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The rise of the BlaBlaMafia

How BlaBlaCar is giving rise to a new generation of startupers.

The power of strong startup alumni networks and ecosystems

Startup “mafia” is a concept coined by PayPal in the 2000. Its refers to a network that takes root in one single company, and with talent, mentorship and capital, evolves into a broad alumni network breeding generations of successful startups across the ecosystem.

The first time I was exposed to the power of strong alumni networks and ecosystems was in 1999–2000 with my first job in a Silicon Valley startup. Back then, optical telecommunication was one of the hot topics. As a young physicist, I embarked into an early-stage startup trying to become the next Cisco or Intel. At the time, it was striking to me to see that so many people we hired had previously worked in Silicon Valley early successes, such as Intel, Cisco, Apple, or leading disc drive or semiconductor companies.

Talent, knowledge and wealth were going around. Alumni of these past successes formed very powerful networks to hire from, get funding or simply support and advise each other. The best known example of such a network was being built right at the time: The famous “PayPal Mafia”.

Elon Musk, Peter Thiel and Reid Hofman, together with many early PayPal employees, built a startup-tree of founders or angel investors second to none.They created the next gen of tech leaders including LinkedIn, Tesla, SpaceX, Palantir, or Yelp to name only a few. They also made angel investments into an impressive list of companies including Facebook, Aribnb, Stripe, or DeepMind etc. These brilliant minds’ interconnectedness, at the heart of a thriving ecosystem, acted as a phenomenal catalyst to turn their ideas into stellar execution with strong firepower.

While there is no match to the Silicon Valley’s PayPal Mafia, a strong network of startups is gaining traction across Europe, each in their own way benefitting from their own smaller “mafias” of alumni and connections across their ecosystem. In France, these mafias take root in companies such as Criteo (Karos, Moment, etc), Otium Capital (Doctolib, ManoMano, etc), or Exolead (Dataiku, Leetchi, etc). And BlaBlaCar is now also seeing a hefty alumni community with growing impact.

BlaBlaCar’s entrepreneurial mindset

In BlaBlaCar’s early stages of growth, I realised ecosystems such as the ones in the Valley, and the mindset related to them, were largely missing in France. It was missing for several reasons:

  • France had not produced many tech successes at the time;
  • Employees were still in a mindset of taking a “job for life” and not taking risks;
  • Equity — hence future wealth — was not shared.

In order to encourage the right entrepreneurial mindset, we needed to instill it in our talents from day 1 and make BlaBlaCar a breeding ground for a new generation of startupers.

Since the very early days, we’ve been very clear on the fact that:

  • BlaBlaCar is probably not a job for life. It’s more of a journey with shared values and strong learnings. We are all here to learn by walking unbeaten paths together.
  • We seek entrepreneurial mindsets, doers and risk-takers. We give them space for intrapreneurship and are supportive of their entrepreneurial ambitions.
  • Equity is shared. As we take risks together, we also share the potential upside resulting from it. It’s an element of the adventure but not a retention tool. People tend to confuse the fact that equity is earned over time and has a strike price with a retention mechanism.

What cemented that entrepreneurial mindset was that Fred, Francis and I are also investors/advisors to many startups, and involved in supporting the broader tech ecosystem. Fred today is co-President of France Digitale and Francis Nappez is co-Founder of Tech.Rocks. We’re also investors / advisors to many of the startups founded by former BlaBlaCar employees, and beyond. We are drawn to talent with an entrepreneurial mindset and encourage our employees who wish to become entrepreneurs to build their own company.

The BlaBlaMafia in numbers

Over time, as great people moved on to new jobs or to start their companies, the BlaBlaMafia really started to take shape. As founders, we invested in many of these companies, which is part of the virtuous cycle of an ecosystem.

Here’s where the BlaBlaMafia stands in 2020:

  • Over 30 entrepreneurs in fintech, data services, artificial intelligence, mobility, health, food, B2B solutions, etc.
  • €23,025,890 raised across 9 startups (3 out of 9 are women-owned)
  • The average time at BlaBlaCar among these entrepreneurs is 3.75 years, and 4.7 years among the funded startups. It shows a positive correlation between time spent learning at BlaBlaCar and the early success of their startups.

Importantly, the BlaBlaMafia shows a high level of commitment to building businesses that can be a force for good, as BlaBlaCar itself carries in its DNA. Learnings but also values are thus distilled through the ecosystem. Many of the startups created or led by former BlaBlaEmployees have a dedicated environmental and social mission. Those span sectors such as mobility, circular economy, affordable housing or health.

Finally, as our sector strives to become more diverse and inclusive, it’s great to see that over 1/3rd of the entrepreneurs are female, and 20% of the total funding was raised by women.

We’ve always taken at heart the fact that BlaBlaCar has a strong impact on sustainable travel. But beyond the direct impact of our activity, it’s also exciting to see that employees who share part of the journey carry with them shared learnings and values to go on and build a rich ecosystem of great companies.

Long live the BlaBlaMafia :) and best of luck to all our alumni!



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