Last year, BlaBlaCar, a global long distance ride sharing service, entered India, after noticing how commute exhausted Indians were constantly looking out for ways to make their travel convenient. The eager adoption of cab hailing services like Uber and Ola was a good starting point for the French firm, which connects drivers with empty seats to people travelling the same way. How about the demand for comfortable inter-city travel? This question was the genesis for the launch of BlaBlaCar in India. For the 10-years-old French firm, the first six months went into creating awareness about ride sharing and another six months in getting people to try ride sharing as a way of commute inter-city. Today, their patience seems to be paying off – over 3 million seats have been offered on the platform across 700 cities in India, making it one of their most important markets. Founded in 2006 by a former NASA employee Frédéric Mazzella and two others, BlaBlCar is owned by France-based Comuto SA. It is present in 22 countries and has a monetisation model in at least seven of them. By 2017, the Paris-based company will start a monetisation process in India too, charging a small fee from the co-traveller.
In an exclusive interaction with Techcircle, Raghav Gupta, Country Manager – India, BlaBlaCar, speaks about the journey so far, challenges and monetisation plans in India. Edited excerpts:
How has been the journey so far?
In the last one and a half years a lot of people in India have become familiar with long distance ride sharing concept and we have seen a strong take off in the market. Between Delhi and Chandigarh, Dehradun, Agra, Jaipur, we are seeing very strong usage and similarly, for cities between Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore and Chennai, we are also witnessing strong usage. We are a marketplace in which on one side there are car owners and on the other side there are co-travellers. So far, more than 3 million seats have been offered on the platform from over 700 cities in India. We are not just seeing traction coming from big cities but we are also connecting smaller cities in a better way in India.
India is a culturally different country when it comes to ride sharing. What are the challenges you faced?
When we launched ride sharing and long distance ride sharing in India it was fairly a new concept. In the past, we have travelled by taxi or ordered food from restaurants via app but have never travelled in somebody else’s car, so the experience was new for the Indian commuters. It took some time to inform people about the ride sharing and how it works. Also, there was a trust and safety concerns in India which was higher than what we had seen in Europe, France or Germany, so we spent some time understanding those concerns and also added features on our platform which are relevant to address those trust and safety issues. For example we have started asking individuals for Government ID’s and it is the first for BlaBlaCar. Also we have made connecting on the BlaBlaCar via Facebook important.
BlaBlaCar is already live in 22 countries, how India is different from other markets?
India is a big market , and the biggest difference between India and Europe is that in France or in Germany public transport is very well developed, bus or train tickets will be available but the catch there is, it may be expensive, on the other hand India train tickets for tomorrow morning will be most likely be unavailable. Given that the public transport is not sufficient, hence we are complementing the public transport with the ride sharing concept.
Will you be able to replicate the kind of success you had in other markets in India as well?
There are two aspects to this, one is the opportunity part of it and second is how long it will take to replicate the success here in India. There is no doubt in my mind that we will more than replicate the success. From opportunity stand point long distance travel is little difficult here because public transport is either not available or is not comfortable, and then for a car owner fuel is expensive. What we are enabling is reducing those expenses and giving a commuter a far more comfortable way to travel, so there is a big opportunity. In the first six months after our launch we spent time informing and updating people about what ride sharing is and what BlaBlaCar is, in the second six month a lot of people started trying ride sharing, and as they saw the benefits we are now seeing tremendous growth and our usage is now hitting the hockey stick kind of growth and we will see that building up quite rapidly in future.
Although you are a long distance carpooling platform, during the odd even experiment in Delhi there was spike in the users using carpooling for shorter distances as well? Any plans to start inter-city carpooling?
During odd-even we saw people using BlaBlaCar for distances like Gurgaon to Noida which is still an hour and a half kind of a trip, which we also see otherwise on BlaBlaCar, but outside of that we are very focussed on long distance travel for now and that’s where our focus will continue to be.
When do you think you will start to monetise from Indian market?
When we launch in any country we start by not charging a fee to our member and the approach is to let the members use the service and see value in the services we are offering and only then we start to charge a small fee from the members. In the first half of next year we might start to monetise in India, and will charge a fee on the co-traveller side, when we do that we will offer additional services as well.
What all countries you are monetising from?
Out of 22 countries that are we are live, we have started to monetise from 7-8 countries, namely France, UK, Italy, Spain and some of the countries in the Eastern Europe.
How is the traction coming from Tier 2 and tier 3 cities?
We have divided the traction into city groups. In the first bucket, we would focus on traction coming from big cities to big cities, the second group is from big cities to small cities for example, we see a lot of people doing Delhi to Yamuna Nagar, Bangalore to Salem and we have started seeing good usage, especially to smaller cities as they might not have best connectivity from a public transport stand point. And third group is small city to small city, for example Yamuna Nagar to Rorkee and that will come gradually as our usage grows in India.
There are other startups like Airbnb, highly successful in western markets but couldn’t replicate the success in India, do you think BlaBlaCar will meet the same fate?
We have already crafted a strong runway and I don’t think it is no longer a question mark whether India will adopt ride sharing or not, and we will see further growth on top of that.
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