Car-sharing start-up is the talk of Europe

Founded in Paris in 2006, BlaBlaCar aims to connect people who want to share long-distance journeys

BlaBlaCar last week announced that it has raised $100 million in new investment from a group of European and American venture firms, including Accel Partners and Index Ventures

BlaBlaCar last week announced that it has raised $100 million in new investment from a group of European and American venture firms, including Accel Partners and Index Ventures

Mon, Jul 7, 2014, 01:00

In France, Charlotte Jurdieu has become part of the millions in the sharing economy.

Twice a month, Jurdieu (26) drives her Vauxhall Astra from Paris to her hometown in the Alsace region of eastern France to visit her family and boyfriend.

And in the passenger seats of her small car come fellow customers of a French start-up company, BlaBlaCar, which has created an online ride-sharing service to match drivers like her with passengers in need of a ride.

Founded in Paris in 2006, the company aims to connect people who want to share long-distance journeys. It is also active in Russia, Germany, Poland and eight other European countries.

BlaBlaCar last week announced that it has raised $100 million in new investment from a group of European and American venture firms, including Accel Partners and Index Ventures.

While sharing start-ups such as Uber and Airbnb have met regulatory resistance with their business plans, BlaBlaCar operates differently, forbidding participants to profit from the ride-sharing service. Instead, drivers share the costs of their trips and riders often pay less than they would have using public transportation.

“I’m a lot cheaper than the train,” says Jurdieu, one of more than eight million Europeans who now use BlaBlaCar. One-way train tickets from Paris to Alsace can cost more than a third more than what she charges for the same route. “As it’s a long time to spend in a car, travelling with people also makes the time go faster.”

The company’s English name, which it uses regardless of the country where it operates, comes from how chatty people are when sharing journeys. If passengers do not want to talk during the trip, they can mark in their profiles that they are only “Bla,” to denote that they are not looking for much conversation. Or they can go a full “BlaBlaBla” when they are happy to chatter throughout the trip.

Users such as Jurdieu complete online profiles that tell others whether they have a vehicle or are looking for a ride. People can post when and where they are going, and others can then sign up to share rides.

The driver posts a price per seat, people pay up front – online, in some cases – and BlaBlaCar takes a 12 per cent cut of each trip.

The typical journey – mostly between large European cities such as Munich and Hamburg, Germany – is less than 200 miles, and the company says that more than a million people use the service each month. The largest markets, each with more than a million users, are France, Germany and Spain.

Growing trend

“The need we’re trying to address is universal, and the market is massive,” says Nicolas Brusson, a founder of BlaBlaCar. He says the company planned to use the new investment to expand across Europe and into emerging markets like Brazil and India where transport infrastructure is poor. “Countries like Turkey have many similar features to where we operate in Europe and Russia.”

The rise of BlaBlaCar is part of a growing trend of companies that are tapping into the so-called sharing economy.

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