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European ride sharing startup BlaBlaCar has raised a huge $100 million funding round, led by London-based Index Ventures. The fund raising follows the growth of the company to 12 countries — initially founded in Paris in 2006 — and to 8 million members.
Using BlaBlaCar, drivers that average about 200 miles per trip are picking up passengers to help cover the costs of gas and toll, and perhaps socialize along the way. The system has taken off not just in France and England, but in newer markets like Germany and Russia. The company says Germany hit 1 million users after a year in business, and Russia — one of the most recent markets — grew to 250,000 new users in the first quarter after launch.
Part of that growth has come through the acquisition of three startups, including one operating in Russia and Ukraine. BlaBlaCar co-founder Nicolas Brusson told me in an interview earlier this year that acquiring small local operations run by passionate entrepreneurs has proved to be a solid way to grow in new markets. Each city and country are unique and need to be operated in way to suit the needs of the local users — launching into new countries with a cookie-cutter model just wouldn’t work, he explained.
With the $100 million war chest, BlaBlaCar plans to expand even more aggressively. Brusson said in a release that the company will now “explore every large market in the world.”
Growing successfully across countries is one of the key challenges that European startups face. While companies that launch in the U.S. or, say, China already have a large domestic market, a French startup faces a relatively small home market. And since Europe is made up of so many different languages and cultures, expanding outside of the home market can prove difficult.
While ride sharing has begun to proliferate across Europe, the model hasn’t proven to be popular in the U.S. Before Lyft was operating as an on-demand car sharing service it was a struggling ride sharing company called Zimride.
Alternative transportation options like Uber and Lyft have been raising large funding rounds in recent months. Last month Uber announced a $1.4 billion funding round, valuing the company at $18.4 billion (post money). Lyft raised $250 million a couple months before that.
In addition to Index Ventures, the Series C round included existing investors Accel Partners, ISAI and Lead Edge Capital. BlaBlaCar previously raised $10 million in 2012.