When BlaBlaCar started thinking about international growth in 2010, a similar inter-city ride-sharing service already existed in Germany. The French start-up knew it needed to move fast if it wanted to dominate the European market. So, it flaunted convention and raised capital to expand internationally even before it had proven the model in its home market.
“By the time most European companies go international it is too late,” says BlaBlaCar co-founder and COO Nicolas Brusson, who heads up the company’s international growth and operations. “We decided to go early into different European countries — adding a local team each time — before proving the business model, something very few players do.”
Just how early did the Paris-based company expand beyond its home market? “Our fourth employee was in Spain,” says Brusson, a speaker at NOAH, an annual Internet conference in London. The UK, Poland and other markets quickly followed. “My only regret is I wish we had done it even faster.”
In just four years the company, which was named a 2015 World Economic Forum tech pioneer, has attracted 10 million members in 10 European countries plus Russia, Ukraine and Turkey. It transports more than two million people every month, creating an alternative transport network that not only competes for customers with trains, buses and airlines but also creates demand from people who would not have travelled otherwise.
BlaBlaCar Transports More Than Two Million People Every Month
In August it raised the largest VC round ever for a French start-up — $100 million — from Index Ventures, Accel Partners, ISAI and Lead Edge Capital. It plans to use that capital to expand to India and Latin America. With big ambitions, and an even bigger potential market, BlaBlaCar is hiring talent in all of its nine offices around the world, says Brusson.
The idea for BlaBlaCar was born in France when Frédéric Mazzella, a student at Stanford, wanted to get home to his family in La Rochelle for Christmas. He had no car and the trains were full. Meanwhile, the roads were packed with people driving in his direction, many alone in their cars. He wanted to find one of the drivers going his way and offer to share the cost of fuel in exchange for an empty seat.
Mazzella created a site to do just that and the community began slowly to grow organically. He then met co-founder and engineer Francis Nappez. After completing his MBA, Mazzella worked on a plan with fellow student Brusson, the third co-founder, to finance and scale a service that has become one of the fastest-expanding in Europe.
For BlaBlaCar that means snapping up savvy local entrepreneurs and in the case of Russia, Poland and Italy using “acqui-hiring,” the practice of acquiring a company mainly for its talent.