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After reaching profitability, carpooling platform BlaBlaCar obtains a debt line of 108 million dollars | TechCrunch

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BlaBlaCar is an emblematic name in the French startup ecosystem. The ride-hailing and bus ticketing company has been around so long that it’s hard to consider it a startup. However, BlaBlaCar is today an extremely interesting company due to its unique trajectory.

What started as a scrappy online hitchhiking community grew into a startup that raised hundreds of millions and reached unicorn status. It then expanded to many countries on several continents, then scaled back its ambitions and started thinking about profitability.

Today, the company announced that it had secured a €100 million revolving credit facility ($108 million at current exchange rates). This will give it a new war chest to plan for the future and continue to drive growth, particularly through acquisitions.

“Debt is a relatively attractive, non-dilutive and extremely flexible tool,” Brusson told us. The €100 million credit line is granted to several major banks based in France, the United Kingdom and the United States.

BlaBlaCar is not paying any interest at the moment because it has not yet exhausted its debt line. But Brusson said he plans to use the borrowing facility to acquire smaller companies. While many startups are struggling because they can’t raise their next round of funding, BlaBlaCar will be able to step in and acquire these small businesses.

Profitable for 24 months

Although BlaBlaCar is not a public company, it is gradually coming to terms with the fact that it can share certain metrics more publicly. BlaBlaCar can thus reveal for the first time that it has achieved profitability – in fact, it has been profitable since April 2022.

This step must be a huge relief because 2023 has been a difficult year for French startups – unless you work on artificial intelligence products, of course.

“The whole business is profitable. We have been profitable for almost two years,” co-founder and CEO Nicolas Brusson told TechCrunch. “2022 was the first almost full year post-COVID, except for maybe the first two months. We recorded 195 million euros in turnover. And we ended up having a slightly negative result for the year, but that’s really because the first quarter was horrible.

“But from the second quarter of 2022, we have been profitable. Then, in 2023, our turnover jumped to more than 250 million euros. So we’re experiencing revenue growth of just under 30% and we’re still profitable.

Profitable can mean different things to different people. Many companies like to claim that they are profitable even though they are talking about EBITDA, a financial measure that does not take into account the costs associated with a company’s assets. And Brusson is a little fed up with companies that claim to be profitable and actually lose money every year.

In the case of BlaBlaCar, the company has been profitable on an EBITDA basis, but also generates net profits when you take everything into account: BlaBlaCar doesn’t own any cars or buses anyway.

In 2023, 80 million passengers have booked a bus or carpool trip on BlaBlaCar. And the good news is that there are BlaBlaCar users all over the world, not just in France.

“Brazil is larger than France in terms of number of users. And I think India will be bigger than France in terms of the number of carpool trips next year,” Brusson said.

The company has not yet started monetizing its users in India, Brazil, Mexico or Turkey – it is not reducing ride-sharing transactions. This will gradually add booking fees, which will also help increase the company’s revenue.

One of the wrinkles is Russia. When the war broke out in Ukraine, BlaBlaCar had millions of users in Russia. While many technology companies have decided to sell their Russian subsidiaries, BlaBlaCar’s Russian operations have been completely separated from the rest of the company, but BlaBlaCar has no plans to sell them. Brusson says this would be counterproductive because it would essentially mean handing it over to a Russian-based owner.

“Today, this represents a little less than 5% of turnover, so it is quite low. It is still part of the group, but it is completely isolated and independently managed… The company is completely separate from the group. But if we want to sell it, in the current context, it’s like a gift.”

Add train tickets

In Europe, BlaBlaCar wants to bring together all modes of land transport. In addition to carpooling and bus rides, the company plans to add train tickets. Users will be able to purchase tickets at some point over the next year.

“The idea for us is to combine this with carpooling. So we will be able to offer train and carpool trips, almost door-to-door,” Brusson said.

Even if you don’t book your next train trip on BlaBlaCar, the company is also experimenting with last-mile carpooling. “In this case we have a different model for slightly shorter distances. The idea is to connect the stations to your destination. Typically, if you arrive at Vannes station, you often need to go to your grandmother’s house, your vacation home, your weekend getaway. You still have between 10 and 40 km to go,” he noted.

Since many BlaBlaCar users are already driving in that direction, the company will ping those drivers to see if they can pick up a group of people at the station and drop them off at their destination.

In non-EU markets, bus travel represents the biggest opportunity. “The good news for us in these markets is that the bus sector remains a very disconnected and fragmented sector,” Brusson said. He pointed out that people spend billions of dollars on bus tickets in India and Brazil – suggesting that once again, BlaBlaCar still has room to grow.

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