Crowds of people descend on the Coolqi bike hire scheme’s head office in Tongzhou to get their deposits back as Coolqi founder and CEO Gao Weiwei (高唯伟) tells our sister site that the company is not bankrupt, but that he has been removed as CEO (in Chinese). The company’s WeChat payments have been frozen and it is seeking the guidance and support of the government while it is talking with another company for a potential RMB 1 billion acquisition.

Coolqi (酷骑单车, literally “cool ride bike” in English) was at one point the number three hire bike company and brought us the bold gold model earlier this year to great fanfare (and mockery). It received RMB 900 million in investment, has 1.5 million registered users and 1.4 million bikes in use across China.

Dazzling even in the rain—Coolqi bikes in Shenzhen (Image credit: TechNode)

However, a blog, 北京人不知道的北京事儿 (which translates as The Beijing Things Beijingers Don’t Know), posted pictures of near-deserted offices said to be the Tongzhou headquarters just outside of Beijing and a crowd of people who are apparently trying to get their money back or are there on behalf of friends. The deposit is RMB 299. According to other local media, large crowds had gathered outside by yesterday evening.

The company’s last Weibo announcement was August 30th to announce that when the new CTO starts any issues will be ironed out. However, distribution and maintenance staff at the Xi’an division have reportedly already been laid off.

Founder and CEO Gao Weiwei spoke to our sister site last night and explained that although the company has been facing huge difficulties, it is not bankrupt and is seeking a buyer to take on the whole company. The company is seeking guidance and from support from the government and is trying to negotiate with WeChat which has blocked its payments account. Gao said the company had RMB 40 million, which it intends to return to users but that WeChat is not allowing this. “I’ve no way of giving a specific time for when these problems will be solved,” Gao told TechNode.

A possible merger or sale to another company is on the cards with talks already underway with one for an RMB 1 billion sale of Coolqi, which is “currently at the stage of due diligence,” Gao told TechNode.

Barely any staff left at the Tongzhou HQ (Image credit: 北京人不知道的北京事儿)

The company is already losing and laying off workers. Staff at the Tongzhou HQ were given a letter on September 22 which has been reposted online. Part of it reads:

The current financial situation is extremely tight, to the extent it is affecting our ability to operate. Staff wages will be issued as normal so as not to affect workers’ normal life, and the company is offering everyone the opportunity to make a one-off voluntary choice:
1. To stick with the company live or die
2. To seek other job opportunities elsewhere

Wages will be paid until September 30 2017….. If you stick with the company, thank you for your loyalty, but we must warn you that in future wages may not be paid on time.

Coolqi set up in November 2016 with green and then dazzling golden bikes with phone chargers supplied by Haier. The app is still operational and available to download, and, perhaps tellingly, was last updated two weeks ago with an “improvement” to the deposit return page.

Coolqi app still being updated—with the latest improvement being for deposit returns

The phone number given on the company website now gives the “Sorry, this number does not exist” message. Though the number for soliciting investment cooperation is permanently engaged, so perhaps Coolqi’s future is still golden.

Still hiring—Coolqi is looking for a CTO to sort things out (Image credit: Coolqi website)

Frank Hersey

Frank Hersey is a Beijing-based tech reporter who's been coming to China since 2001. He tries to go beyond the headlines to explain the context and impact of developments in China's tech sector. Get in...

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