It’s astonishing to think that the activity on the BlaBlaCar platform was close to 0 during the Spring Covid-19 lockdown. We suspended our bus offering, urged members not to carpool to limit the spread of the virus, and put most of our workforce on partial activity.
Despite cutting costs and having little to no activity on our platform, our team knew that this time of uncertainty was almost counterintuitively a time to accelerate innovation. BlaBlaCar being a tech-driven scale-up, we made the strategic decision to keep our Product & Engineering teams on at 100% and to over-index on our engineering and product vision even as our activity was at a standstill.
While the current context brings its challenges to the transport industry in the short term, we fundamentally believe that the value proposition deriving from our product & tech vision will be more relevant than ever. Here’s why:
Trust in our long-term vision
Our ambition is to be the go-to marketplace for shared road travel. We believe that, through smart-matching technology and best-in-class user experience, we can still go much further to optimise mobility and make it more efficient, affordable and friendly.
In a time of crisis, cards will be reshuffled, with impacts on short term growth or on the competitive environment. This can mean adjusting marketing tactics, the size & frequency of bus network deployment, or other spending, but it cannot affect the Product & Engineering teams and roadmap if you believe your long-term vision holds. It’s what we do now that will allow us to be ready with a top-notch and smart product experience when travel aspirations return.
Trust in the carpooling model
We believe that uncertainty favours organic, agile and less capital intensive C2C models such as carpooling, where the network adapts naturally. We’ve seen it with the French transport strikes in December 2019, when we recorded 2x more bookings on our carpooling platform and 20x more sign-ups on our short-distance carpooling app BlaBlaLines as the previous year. We’ve also seen it with the speed at which carpool activity picked-up post lock-down, exceeding demand in July by 16% in France and 4% in Spain from the same time last year. The strength of peer-to-peer platforms is that supply and demand can adjust instantly to exceptional circumstances.
Our community also keeps growing rapidly: with several million new members each quarter, we need to sustain our scaling with a growing and agile R&D team that is equipped to scale our platforms and services. At the end of lockdown, we quickly resumed our hiring in engineering teams in order to accommodate the company’s growing reach across markets and countries.
Strong community dynamics
Our decision to double-down on engineering was also confirmed by strong community dynamics:
- In a recessionary environment, affordability and cost-saving would be key features people look for. This is what we offer in a fair way across carpooling and buses.
- In a sanitary crisis, travelers favour a mode of transportation like carpooling that allows for fewer points of contact.
- The supply from alternative modes of transport, which suffer significantly from higher inventory cost base than carpooling, will continue to be more limited and uncertain.
With these factors in mind, there can be no slowing down in building the best multimodal product experience even if travel is on hold over the coming months.
Covid-19: A time to act fast, deliver, think big
Our team, already familiar with semi-remote, agile and dynamic working conditions, quickly reacted to the crisis with new product features. We also pursued our roadmap with little to no adjustments (as we believed it to still be relevant for when travel eventually resumes) and found some time to think and experiment outside the box.
Act fast — Our team quickly adapted our product to limit the spread of the virus. We introduced the following features and changes:
- Reducing the allowed number of seats in cars to 1 or 2 (instead of 4).
- Shutting down booking and traveling in some cities following government directives (Moscow for instance).
- Offering an “Only One in the Back” feature to promote social distancing in cars.
- Adding sanitary recommendations throughout the booking process.