Internationalising startups from France: The BlaBlaCar success story


Frédéric Mazzella, CEO at BlaBlaCar, discusses his company’s success to date and reflects on how the French Tech Ticket initiative can help tech startups.

BlaBlaCar was born from a personal need.

I needed to go home and spend Christmas with my family in Vendée, 400km from Paris.

Unfortunately, I left it until the last minute and all the trains home were full.

In the end, my sister had to make a detour to pick me up and then we drove home in the car. It was at this moment that I realised that the majority of the cars on the motorway were empty, with only the driver in them. There were thousands of seats to get me home: but they weren’t on the train, they were in cars! What if I could find a way to index all of these available seats for the benefit of potential passengers?

More than 10 years later, BlaBlaCar is the biggest long-distance ride-sharing community in the world, with more than 30 million members across 22 countries and on 3 continents.

And, the model works very well! It is based on an incredibly simple concept: a driver, who has free seats in their car, offers them to passengers on BlaBlaCar, with whom they will be able to share the journey and any related costs. There is no notion of profit for the driver, but the idea is to share costs (in particular, petrol and tolls) for the journey, which averages 300km between cities.

Crafting the business model step by step

The creation of the BlaBlaCar venture was methodical in manner. We took quite a few years to build the project, giving us the ways and means to match our ambitions at each stage before moving onto the next one.

We worked on different business models to find the one that is ours today. We raised funds from co-founders, business angels, investment funds and later by venture capital firms that enabled us to roll out ride-sharing across Europe and then the world, in particular, in India, Turkey, Russia, Mexico and Brazil.

The company now counts 550 employees spread across 16 international offices. More than 34 nationalities are represented and the average age of the employees is 29.

Over the past few years, we have seen the rapid progression of the French digital ecosystem. First of all, at the professional training level, with the development of newly created schools with specialised programs in digital professions (e.g. Xavier Niel’s 42 School and Simplon.co, digital era higher education schools), as well as the strong entrepreneurial-focused positioning, which has progressively been introduced into our business and engineering schools.

Both of these elements are enabling startups and scale-ups to recruit more varied and very well trained profiles. What also helps considerably is the proliferation of incubators, accelerators and co-working spaces (The Family, 50 Partners, the Accelerator etc.) that are burgeoning in all main cities around France.

These facility spaces not only accompany young entrepreneurs in their projects but also create an entrepreneurial and digital spirit. The investment link is now very well developed in France with the BlaBlaCar example, amongst others, showing the way. It really is now possible to finance your startup from the seed capital phase up to much more substantial amounts of capital in the scale-up phase.

A dynamic and thriving startup ecosystem

The French Tech initiative is a perfect demonstration of the ambitious direction the French startup ecosystem is taking and how players are bringing stimulus to startups at different stages of development.

I fully agree with Nicolas Dufourq, CEO of the French Public Investment fund (BPI) when he says, “France is a California which doesn’t realize its potential” and that the future French bred Googles must be guided and supported to enable them to become tomorrow’s leaders.

Today, there are more than 10,000 startups in France with revenues increasing by an average of 37%. The world’s biggest incubator – the Halle Freyssinet – will also be launched here in France in January 2017.

Even more recently, we launched the “Reviens Léon” (“Come back Léon”) initiative, to help us recruit qualified, international profiles along with 15 other French start-ups that have demonstrated strong growth and international development. These are just a few examples that show to what extent our start-up ecosystem is flourishing.

The French Tech Ticket 2016, opening up a world of opportunities for tomorrow’s startups

With more than half of 18-24 year olds declaring that they “want to be an entrepreneur” (Idinvest, April 2015), France is creating all the means to rise to its ambitions in being a startup nation and to attract talented entrepreneurs with promising projects from around the world.

The French Tech Ticket is already bringing real impetus to the startup world of tomorrow as we saw in the first round with 23 success start-up stories.

The competition, now in its second year, offers the opportunity to be hosted in top-calibre, specialised incubators in main cities around France that propose mentoring, master classes, dynamic networking within a dynamic startup environment. 70 projects will be selected this year.

The French Tech Ticket is a prime opportunity for startups to expand their business and access the European market while being immersed in a vibrant startup community.

The closing date has been extended until September 23rd 2016, make sure you complete your application before it’s too late!