To Shenzhen, China, where tech entrepreneur Zhao Shuping has had cold water poured on his business after his sharing economy start-up Sharing E Umbrella rented 300,000 umbrellas to damp locals, and lost virtually all of them.
Sharing E Umbrella had big plans to expand across China with its umbrella rental service, which requires a deposit of about £2.20 per GPS-enabled brolly and charges 6p per half hour.
The service works by scanning a QR code with a smartphone app and receiving a one-time usage text code to unlock a combination lock built into the umbrella’s handle.
Unfortunately, Shuping – who said he was inspired by the success of bicycle-sharing schemes, which are starting to take off in China’s increasingly-congested megacities – fell victim to a common problem among tech start-ups: rushing out a minimum viable product with little thought.
“Umbrellas are different from bicycles,” he said. “Bikes can be parked anywhere, but with an umbrella you need railings or a fence to hang it on.”
Not only was there no real mechanism built in to return the umbrellas, there was also no penalty for not returning them, so faced with the prospect of hunting for a non-existent docking station, Shuping’s customers took the easy option and simply bagged themselves a new brolly for virtually nothing.
With each umbrella costing him about £6.80, Shuping has burned through his £1.1m capital, but the entrepreneur remained philosophical about things, and said this was just a hiccup.
He now plans to deploy 30 million new brollies across China by the end of the year.