Aleksey Lazorenko, BlaBlaCar: «We plan launching our booking system in Ukraine this year»

In January we’re talking to different Ukrainian companies about their achievements in 2015 and new prospects for 2016. Let’s start with a story about ridesharing service BlaBlaCar and its projects in Ukraine, — the first story told us by Country Manager Aleksey Lazorenko:

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— We’ve previously talked about BlaBlaCar in Ukraine, and yet our readers want to know more details about your company. It’s 2016 — time to unveil some results of 2015. What was the most involved Ukrainian city among those using BlaBlaCar last year?

All roads lead us to Kyiv 🙂 It may sound very obvious, but the most involved Ukrainian city in ridesharing through BlaBlaCar is our capital, of course. Kyiv stands in the middle of main highways and main routes from West to the East as well as South to the Northern region of Ukraine:

  • Kyiv — Lviv
  • Lviv — Kharkiv
  • Lviv — Dnipropetrovsk
  • Lviv — Odessa
  • Kyiv — Odessa

Kyiv is a central spot of almost every route during the national celebrations, long weekends. E.g., during the New Year and Christmas in 2016 our drivers offered more than 445K seats for passengers on BlaBlaCar regarding different routes (more details you can find here).

— Tell us more about co-operation between Ukrainian and central offices. How is the whole process organized — some Skype calls or offline meetings or what? How are the management processes held in BlaBlaCar?

The fundamental principle of BlaBlaCar’s strategy is that our local offices work independently as well as synchronize an overall strategy and goals of the company on the global level. The businesses of sharing economy are mainly based on the mechanisms of a market place, where it is extremely important to identify the right offer and demand and develop them locally. Basically, strategies of marketing and communications of certain countries may differ according to the peculiarities and features of the local market. E.g., Ukrainian market differs a lot from Brazilian in usage of web services, in travelling and lifestyle. Nevertheless, in BlaBlaCar we have a common vision, which is meant to be scaled across the countries and cities to maintain global brand awareness.

There are around 400 employees in BlaBlaCar now working for global and local teams in marketing, communications, IT, financial departments, in HR etc. One of our mottos hanging on the walls of all offices is «Share more, learn more», which says a lot about how we love teamwork and how we care about making it comfortable and productive for every employee.

We organize our «BlaBlaTalk» every week. All employees in HQ are gathered and employees abroad are participating on conference call to listen to a team which present what they’ve achieved in the past 6 weeks and what they plan doing  for the next 6 weeks. Every 2 months the founders are taking an opportunity to make special announcements such as fundraising of key figures. Q&A sessions follow each talk.

We also provide weekly online stand-ups. We have weekly or semi-monthly stand-ups held via Skype, Go Meeting, Google Hangouts, Zoom and other services for marketing, communications, IT and other teams. This is performed to synchronize local activities.  These meetings help us to share what was done during a previous period; to talk about plans and challenges as well as to hear about interesting cases from other countries.

We have big offline sessions «Strategical International Weeks in HQ». These meetings are global gatherings in headquarters of BlaBlaCar in Paris, where employees from different directions come over to share their knowledge, talk about success stories and failures as well. They can also listen to guest-speakers or colleagues during trainings and get more information about goals and plans of the company.

Since we’ve opened our offices in 15 countries out of 22, each employee has the opportunity to go working in one of our offices abroad for a week during the year — we call this program «BlaBlaSwaps». This offer includes working in such European cities as Milan, Madrid, London, Hamburg, Warsaw, as well as travelling to India and Brazil… many of employees have already taken this opportunity.

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We have several instruments and games that help us to deal with challenges of working globally, as our global team increases in numbers weekly. For example, we have BlaBlaFaces to introduce employees from different countries and offices to earch other. The other tool is BlaBlaLunch – it helps employees inviting three randomly chosen colleagues to have lunch together and get to know each other more. Online wiki-platforms, such as BlaBlaWiki or BlaBlaLearn, help us to share guidelines, instructions, tutorials and other documents for learning about the internal processes of the company and its organizational structure as well. All these tools were developed in-house by our tech managers.

— What does Country Manager actually do? Is it more of a marketing job or a management one? What tasks should Country Manager provide?

The main role of  BlaBlaCar’s Country Manager is to align a set of goals and tasks of the company in Ukraine as well as to synchronize all local activities in marketing, communications and business development with a global vision. Country Manager also hires and manages local team as well as spots key priorities for every team member. As for the brand awareness, Country Manager represents BlaBlaCar in front of public authorities in the certain country.

— In our previous interview you’ve mentioned some planned activities and projects for 2016 and said they’d be rather about content than about ridesharing. So it’s time to ask about online marketing as a «fuel» for the company. What tools do you recommend using for SMM for service-centric startups and companies?

In BlaBlaCar we try to combine different tools in our approach for content marketing in general to engage current members and attract more as well. SMM is only one of the powerful channels which help us to get our online audience together.

People like stories. And we like to collect and share these stories with them. BlaBlaStory was created to deliver stories written by our members and passengers about their ridesharing experience. In videos «Member stories» we show our members’ reality of using the service. We receive feedback from drivers and passengers within social media — and this motivates us to interact more in dialogs on our pages, ask questions and conduct effective customer service. It is one more important principle for being in social media for service-focused startups.

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— Previously we’ve spoken about passengers as the best WoM-agents for BlaBlaCar. Can a driver be an «agent of influence» too? Are there any bonuses (or any plans to introduce such bonuses) for the most active BlaBlaCar «drivers of the month»?

Every driver and passenger of BlaBlaCar has a certain Experience Level which helps to choose the right person to share with. There are 5 main levels: Newcomer, Intermediate, Experienced, Expert and Ambassador. When you are Expert or Ambassador, it means that you are an agent of influence and highly trusted member of the ridesharing community.

When driver gets to the level of Ambassador, it’s a special status, which means the community will trust you more and you will get passengers much quicker to share the BlaBlaCar journey. Besides we usually invite our Ambassadors for interviews, present awards and meet them to get feedback about service.

— Please, tell us some details about technical base for BlaBlaCar apps — how does it work? Is it some cloud-platform owned by BlaBlaCar or a side-provided service?

We have stand-alone mobile application for iOS and Android, which was designed and developed by our technical engineers. Of course, we use different API of our global partners such as Google Maps, Google Suggestions etc. to make our application work more accurate in searching a ride and spotting places. Mobile app has constant updates and improvements, which are handled by our technical team.

— Scaling is a tough task for startups and companies; what kind of difficulties did BlaBlaCar scaling process show and how did you overcome such problems?

BlaBlaCar is a startup; nevertheless we are already strong enough to face classic startup challenges. The main challenge for us nowadays is an effective global development and expansion of BlaBlaCar to new countries and markets. We strive to keep our hands on pulse within overall global dynamics and learn how to deal with it accounding to our processes.

The process of expanding to the new market requires a lot of efforts, from creating cross-functional teams, maintaining research and analysis, conducting hundreds of meetings with local companies and agencies. The other challenge we are facing is connected with finding the right people — they should be professionals in marketing, communications, IT, design etc. to increase our potential. We are always looking for talents.

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— What are the key tasks for Ukrainian part of BlaBlaCar team in 2016? What should we expect as passengers and drivers?

In the next 12 months and beyond we are planning to increase amount of our users as well as to increase the level of customer service we provide for members. In 2016 we plan launching the booking system in Ukraine, which is now working successfully in France, Portugal, UK etc.. It will help us going forward in terms of making ridesharing even more safe and secure. Booking system from BlaBlaCar will help members in planning their rides in much an easier way — and it’ll help you getting more details about the potential passengers and drivers, planning a shared ride, including their profiles and photos.

Besides all of above mentioned aspects, we are smoothly getting ready for the monetization process, which is going to be started not earlier than in 2017. These processes will require hiring more talents for the Ukrainian office as well.

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