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It’s too early to know if short-distance, urban carpooling from BlaBlaCar can effectively compete with taxis and car-hailing apps like Cabify, Lyft, and Uber. But as a defensive experiment, the move makes sense.

Long-distance carpooling service BlaBlaCar has acquired Less, a carpooling app primarily to nab its sophisticated real-time technology for arranging rides.

The Paris-based companies did not disclose the terms of the deal. Less had secured $19 million (€16 million) in its Series A round of fundraising, led by Index Ventures and Daphni.

In the U.S. and China, there is no significant carsharing counterpart to BlaBlaCar, which enables long-distance carpooling. Europe’s density and the high price of gasoline due to taxation for environmental concerns have made long-distance carpooling more popular on the Continent than in either the U.S. or China.

In the U.S. and Canada, its nearest (but inexact) counterpart is Turo, a long-distance peer-to-peers carsharing service. Turo’s model emphasizes delivering someone else’s car to a person for rental, rather than car-sharing.

BlaBlaCar’s weakness in urban, short-distance rides was a gap that Uber and Lyft were hoping to exploit. Last May, the company attempted to fend that off by debuting BlaBlaLines, a mobile app that also serves the urban, short-trip market.

The technological challenge of making short-term rides work is different than for long-distance, and the company believed that Less had created a more sophisticated solution. So BlaBlaCar will fold Less’s workforce of 22 employees into the team that runs BlaBlaLines.

BlaBlaCar has raised more than $330 million in venture capital since its founding back in 2006. It claims 60 million members across nearly two-dozen countries.

“Less is conscious of the challenges of creating a scalable marketplace in the mobility space, and anticipating consolidation within the market, the team wanted to combine its forces with an established industry player,” said Jean-Baptiste Rudelle, CEO of Less, in a statement. Rudelle co-founded Less in 2016 and is also a former co-founder of Criteo — the French advertising technology company — which gave his latest startup street cred in the carsharing tech game.

A decade ago, when Brusson and his two co-founders launched the booking platform, critics told them the idea was glorified hitchhiking and faced too many roadblocks to success. But ordinary folks got it and persuaded friends to try it. Today 12 million people use BlaBlaCar to arrange rides every three months, on average. Roughly a tenth of those trips is for inter-city or cross-border journeys in 22 countries.


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Tags: blablacar, carsharing, mergers and acquisitions, startups

Photo credit: Nicolas Brusson, Co-founder and CEO of BlaBlaCar, sheds his customary French couture jacket to fit in with the Silicon Valley look of Lyft CEO Logan Green and Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi. We wonder why. BlaBlaCar

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