22 October 2016
Zhou Wei (right) targets customers in their early 30s or younger as they are usually more receptive to new technology. Photo: HKEJ
Zhou Wei (right) targets customers in their early 30s or younger as they are usually more receptive to new technology. Photo: HKEJ

Shenzhen startup says no to Xiaomi

At 29, Zhou Wei, chief executive of three-year-old startup Inmotion Technologies Co. Ltd., already feels quite old.

“This is now the world of the post-’90s generation,” Zhou tells the Hong Kong Economic Journal Monthly when asked how feels about owning a successful business at an early age.

The Shenzhen-based company, a maker of self-balancing scooters, has raised 150 million yuan (US$24.2 million) from two rounds of seed funding.

Inmotion’s sales data explains why investors find the company attractive.

In less than one year, monthly sales of its scooters surpassed 30 million yuan. Inmotion now corners 60 percent of the self-balancing scooter market in mainland China.

“Our vehicle is not simply a transport tool, but a robot, a mobile intelligent platform,” says Zhou.

Unlike other startups that take years before turning a profit, Inmotion is already making money.

However, Zhou sees the need to plough back money into research and development.

Given the lack of standard for the new product in China, Zhou wants to set a benchmark for the industry.

Currently, the self-balancing scooter market in China is around 1 billion yuan. Ninebot and i-Robot are some of Inmotion’s major rivals. And there are more than 400 knockoff makers competing in this new market.

Self-balancing scooter – a transporter that uses accurate dynamic self-balancing technology to sense the lean of the rider – was invented by United States-based company Segway in 2001.

But Segway’s sales have been far below expectations. In April, the firm was acquired by Ninebot, of which Xiaomi and Sequoia Capital are shareholders.

The problem of Segway and other overseas scooter makers is the pricing of their products, according to Zhou.

“Their scooters cost between 80,000 yuan and 100,000 yuan,” he explains. “That’s too pricey for most mainlanders. With that money, why don’t they buy a car instead?

“That’s why the most expensive product of Inmotion is 10,000 yuan. But that’s still high, so we’ve also rolled out a new model that goes for less than 3,000 yuan.”

Zhou’s target customers are those in their early 30s or younger as they are usually more receptive to new technology.

In big cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, the traffic condition during rush hours is terrible.

Inmotion is positioning its scooter as a last-mile solution to help commuters get to their office after getting off the railway system or buses. This usually involves a distance of 5 to 10 kilometers.

The company’s potential has caught the attention of some big players. In 2014, Xiaomi approached the startup.

Zhou recalls that the first thing the two Xiaomi partners asked him when they first met was: Can you lower the price from 9,999 yuan to 999 yuan?

No way, he says. “If there is no reasonable profit, where do you get the money to invest in a new product?”

He even wrote an article on his personal blog about the proposition made by the hot-shot smartphone maker, calling it “The toxic Xiaomi” to show his disapproval.

“Business is not only about profit and market share, dignity is also important,” Zhou notes.

Zhou has big dreams. He hopes that Inmotion’s sales will quadruple to 1.4 billion yuan this year.

Residents in first-tier cities are still the group’s target customers. “About 44 percent of the drivers in Beijing drive within a distance of 5 kilometers. If half of those convert to scooters, this will be a huge boost to our business,” he says.

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