When Uber started making waves a few years back, barely a week went by without some startup somewhere launching “the Uber for [enter your business idea here].” We’ve seen the Uber for laundromats, the Uber for farmers, and the Uber for trash collection, among many others, with the sharing economy inspiring entrepreneurs around the world to try their hand at Uber’s game. The latest to land on the scene is the Uber for umbrellas, though it’s fair to say that the team behind it never expected it to go quite so horribly wrong.
Entrepreneur Zhao Shuping set up Sharing E Umbrella in more than 10 cities across China in the last couple of months, operating its business in a similar way to bike rental schemes that are proving so popular in many of the world’s major cities. But Sharing E Umbrella’s users have ended up raining on his parade.
The problem is that many people have been failing to return their umbrellas, leading the startup to recently admit that it had lost pretty much all of them. To give you a clearer idea of just how bad that is for Zhao’s business, he said nearly 300,000 umbrellas — yes, 300,000 — have gone missing in just a few weeks.
The service works via an app, with the user paying a deposit of a couple of bucks in addition to a small rental fee for each half hour of use. Umbrellas can be picked up at busy places such as train and bus stations. Trouble is, no one is putting them back again.
According to the South China Morning Post, Zhao said that after feeling “really impressed” by the success of bikesharing schemes in China, he believed “everything on the street can now be shared.” Except umbrellas, it seems.
Zhao, however, is clearly determined to make his umbrella-sharing startup work, as he’s planning to roll out the service to more cities, supplying up to 30 million umbrellas in the next six months. Considering how it’s gone so far, you may consider Zhao’s expansion plan as extremely brave or somewhat foolish.
But as the Morning Post points out, Sharing E Umbrella isn’t the only business of its type to face severe challenges in the country. One bikesharing scheme, for example, had to shut down in June after nearly all of its bicycles were taken and never returned.