Irina Reider— General Director of the service for finding travel companions BlaBlaCar in Russia. Since 2015, she has been responsible for the development
“Pseudocarpling is something we never really wanted”
- At Startup Village they have already said that all marketplaces are standardized. With BlaBlaCar, too, is this happening?
- Probably not. BlaBlaCar is now in breadth, that is, if initially, from 2006 to 2018, it was pure carpooling, then now the service has added more buses. About how this happened, there are two stories - French and Russian, which occurred in parallel.
In France last year there was a bigrailway strike. Against this background, BlaBlaCar saw a great demand for its services, and to satisfy it, it entered into partnerships with several bus companies. Passengers liked it.
In Russia it was a slightly different story.We kept our focus on carpooling for a long time and prohibited any attempts to penetrate the service of carriers until their number reached a certain critical mass. Then we decided to try to cooperate with several large operators in test mode. Passengers were satisfied, car owners did not notice the difference, and carriers received an additional source of customers. Thus began the company's expansion beyond carpooling, and now we strive to become a global marketplace for road trips.
Travel with fellow travelers and on buses - verysimilar transport options. But there are differences between them. Buses are convenient for long-distance trips, with large luggage, in the company, and perfectly connect large cities
Carpooling gives very high granularity andcreates routes between a large number of settlements, even very small ones. No carrier will be able to provide such density, because it will not be profitable for them from an economic point of view.
- So you, too, are moving away from the initial idea of the gig economy?
— Carpooling still remains the basis, we just realized that there is synergy with buses. It becomes two different pieces of one marketplace.
- You have a lot of commercial carriers even in carpooling.
- These are the pseudo-carpulers with which weWe are actively fighting. This, by the way, is a purely Russian feature; in other countries we do not have such a problem. We now want to ensure that there is a clear division on our platform between real carpoolers and regular bus carriers. At first, we fought with pseudo-carpoolers with the help of our specialists, but recently we also launched a special algorithm that automatically detects suspicious activity, for example, a driver publishes trips too often for a simple car owner, and blocks such accounts.
- Why did this happen only in Russia? We and Uber, and services for its model, became the main work for taxi drivers. Why is gig economy in Russia not quite gig economy?
- Probably because our people are tooenterprising. It’s not for nothing that there is a saying in Russia - the law doesn’t matter where you turn and it ends. But by organizing pseudo-commercial transportation, people take on obvious risks. They know that BlaBlaCar is a carpooling platform, but they violate our rules. In other countries we do not have this problem. True, in other countries there is a law on carpooling, but in Russia it is just being prepared.
“Carpooling is not a commercial activity, but compensating for the cost of gasoline”
- Do you expect the emergence of such legislation?
- Yes.We are part of a working group under the Ministry of Transport of the Russian Federation, which is currently dealing with this issue. It is in our interests to have a clear understanding of what is carpooling and what is commercial transportation.
- The law is for you?
- Not really. That at the legislative level it should be clearly stated what carpooling is, because one of the main problems is that such trips are confused with taxis, although these are completely different things, because car owners-fellow travelers do not provide services on demand of passengers and do not receive financial benefits from such type of activity.
“But your buses are closer to a taxi, not carpooling.”
- No. A taxi is a taxi. Buses are buses. They have different regulations.
In any case, taxis are intracitytrips. Buses and carpooling are intercity. And due to the fact that taxis - Yandex, Uber - are a big industry, they have their own regulations and problems. It is absolutely wrong to include us in this.
Therefore, the primary task is to create a clear understanding: carpooling is not a commercial activity, namely, compensation for gasoline costs due to sharing of trips.
- And how can this be considered a non-profit activity, if the drivers still get the money?
— A person must pay taxes on any income.But there are exceptions that are clear to everyone. For example, if you and your relatives or friends chip in on gas to go to the country, the law does not begin to treat your activity as entrepreneurial, and does not oblige you to pay taxes on this trip.
There is no need to count in exactly the same wayentrepreneurial carpooling trip, in which the driver spends 100 rubles on gasoline, and fellow travelers (friends, relatives, neighbors, new acquaintances from BlaBlaCar) compensate him with 60 rubles.
That's it in order to determine whichthe moment ends with carpooling and entrepreneurship begins, and the law is needed. He will determine how much a kilometer of a journey must cost in order for it to be considered partial reimbursement of expenses, and not taxable profit. So it works, for example, in the USA - there is a separate law that if you transport someone for the price, in my opinion, $ 0.58 per mile, then this is a non-commercial activity. And the main thing is that it is irregular yet, that is, if you have an activity without income and it is not taxable.
- In October, you launched monetization, what are the results now? Our users are not very fond of when the free service becomes paid. YouDo after such a change, many users left.
- Yes, in fact it seems to me the main problemin monetization, in particular, BlaBlaCar - the fact that people do not understand how big this business is, how much resources it takes in terms of website development, support, marketing. Therefore, there is such a discord.
We actually launched test monetization inOctober, we looked at how it works, realized that we needed to improve it from a product point of view, and now we are actively working on it. We have changed the grocery flow, added payment through Sberbank Online, and are also considering other options. In general, we are preparing for the next release.
We tested a certain price elasticity,and realized that there is no elasticity. That is, either a person understands the essence of monetization and is ready to pay for the service, or, even if it is 5 rubles, he is not ready. Surprisingly, this is a fact. We will also take this into account next time.
Loneliness in the market
—You did not try or did not want to take money from drivers, and not from users?
- Not yet. If we talk about Europe, the BlaBlaCar model is the same there as the Airbnb. That is, a person makes an online payment immediately and pays a commission from above. We think that in two or three years we will come to this model. And there we can already consider options, Airbnb charges both sides. But first you need to come to this model - now it is also impossible, because all payments between the passenger and the driver are made in cash.
- User identification as it is developing?
- Actually, very good, from the point of viewSince the rollout, it is going even faster than we expected - in six months, more than 500 thousand people have verified their accounts. We also plan to launch some gamification in the future, offering people free rides in exchange for verifying their accounts.
- About a year ago, probably, your competitors had Yandex service and Mail service. You bought one of them, the second closed. You have a rather unique position in the market, you are not alone?
— Not alone, because there are still groups on VKontakte and similar advertisements on Avito.
- Compete with you?
— They compete in a very small volume, but theythere really is. BlaBlaCar began as an idea in 2006. It began to develop quite slowly. Then he received investments, began international expansion, and development proceeded exponentially. It reached a large volume somewhere in 2014–2015. This model, like marketplaces, requires a large volume of supply and demand, a stable balance between them, so that the driver can always find a passenger, and the passenger a driver. .
On the other hand, the issue of monetization is not easy, so it seems to me for Mail and for Yandex — although I don't know what was there from the inside, and for those who may be thinkingThat is, this is not the kind of business that you can open tomorrow, raise money, start marketing, and soBlaBlaCar had time to develop, it was the first to join the game and develop the business.As a result, it took a leading position in the market.