There is a car. With four strangers in it. Driving together, for over six hours from Delhi to Chandigarh.

Take a moment to think about it. Isn’t there something that doesn’t sit right? What could possibly go wrong?

But if you indulge Raghav Gupta of BlaBlaCar a bit, he’d say this is where the world is heading. The sharing economy is upon us; whether we like it or not. Slowly but surely, human beings are coming around to the idea you share your workplace, your home, clothes, electronics a car, just fits right in.

A while back, The Economist wrote about it. To quote from the piece:

“Before the internet, renting a surfboard, a power tool or a parking space from someone else was feasible, but was usually more trouble than it was worth. Now websites such as Airbnb, RelayRides and SnapGoods match up owners and renters; smartphones with GPS let people see where the nearest rentable car is parked; social networks provide a way to check up on people and build trust; and online payment systems handle the billing.”

That, in essence, is BlaBlaCar’s sweet spot.

If you want to travel from one point to another, list your plan, the algorithm then analyses how much can be charged, people apply to be a part of the ride, you collect the cash. Everyone gives a portion to BlaBlaCar. Done.

Strange as this may sound, BlaBlaCar is doing well in India. The startup, headquartered out of Gurugram, claims it has been the ridesharing platform of choice for 3 million rides over the last year. People on an average do 250km rides between various cities. The average ticket price of these rides is Rs 500. The company operates under a strict directive, it can’t be a commercial activity. So, there is no luxury cost. The driver has to break even and not generate profits. The most popular route is Delhi-Chandigarh, Mumbai-Pune and Bengaluru-Chennai.

Time for questions. What is BlaBlaCar getting at? Is ride-sharing over long distances going to work in India? What are the challenges unique to this country? And of course, the most important, how soon before BlaBlaCar gets challenged? And when it does, by the likes of Ola and Uber, will it be able to defend its turf? And if it does, what will it take?

So, let’s get to it. And here, let’s start with BlaBlaCar’s game plan.

First things first

As things stand, BlaBlaCar hasn’t started charging its customers in India. Free is the universally accepted term for creating stickiness and that’s BlaBlaCar’s current model in India. Until it reaches a watershed moment seven million rides the rides stay free.

AUTHOR

Patanjali Pahwa

Patanjali has spent over seven years in journalism. He last worked at Business Standard as Principal Correspondent, where he wrote on startups, e-commerce companies and venture capital. He has worked at an array of institutions, which include Forbes India, Caravan and Outlook Business. He is a Mumbaikar, born and brought up. Patanjali did his BSc in IT from Mumbai University and then got his journalism degree from IIJNM in Bangalore. He is enamoured by Ernest Hemingway and Tom Waits and may try to sneak in references to them in his stories.

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