It was the must have item for venture capitalists -- a portfolio containing Chinese web startups. Now, the tides have turned and the next big thing appears to be the sharing economy.
Yet, as investors rush to secure a stake in this new investment opportunity du jour, questions remain about the maturity and sustainability of the sharing economy as a whole.
Sharing -- whether bicycles, automobiles, property or any other assets -- has become popular in many of China's urban areas, as people seek to make their lives easier and save resources.
A recent report showed that about 600 million Chinese people were involved in sharing of some kind in 2016, which means almost half the population of China is involved in some way.
The trading volume of the sharing economy more than doubled year on year to 3.45 trillion yuan (about 500 billion U.S. dollars) last year, according to a report released by the State Information Center.
The sharing economy will grow at an average annual rate of 40 percent over the next few years and will account for more than 10 percent of the country's GDP by 2020, the report predicted.
Attracted by the huge market potential, capital has been thrown at sectors such as bike-sharing. More than 12 billion yuan was spent on the two-wheeled craze in the past six months, Shanghai-based private-equity firm Yuan Pu Investment estimates.
As a result, the whole industrial chain has felt the benefits from best-known brands, medium-sized factories and small businesses.
Online consulting firm iResearch said that Mobike, a bike-sharing company, had 7.693 million weekly active users from February 20 to 26.
China's bike-sharers are now looking to expand overseas.
On March 21, Mobike launched in Singapore its first office outside China; on the same day, Ofo, another major Chinese player, also introduced geared bicycles to the streets of the city state.
PLIGHT AND PROSPECT
The benefits of sharing are obvious both economically and environmentally. The emerging business model, however, is not without controversy due to the questionable usage and disposal of shared assets as well as divergent experiences of market players.
For bike sellers, the prospects seem to be mixed. Sellers focusing on sports and racing bicycles are happy that bike-sharing is promoting healthier lifestyles, but thousands of other retailers are worried about how they will struggle in the fast-changing market.
Failure and a lack of regulations co-exist in China's booming bike-sharing market, said Gao Peng, a researcher with the Society of Public Finance.