10 Years of Igniting Change — The Inside Story
10 years ago — in September 2006 — I handed in the documents incorporating “Comuto”. The original name of the company, known today as BlaBlaCar, was drawn from the latin verb “Commuto, Commutare” meaning “to exchange something with another”. Without knowing it, our newborn startup was embarking on a long journey, pioneering, alongside others, what would later be known as the Sharing Economy.
Let’s rewind to 2006 for a moment: Facebook is two years old and is only just starting to open its platform to non-students. Smartphones as we know them today are big, and not that smart: The iPhone does not exist, nor does the Android operating system. People are only just beginning to grasp the fact that they’re entering the digital age, but most are still puzzled by its implications. And there I am, pitching my idea of a world where anyone looking to travel could connect with drivers heading the same way, hop into their car, and share the journey along with the costs. As I pitched it relentlessly to anyone who would listen, the responses varied from utter disbelief to compassionate scepticism.
2016: 40 million members on 3 continents. And yet here we are. Ten years down the line, BlaBlaCar will count 40 million members by the end of 2016, ridesharing in 22 countries across three continents. In the past decade, enabled by trust and technology, we’ve built the world’s largest ridesharing community. We have turned millions of lonely drivers into ridesharers and have opened up a whole new world of friendly and affordable travel. We are optimising cars, one of the world’s most inefficiently used assets. And best of all, we are enabling new social connections along the way.
Timing & People
There are many vital ingredients that make up BlaBlaCar’s unique recipe. A large-scale opportunity to address wasted car capacity. The right timing. Strong company values. A deep sense that our main purpose is to serve the members of our community. An ever-evolving product. Supportive investors. But as I reflect on the ten years that have gone by, I realise that it mostly boils down to one thing: people.
People who dare to believe. People who dare to support. People who work with their hearts and minds, bringing an incredible and invaluable set of complementary skills to the table.
If you asked people who know me well to describe me and my passions they would probably tell you that I’m a social being. In fact, there are very few things that I love to do more than sharing with others.When it came to being an entrepreneur, the same logic applied. From day one, I put my whole heart into the idea, but also into convincing talented people to join my mission. This included my friends Damien, and Nico D, without whom the first version of the website would not have existed. My sister Hélène, a Communications specialist, who advised on our positioning and sparked our first peak in usage by (rightly) advising us to communicate during train strikes to inform desperate travelers that an alternative existed. And our first employee, Laure, who started working from my living room (our very first office), and whose creativity and dedication has never faltered since. Rallying talented and genuinely passionate people to achieve our audacious vision has been a game-changer.
There are two people in particular that have helped me turn a bold dream into an impactful reality: my co-founders Francis Nappez and Nicolas Brusson.
I met Francis Nappez in 2006 at an entrepreneurial meet-up at my neighbour’s place. Having worked as an engineer in some of the biggest names in European consumer internet, he was passionate about the emerging power of the internet and its potential for transforming our everyday lives. He focused on building robust solutions for the long-term. Humble, discreet and overachieving, Francis is the precious type of person who never over-promises, but always over-delivers. With every chance given, I would weave the ridesharing idea into our conversation. As I left that evening, Francis quietly mentioned: “If you ever want your platform to be accessible on mobile, give me a call”. Needless to say, I did. And Francis became our CTO.
The following year, I chose to follow the one-year MBA program at INSEAD Business School in Fontainebleau to learn how to structure and manage our young venture. For the next year, I spoke about the platform to anyone who would listen, used it as an example in all my classes, and even incorporated it into the business school’s intranet so students could share their ride between campus and home.
This is where I met Nicolas Brusson. Nico had recently returned to France after spending seven years working in several startups in Silicon Valley, experiencing the booms and bust of the internet industry first-hand. After pitching him the idea in one of the cubicles in the library, he instantly became an enthusiastic believer in the potential of our platform. Together we presented BlaBlaCar’s business plan at the annual INSEAD Business Venture Competition. In the years that followed, Nico joined the venture capital sector in London, and acted as an advisor and friend, providing invaluable support to grow the business. In spring 2011, Nico joined part-time, leading a $10m fundraising round which would allow us to roll out our European expansion plans. The following year, he joined full time as COO.
Francis, Nico and I share a friendship and profound mutual respect which has enabled us to work with full trust since the beginning, our humour acting as our best cement in rough times. The ways in which we complement each other can be summed up as follows: I have a passion for igniting new ideas with high social impact and evangelizing the world until the impossible comes into reach; Francis knows how to turn ambitious ideas into reality and build robust solutions; and Nico knows how to scale a business through audacious strategies and smart financing. We challenge and rely on each other in equal measure. We have grown together, and so has our team and our community. Over the past three years alone, BlaBlaCar expanded to 20 new countries, grew its headcount from 100 to 550 people, and multiplied the size of its ridesharing community tenfold.
As we reached the 500 employee threshold, this led us to evolve our internal organisation. I took on the role of Executive Chairman heading the Board and sitting on a newly created Executive Committee. I chose to entrust co-founder Nicolas Brusson with the role of CEO, a logical continuation to the fantastic work he achieved in leading our international expansion across 22 countries and our successive rounds of fundraising. Furthermore, I entrusted Francis Nappez with developing our Product, a mission that I hold close to my heart and which, together with the tech capabilities he already heads, allows for agile and consistent execution. We created an Executive Committee, which meets weekly and acts as the main decision-making forum to arbitrate any unresolved issues, keeping execution fast and efficient. Moreover, we formalised the “Founders’ Office”, a physical space which we have always shared, but now also the body which oversees the company culture and vision.
When we look at what we’ve built over the years, we think we’ve come a long way. But truth is, we are only just getting started.
We’ve got a mission to make every empty car on the road a BlaBlaCar. Each day we continue to strengthen our matching capabilities to make sure that anyone and everyone can find a suitable ride at any time, anywhere. Thanks to the layers of trust we engineered over the past decade, people are becoming connected peers and our members are sharing and collaborating at an unprecedented scale and speed. This opens many new possibilities. In the background, the mobility landscape is changing fast too. As cars become connected and the prospect of autonomous vehicles gets closer, car-usage optimisation will be built into future mobility solutions. The future is sharing. The market inefficiency of billions of empty seats on the roads will become a thing of the past, and the fragmented global car fleet will be optimised. As a result, our roads will be less congested and safer, and transport will be more affordable.
Changes have gone even beyond our expectations in the last 10 years, and the acceleration we are currently witnessing points to a promising future. Before we embark on the next leg of our journey, we invite you to dive into the past and discover our INSIDE STORY. Based on our ten company values, these 10 stories shed some light on what it took building BlaBlaCar to date.
A decade of dreams, hard work and passion.