicon Valley in 2010. He grew up in Singapore and finished his studies overseas. He is a partner at venture capital firm Exponent.
When Zaizhuang and I both left our jobs, we started working on a bunch of ideas together. One of the things we focused on was the next evolution of transport in cities.
Euwyn saw stationless bike sharing taking off in cities like Shanghai and Beijing when he visited China. We started chatting and were keen to figure out whether this would work in the US. We started Spin in December last year.
Mr Cheng We considered starting something in Singapore, but we are all based in the US. Also, we realised this was something missing in the US. In China, it’s been growing explosively but no one has succeeded in scaling it up in the US – bike sharing here has been plodding along and there are significant regulatory issues and challenges.
We saw a lot of potential.
Q Are you facing a lot of competition?
Mr Poon Our competition in the US comes in the form of station-based bike-share systems, such as Citi Bike in New York City and Bay Area Bike Share in San Francisco. But we believe our stationless model and technology offer a much better product experience for users.
To date, (Chinese bicycle-sharing companies) Mobike and Ofo have made overtures in US cities, but seem to be focused on winning the China market. There are also some other US-based competitors aiming to enter the market, as with any promising business opportunity.
Q What makes Spin different from the other bicycle-sharing companies that have attempted to break into the US market?
Mr Ko We are the only firm in the US that has done a stationless bike- share pilot. We did this in Austin during the South by Southwest festival – the pilot went really well.
Some Chinese bike-sharing firms started out in the US using similar strategies as they did in Singapore and China – dumping thousand of bikes in the streets. We don’t do that – it will not work in the US.
A big part of what we’re trying to do involves building relationships with city governments, making sure that it’s done right.
Mr Cheng Everyone is eyeing the US market. For example, China- based bike-share firm Bluegogo tried to get launched in San Francisco this year. But it met with backlash – people demanded that it get permits to operate in the city, and city officials threw regulation and policy and the law at it. Eventually, it had to withdraw from the city.
In Singapore, the Government reacts quite fast and has been quite open to new business models. But US cities are more regulated. People are more defensive on the tech front and officials are more reluctant to let things happen without control.
We are working very closely with the cities – we want to give them the information required so that they can enact policies that make sense.
We want to be a good partner. Hopefully, that will go a long way towards reassuring them that they have control over the situation.
Mr Poon Working with US cities to create sensible regulatory frameworks to govern our new business model has been a high priority for Spin since day one.
Ultimately, we think there’s a great win-win situation here for us and the cities. By simply establishing clear policies, cities can invite private operators like us to develop and operate a new mode of transport that helps people get around.
We’ve assembled a team of policy experts to work closely with US cities in our roll-out. I lead our policy efforts using my experience as a lawyer. We’re advised by the former policy lead at Airbnb, and our team includes a former member of the US Senate Commerce Committee.
Q What are your thoughts on how the bicycle-sharing phenomenon has unfolded in Singapore?
Mr Cheng We first began looking into starting something related to bicycle sharing last November. Things then started happening very fast in Singapore.
The US has a different set of concerns from Singapore, but it still has been quite educational for us to look at what was happening back home.
I’ve tried out bicycle sharing in China as well as the ones in the US, but have yet to head back to Singapore to try the ones there.
Mr Ko There have been some issues in Singapore, as there have been elsewhere, with people misusing the bikes. But the majority of people are responsible, respectable users and a few bad apples shouldn’t ruin it for everyone.
Q What are your growth plans after raising this funding round?
Mr Ko We raised the round so that we can scale up and expand across the country. We’re now in talks with a number of cities about launching our bicycles this summer. One of the cities is Seattle – the others, we will share in due course.
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