InterviewsThe Future of BlaBlaCar: more services and experiences for the travel community


“We live in a real-time, last minute, dynamic world. There’s no more need to make plans far in advance.”
Andrea Saviane

When we talk about innovation in the current market, we can’t ignore the wave of change that’s revolutionizing the roles and players of the game. It’s no longer just leaders and competitors, it’s also integrated and collaborative offers aimed at engaging a dynamic and fickle user. It’s a deconstructred market made up of real time services and expectations. In this context, companies like Uber and BlaBlaCar are focusing on extra services to create a complete, engaging experience. Because we wanted to find out more about this subject, we met with Andrea Saviane, 33 year old from Treviso, and Italian Country Manager of BlaBlaCar, the company that he joined a year before as Marketing Manager.

When we talk about BlaBlaCar, we’re telling the story of a company that knew how to build itself up slowly. It’s been in business for over 10 years, and today boasts 40 million users in 22 countries. Can you confirm those figures?

Absolutely. Another important figure is the number of users that use the service every trimester, which is around 12 million. We’re growing sharply even in countries where we’ve been operating for years, like France. That was where the first BlaBlaCar site launched in 2006, and it seems that we’ve yet to saturate our market.

Considering the changes in the market and with regards to demand, what’s your business model today?

il futuro di Blablacar | Dotmug

Our core business is to be a “long-distance carpooling community,” and our focus is staying on that. People who travel by car on intercity journeys in Western Europe, and around the world, represent the wide majority of travelers – around 76%. But if we think how the world will be in 10 or 15 years, there will probably be other revolutions. Everything’s moving toward the idea of no longer owning cars: it’s with this in mind that we recently launched a pilot program in France. In collaboration with ALD Automotive and Opel, the most active users of BlaBlaCar get special discounts on car rentals. It’s a solution that responds to the demands of a new consumer who no longer wants to plan a trip months in advance. We’re working to meet their needs in a way that grants freedom of movement, but also freedom from buying a car. We’re aiming for extra services because our community is made up of people with similar interests, and who therefore might want to share experiences. Our desire is to predict trends, not just so we can monetize but more importantly so we can complete our product.

Besides extra services, you’re also moving more toward a vertical approach that reaches different targets. I’m thinking of the “Ladies Only” section…

Our site and app are standard in all countries, and are used similarly by travelers of both sexes and all different ages. The “ladies only” option was on the Italian site, which was bought by BlaBlaCar in 2012 when it launched in Italy. It turned out to be so interesting that it was introduced in all the countries where we operate. It allows female drivers to share their ride only with other women. Each month, over 1 million female drivers travel with BlaBlaCar in Europe. Many got involved with carpooling thanks to the “ladies only” option, but after their first experience, over 99% don’t use the option anymore, and accept anyone on board, thus showing their trust in the community. We do continual brainstorming so we can meet our users’ needs. For example, we realized that many people needed to use BlaBlaCar to cover shorter distances, and we’re considering an evolution of our product in that direction. It’s important to  constantly evaluate how to expand into the market.

So it’s not just long distances, but also short trips, like commutes. 

The platform that we have now works really well for planned journeys, shared by the drivers and booked by passengers a few days before departing. It doesn’t work the same way for real-time bookings, which need some tweaks to the technology. We’re looking at areas that attract a lot of commuters daily, like Milan and Rome, but also in smaller areas where public transport isn’t convenient or efficient. There, carpooling could really optimize resources and cut down on waste. 

On the subject of reducing waste, how important are ethics for you?

Very important. We focus heavily on identifying strategies to reduce the environmental impact of car travel. The problem of CO2 emissions isn’t going away, despite moves toward producing cars that pollute less. There’s a real need to do something concrete, so instead of 4 cars with only one person on board, if we manage to have just one with a driver and 3 passengers, we feel like it’s a good start. Carpooling can be a great solution for reducing the environmental impact.

It’s impossible not to ask you about the sharing economy. What point do you think we’re at in Italy?

BlaBlaCar looks to optimize resources that would otherwise be wasted (empty seats in cars that would be on the road anyway). This is a true example of the sharing economy, which the New York Times described a couple years ago as a “model where people participate not for profit, but for savings.” But the phrase “sharing economy” was coined a few years ago, and like any other term, it represents a phenomenon that has changed shape over time. Today we’re talking about a market filled with apps and platforms that aren’t exactly the sharing economy in that sense, and instead they’re about sharing goods in what is now known as Big economy. In the world of the sharing economy in Italy, there’s a lot of buzz and plenty of adoption of our platform, and this shows that the need for sharing is alive and well. The real revolution taking place is about mobile technology and its variations, because users need experiences that are more and more instantaneous. 

Let’s say we expect offers to be even more instant than ‘at the moment’?

They say that the resource most likely to be scarce in the future is time, and it could certainly be true. This second technological revolution after the internet, within a few years, has been completely changing the way of using services. We live in a real-time, last-minute, dynamic world. There’s no more need to make plans far in advance. Time becomes a determining factor in people’s purchasing choices.

Were Italians sceptical at first about a car sharing service? Did you come across any difficulties?

Italy lost the practice of hitchhiking, which continued in Nordic countries. The challenge when we launched in Italy was to explain that our service was actually a community of people who shared their profile and gained a reputation with each trip, and whose identity was verified by our team. We needed a bit of time to get people to see that it wasn’t hitchhiking, but real people using platform to arrange a real travel experience, in a car for several hours. This was the big challenge.

Community, relationship dynamics… have you ever considered working with a dating app?

Our only goal is to make sure the travelers in our community find people to carpool with, and have a pleasant travel experience – stress free and with a smile.

Il futuro di Blablacar | Dotmug

Now you can guarantee safety, but was it a problem at the beginning?

Safety was fundamental from the very start. In Italy, this is no longer a barrier to accessing the platform. Everyone knows that the other travelers they meet will have verified profiles and go through a feedback system at the end of every trip. Research released in October from Collaboriamo and TRAILab dell’Università Cattolica highlighted the trust that users have in the BlaBlaCar service. They feel so at ease that they don’t even read the feedback for their travel companion anymore: just being in a BlaBlaCar is seen as a guarantee in itself. 

Can you give us any previews of the future? Do you have plans? 

We now have a strong market where we’ve been present for a few years, but naturally we’re working on a few experiments. One one side, we’d like to focus vertically in the world of carpooling, so we can guarantee a constantly improving experience. We especially want to do this in a way that everyone can consider riding with BlaBlaCar, since it’s a functional and useful way to travel. On the other side, we want to understand what our extra services could be – all the possibilities that might meet the needs of the community.

Our sense is that the markets of the future will see more and more integration and collaboration, where different players will no longer see themselves as competitors…

Yes, in the future everything will be much more integrated and fluid, and the mobile world will definitely help the process along. So it’s normal that more collaboration will start to develop among various operators, in the form of partnerships, spinoffs and attempts at innovation. And we hope to be one of the active – and proactive – players on that scene. 

Michela Di Nuzzo

« Se scrivo ciò che sento è perché così facendo abbasso la febbre di sentire». - Fernando Pessoa Giornalista e co-founder, vivo il digital come imprenditrice e appassionata. Percepisco il cambiamento come un'opportunitá mai una minaccia. Occhi spalancati e orecchie aperte, sempre pronta alla condivisione, la chiave di ogni evoluzione.

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