The Great Bike-Sharing Collapse of China

December 10, 2019, 1:37 PM UTC

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As I was driving home on a rainy Sunday afternoon in San Francisco, I passed a man on a bicycle with a small cage on his handlebars. Inside the cage were two ducks. Just another day here, really.

I thought of them Monday while reading Grady McGregor’s fine piece out of China about its demise of the over-invested bike-sharing craze. There’s a truism in tech-industry investing that parallels the adage about a waddling creature that walks and quacks like a duck very likely being one. Well, an investment craze that looks like a bubble and acts like a bubble—billions in, losses out, more investors than users—almost certainly is a bubble.

This one has burst completely.

The biggest players are discredited, acquired for a song, or gone completely. Chinese investors proved they are no different from tech investors everywhere else: They are perfectly capable of pumping too much money into a good idea and then ruining it. Here’s my photo of just another street corner in Guangzhou last month:

bikes piled on a corner in Ghuangzhou

Somehow, otherwise smart people, such as the fine business minds at Alibaba and Tencent, convinced themselves that the normal laws of supply and demand didn’t matter when “platforms” needed building and competitors needed vanquishing.

McGregor’s hunch is that Chinese artificial intelligence investments are next, and that sounds right. A.I. investments, in China and elsewhere, fit the bill: tremendous promise, even more hype, plenty of suckers afraid they’ll miss the opportunity if they don’t invest now.

If you listen carefully you can hear the quacking.


A well-placed source suggested a Google executive as a potential No. 2 to newly promoted Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai: Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube. She is as O.G. as anyone senior at Google, has known the founders since they were pups, and runs a giant business inside the company.


Fortune published a list of travel tips from its far-flung journalists, including me. It’s fun. And might help relieve the pain.

Adam Lashinsky

Twitter: @adamlashinsky


This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman.


Mixing it up. Amazon charged that it lost out on the $10 billion Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract because President Trump viewed the company as a "political enemy." In its lawsuit that was made public on Monday, Amazon also argued that contract-winner Microsoft didn't meet its requirements.

Working for the man. Speaking of lawsuits, Apple is suing Gerard Williams, its former top chip architect who left in February and is now the CEO of startup Nuvia. Williams breached his employment agreement by drawing on work from Apple for Nuvia and trying to hire Apple staff, the lawsuit alleges. Williams counters that Apple is seeking to enforce a backdoor non-compete agreement, which is illegal under California law.

Coming at 'cha like a dark horse. In one of the weirder product-naming moves of the year, Intel unveiled a new chip for quantum computing dubbed Horse Ridge. Intel says the chip is designed to operate at temperatures near absolute zero (or minus 452 Fahrenheit), so it's named after a chilly part of Oregon.

Bow wow. Say what you want about SoftBank Group's troubled investments, but you can no longer claim that the firm is going to the dogs. Or walking the dogs. SoftBank sold its entire $300 million stake in on-demand dog walking service Wag Labs back to the company at a loss, the Wall Street Journal reports.


As the year winds to a close, we're being overwhelmed with a surfeit of "best of" lists, including many from Fortune. But don't skip over Popular Science's listing of the 100 greatest innovations of 2019. They've included all kinds of things: new drugs, new gadgets, and a digital assistant that keeps all your interactions private:

Digital assistants are helpful, but given Big Tech’s spotty history with privacy, sharing your contacts, appointments, search requests, and other personal deets seems unwise. Rather than saving your info in the cloud—even if it has been anonymized—like other platforms, the Almond Android (sorry, no iOS yet), web, and desktop Linux interface keeps your musings safe on your device. Its servers only interpret queries and send commands (“mute my ringer during meetings”) to your gadget, which processes them through your apps. A crowdsourced repository of commands and features means new tricks pop up all the time.


Suitcase e-commerce startup Away replaced CEO Steph Korey, who came under fire for her management style, with Stuart Haselden, former chief operating officer at Lululemon Athletica...bitcoin derivatives firm LedgerX placed co-founders and top executives Paul and Juthica Chou on administrative leave for undisclosed reasons. Larry Thompson, vice chair of the DTCC, was named interim CEO...Mustafa Suleyman, one of the three co-founders of Google's DeepMind A.I. project, is shifting to help work on Google's A.I. policy team with chief legal officer Kent Walker...Verizon added Carol Tome, former chief financial officer at Home Depot, to its board of directors.


Uber Drivers Are Victims of Violence, Too By Danielle Abril

Sexual Harassment Issues Highlighted at a Leading A.I. Conference By Jeremy Kahn

First Ever Pro Drone Race Gave an A.I.-Piloted Aircraft the $1 Million Grand Prize. But It Still Couldn’t Beat a Human Pilot By Aaron Pressman

Fortune Poll: Move Over, Malls, as Mobile Shopping Booms By Lance Lambert

IBM Trials A.I. That Can Do Soccer Commentary By Jeremy Kahn


Along with "best of" lists, year-end is also when the hype for summer movies starts in earnest. I guess we all want to imagine ourselves in a comfy theater munching popcorn while we're actually trudging through a wet or slushy winter day. I caught the trailers this week for Ghostbusters: Afterlife and the Bond film No Time to Die, but the top of my list for popcorn dreaming: Wonder Women 1984.

Aaron Pressman

On Twitter: @ampressman


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