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Why Deep Local Ties Are Necessary For Global Success

Michael Qian, Founder and Co-CEO, SharingOS

Image Source: Fernando @cferdo via

Every mobility sharing business sets out to change the world. But over time, as businesses expand globally, they can forget where they came from. Losing a local connection is not just bad for customers, it can also be bad for business.

At SharingOS, we believe that mobility sharing businesses can get ahead by establishing strong local partnerships that help build towards global goals. We consider this a fundamental part of business.

The benefits of partnering locally are numerous. It helps a growing business to correctly navigate regulation, creates economies of scale and enables monitoring of supply and demand. Perhaps most importantly, by partnering with local people, providers, platforms and governments, mobility sharing companies engender trust amongst employees and users.

Earlier this year, the biggest beast of them all, Uber, underlined their belief in many of these principles by moving away from their old, combative model towards a new, collaborative approach. Uber’s past is littered with examples where they encountered problems trying to access cities, especially in Europe, due to their refusal to work with local authorities and firms. Clearly, lessons have been learned. Attitudes are changing.

In March, we learned that Uber had partnered with local operators in Taiwan, offering them a free trial of their technology in an effort to build relationships with local users, operators and regulators. And throughout Asia, Uber has decided it’s best to partner rather than oppose.

This is part of CEO Dara Khosrowshahi’s new approach, which could be rolled out in developed markets, too. Increasingly aligned, the company has recognised that a key way to promote its brand and engage with drivers and users is to work with local authorities and companies, rather than battling against them.

Like Uber, at SharingOS we believe in the power of local partnerships. They are intrinsic to everything we do and here is how we utilise its power to maximum effect.

When assessing any market around the world, it’s vital to have complete local knowledge of whether it is open to mobility sharing, as regulation can be tight. Of course, strict regulatory oversight works both ways. On the one hand, unless you have strong business-to-government capabilities, it makes barriers to entry in an industry high. But it also protects transparent, locally-focused companies from aggressive competitors who don’t follow the rules.

The next step is to employ first-class, locally-focused management. This team will be vital as they will work alongside councils, employees, users and residents. Management is responsible for creating a commercially viable and sustainable business plan, so it’s vital that they have comprehensive knowledge of the local lie of the land.

Efficient execution is vital, too, but it can be hard to achieve, as management needs to put in place a business strategy in a wholly new environment. The simplest way to do this is via a plug-and-play platform that provides hardware and software. This cuts the cost of development (potentially, many millions of dollars) and lead time (traditionally 18–24 months). Lots of players are doing their best to enter the mobility sharing sector. Reducing cost and lead time is critical for success.

Using this model, we’ve had great results. Firstly, Indigo Weel, our joint venture with Indigo Group, launched in its first city just three months after our first meeting. We’re now in six cities throughout France and expanding both domestically and internationally in the next few months. Vbike is another great example of locally-focused success. This was a joint venture based in Mexico City where we were given one of only two licenses by the city’s authorities and have enjoyed huge user take-up since launch. By following the process above, we’ve enjoyed local success. This is helping us to achieve our global goals.

Thinking locally to build globally is key. If you partner with local governments, you will stay on top of regulatory reform and requirements. If you learn how your local employees work best, you will get the best out of them. If you do all you can to understand local users, you will create users that use your service for years. Learning about and building relationships with local partners is crucial for global success. Without one, you will not have the other.

A final point to consider is that buyers and users make decisions with their hearts not their heads. So the best way to sell a product or a service is with emotion. Investing capital, time and effort in local markets pays dividends by enthusing early adopters who want a great new product or experience whilst supporting a local community, business or brand. Early bike sharing schemes were adopted by young people, built by local stakeholders coming together to improve a community. This local focus helped early movers win users. This is too often forgotten by global competitors.

For any business, large or small, developed or emerging, collaboration beats competition. Always. In an uber-competitive world, it’s easy to dismiss partnerships as creating friction rather than efficiencies. But digging local roots and working with companies and authorities that give a foothold in a region is as important for mobility sharing businesses as it is for any other.

The great industrialist, Henry Ford once said, “If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself”, and this is how we think about collaboration at SharingOS. By partnering, rather than opposing, we are making an active decision to engage and work with local decision-makers in geographies all over the world. That way, we will all win together.

The author is Founder and Co-CEO of SharingOS, a London and Shanghai based company that enables effortless, plug-and-play and sustainable solutions for partners to thrive in the mobility markets worldwide.

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