SoftBank partners with China’s Ofo to bring its dock-less bikes to Japan

A month after committing to help WeWork enter Japan, SoftBank is lending a hand to another global unicorn with its sights set on the country. Today, it announced a tie-in that will bring Ofo’s dock-less bike rental service to Japanese soil.

Ofo, which has raised more than $1 billion from investors such as Alibaba, Didi Chuxing and DST Global, claims over 100 million registered users and eight million bikes, each of which can be left anywhere and hired by scanning an attached QR code via the Ofo app.

Ofo will work with SoftBank C&S — the firm’s division responsible for IOT, robotics and the cloud — on the Japan launch. The initial plan is to bring Ofo’s bikes to Tokyo and Osaka in September ahead of a presumably wider expansion that will happen at a later date.

“Launching in Japan is a huge milestone for Ofo. In a country where there is a strong
cycling culture, we strive to further improve the convenience and cost-effectiveness that
cycling can bring to people in Japan,” Ofo’s head of APAC Lawrence Cao said in a statement.

Ofo CTO Austin Zhang explains how to unlock a dock-less bike

Unlike the WeWork deal there is no financial aspect to this partnership — at this time, at least. There are already plenty of synergies though. SoftBank has made a number of investments alongside Alibaba, which led Ofo’s most recent $700 million funding round, and it is an investor in Didi, which backed Ofo last year.

Indeed, media reports in recent weeks have speculated that SoftBank may lead a new $1 billion-plus round for Ofo so this Japan launch could mark the start of a longer term relationship between the two.

Ofo is targeting an ambitious goal of reaching 200 cities in total by the end of this year. It hit 100 locations — which was its original goal for this year — within the first half of 2017, with most of those areas being in China. Now it is looking overseas with an aggressive slate of launches likely to come. So far, its international expansion plans have seen it enter, or get close to entering, the UK, Singapore, Thailand, Kazakhstan, Malaysia and now Japan.