I recorded a video interview with BlaBlaCar co-founder Nicolas Brusson a first time in early 2014 because I thought that the company was on an interesting trajectory in an interesting and fast-growing space (ride-sharing). A second time after they had raised $100 million to capitalise on that opportunity and growth, also around the time when BlaBlaCar was debuting in Turkey and exploring launches in emerging markets on other continents.
It’s only fitting that I caught up with Nicolas a third time for a video interview now that BlaBlaCar has been seeing a lot of traction in these emerging countries (particularly in Russia, India and Mexico), so much so that the company went out and secured another $200 million in financing to spur growth and prepare to tackle more markets.
The first time was in Brussels, Brusson’s home city if not BlaBlaCar’s (which is based in Paris, with 12 offices around the world), the second time was in Istanbul. The third video interview with the entrepreneur was recorded this week in Dogpatch Café in San Francisco, interesting in itself because BlaBlaCar does not even operate in the United States.
Therefore, I kicked off the interview with an obvious question: what was he doing in SF in the first place? And no, it was not for the TechCrunch Disrupt conference, and only partly because BlaBlaCar was part of a large EU delegation visiting Silicon Valley.
The real answer is that BlaBlaCar has a lot of partnerships and investors on this side of the Atlantic, so it makes sense to spend some time here now and then.
Speaking of time, I learned that the company spends a lot of it – and cash for that matter – on efforts to maintain its corporate culture and emphasise the importance of its values to their now 400 employees (serving more than 20 million members in 19 countries today, in case you’re keeping count).
I also learned that BlaBlaCar plans to launch in Brazil before the end of this year and that the US is still not on the short-term horizon, which I think is remarkable for any technology company coming out of Europe. When it comes to international expansion, BlaBlaCar will rather be eyeing Asian and other Latin-American markets in 2016.
Brusson and I also discussed – of course – Uber and the fact that BlaBlaCar keeps getting compared to the American ride-booking service provider, despite the clear differences in terms of business model and the way the companies operate. So far, BlaBlaCar has succeeded in avoiding a lot of the regulatory scrutiny ‘enjoyed’ by Uber in Europe, as it is only an enabler of actual ride-sharing (as in, carpooling) between cities, with drivers not making a profit on the ‘transaction’, rather than a marketplace or booking platform as such.
In a way, BlaBlaCar’s real competition is inter-city trains, buses and even short-haul flight operators. That was made obvious earlier this year in Madrid when the French company was taken to court by two bus companies.
But those seems to be only minor bumps in the road for the French company, whose main challenge appears to be hiring talented people fast enough – BlaBlaCar will often buy small local rivals if it means entering market more rapidly than doing it on their own – and keeping corporate culture in check as they scale. On that note, we also briefly discussed BlaBlaCar’s newfound ‘unicorn’ status – or as we all now realise, ‘Eunicorn’ is the word we really should be using – and if that huge valuation (roughly $1.6 billion) is important to him personally.
Check out the video interview to learn how Brusson feels about that, and whether he foresees BlaBlaCar raising another round – or consider an IPO – in the near future.