Scooters, a common sight on the streets of Taiwan, give commuters an alternative to cars in the country’s densely populated cities. But they also contribute to pollution and jam-packed parking spaces. Over the past few years, several companies haven taken on the challenge of creating more environmentally friendly alternatives to traditional gas scooters. Gogoro is probably best-known internationally for its electric SmartScooters, which are now the category’s top-sellers in Taiwan. While less known outside of the country, however, scooter-sharing startup WeMo has grown steadily since launching in 2016. It now has a fleet of more than 7,000 scooters in three of Taiwan’s biggest cities and says users take about one million rides per month.
WeMo recently announced it has raised a multi-million-dollar Series A led by AppWorks, making it the Taiwanese venture capital firm’s first smart mobility investment. The funding is being used to expand beyond Taipei City, New Taipei City and Kaohsiung, WeMo’s current markets, with plans to go international, too, launching first in Southeast Asian countries.
In Taiwan, WeMo competes with iRent, a car and scooter rental service, as well as GoShare, the mobility-sharing platform Gogoro launched a year ago.
WeMo co-founder and chief executive officer Jeffrey Wu told TechCrunch that his company differentiates because, from the beginning, it has focused on creating smart tech specifically for sharing scooters.
Instead of developing their own electric vehicles, like Gogoro, WeMo partnered with Kymco, one of Taiwan’s largest scooters brands. Each scooter is equipped with an internet-connected black box that was developed in-house by WeMo.
The black boxes enable WeMo to manage its fleet’s batteries, while providing data from rides, including traffic and road quality (for example, it detects when streets are bumpy) that can be shared with policymakers to improve transportation infrastructure. The black boxes also connect with WeMo’s user app, showing where scooters are available, unlocking them and sending alerts about traffic conditions.
WeMo began working on its service in 2015, about a year before launching with an initial fleet of 200 vehicles. Before co-founding WeMo, Wu was a consultant at McKinsey and Company.
"I was going back to my background of being a strategy consultant and at the time, my co-founder and I decided we wanted to do something in Taiwan that was very different from how people had practiced business in the past, because there were a lot of different macro-trends changing the environment," he said.
"Obviously the shared economy sector was just booming and at the same time, mobile-first technology was beginning to prevail. But we realized that the transportation sector had not changed in a very, very long time, so we thought if we are able to use the sharing economy or pay-as-you-go concept coupled with green vehicles, and provide that on a massive scale to consumers, we could move to a greener, smarter and more convenient form of transportation."
Wu also sensed a market opportunity because of the number of unused scooters he saw parked on the side of streets day after day. Despite being one of the most common transportation methods in Taiwan, finding parking in major cities is often a hassle, which means many scooters are underutilized.
WeMo fleets are located in parking lots, and scooters can be unlocked through the user app. Rental fees have different tiers, including per minute and hourly rates and monthly plans. The app is available in Chinese and English, to serve local riders as well as tourists. Riders can also now register accounts and rent scooters through LINE, the most widely-used messaging app in Taiwan.
To prepare for expanding into new markets, Wu said part of WeMo’s new funding is being used to expand its research and development center in Taiwan. The company plans to hire up to 100 hardware and software engineers, especially ones who have experience in self-driving technology, vehicle telematics and machine learning. Wu said WeMo’s plan is to be a "mobility-as-a-service" platform, working with partners to launch scooter-sharing services in new markets.
"Over the past five years, people have become used to shared mobility services, but five years ago it wasn’t such a developed space, so we had to come up with the technology and applications," Wu said. "Now we’re looking at what the future of mobility should look like, and how we use IoT technology to expand outside of transportation and use our data to help users maneuver more easily in their cities.”