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Opinion

Would Bird crash in Korea?

July 19,2018
CHOI JI-YOUNG
The author is an industrial news reporter of the JoongAng llbo.

A start-up company named Bird is making waves across the United States. Bird was founded in April 2017 and started services in September that year. Currently its market value is over $2 billion. It has the record of becoming the fastest unicorn company to hit a $1 billion valuation. It had raised a total of $400 million by the end of June.

Bird offers an electric scooter sharing service. The locations of the scooters are tracked on the app and users can rent the ones close to them. While the app and service are convenient, the scooter itself is not impressively innovative. Bird uses a cost-efficient model by Xiaomi.

Travis VanderZanden, founder and CEO of Bird, calls the company a “last-mile” transportation sharing service. It offers pollution-free means of transportation for the last mile of a journey when the subway or bus cannot help. U.S. experts say car sharing is expanding to micro-mobility and companies like Bird are garnering more attention.

The rise of Bird led to new jobs. “Chargers” are paid to collect the scooters left on the street that are out of battery, recharge them and return them to designated areas.

What would have happened if Bird was founded in Korea? First, Bird would use the money raised for large-scale advertising and marketing. Second, it would focus on increasing the number of scooters and service areas as fast as possible. Third, the scooters left by users would create inconvenience in the city. Fourth, the government would ban the operation or restrict the number of scooters. Fifth, as the business model of Bird proved not to work here, it would pursue restructuring. This is usually how things go in Korea.

Let’s see how Bird grew in the United States. It was founded in Santa Monica, and the city council reviewed a law to restrict the number of scooters. After discussion, the lawmakers passed a law to restrict the number of scooters to accommodate the surging demand.

Bird analyzed big data and decided not to increase the number of scooters if each unit is used less than three times a day. It also announced a plan to increase the number of chargers and donate a dollar per scooter to the improvement of transportation infrastructure for each city.

It is unclear whether Bird will remain a unicorn or fall after a few years. But it is clear that the U.S. government, start-ups, local governments and consumers are constantly working to improve the situation. It is quite different from the mobility service in Korea, where discussions for improvement are constantly obstructed.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 16, Page 30
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