BlaBlaCar knows that people tend to be more motivated when the ambience in which they work feels right and makes them happy. Over the years they’ve been busy building such a working environment which inspires and delights. With a unique “Fun & Serious” attitude, the crowd at BlaBlaCar take their job seriously, yet at the same time, they know how to bring the fun.
The “Fun & Serious” value can be likened to that of Yin and Yang. Two halves with complementary forces that are interdependent upon each other, the fun and serious mentalities complete each other. Each person becomes motivated by combining the pride of delivering quality with the happiness of achieving things in an optimistic and fun way.
The brand name before BlaBlaCar
BlaBlaCar is a fun brand which takes carpooling seriously, and it’s important for the brand name to encompass this. Until April 2013, “Covoiturage”, meaning “carpooling” was the brand name used in France. The problems with having such a generic brand name was soon realised, namely that it was difficult to attach any quality attributes to the brand. Frustratingly, it also allowed other players to simply add a prefix or suffix to the name of the activity to create another brand, such as EasyCovoiturage, resulting in a cloud of activity-driven names which users could easily mix up. Having several companies doing similar activities under similar brand names was diluting the overall perceived quality of carpooling itself, and a brand point of differentiation was needed. With international expansion on the horizon, the team needed a name that was both local and global, and which would hold true to its brand values.
80 sleepless nights in search of the one
As a name, BlaBlaCar catches one’s attention immediately. People often have a reaction when they first hear it and tend to remember it. And that’s what makes it powerful. Once they understand the story behind the name, it all makes sense and often makes a person smile. In a nutshell, the name BlaBlaCar stems from a profile feature whereby members can display “Bla”, “BlaBla” or even “BlaBlaBla” to indicate how talkative they will be in the car. With “BlaBla” being a common expression in most countries, meaning “people talking”, it makes the brand pertinent both in local markets and internationally. An early sign of success appeared one evening as Nicolas Brusson and the Spanish team were sitting in a bar in Madrid wearing their BlaBlaCar t-shirts, when they were approached by a group of teenagers interested to know where they could buy the same shirt. After the team revealed that they worked at BlaBlaCar, the teenagers were shocked to hear it was a brand born in France. They had been convinced that it was a Spanish company simply because “BlaBla” was such a familiar local expression.
But finding this name was not easy. In fact, it was a long and painful process which took years. Fred says that he experienced close to 80 sleepless nights in search of the right name as he wanted the name to reflect the community and social aspect along with the functional aspect of sharing a ride. In 2009, a naming agency was brought in to help. Fred was seduced by their promise of finding a name within four weeks. Their selection process was simply saying “maybe or no” to a list of over 300 names, and then revisiting the short-list a week later, until only a few options remained. Essentially it was a choice by default. After four weeks, the name “Tuttigo” became the last name standing in the selection. With ‘Tutti’ meaning ‘all’ in Italian and ‘go’ representing movement, it seemed like a good choice. But suddenly when you ask people to spell it, many different variations appear: Tutigo, Tutygo and Tootigo among just a few. It was a no-go. Goodbyes were said to the agency and it was back to the drawing board. The team wanted to end up with a name that they loved.
In order to move forwards, it was necessary for a clear set of rules and requirements to be developed for which the new brand name had to encompass. Fred thought back to his days spent in NASA where he developed programmes for doctors to carry out surgical operations in space and realized that he needed to develop his very own RFC (Request for Comments) protocol for this purpose. Over the next few weeks, Fred established 8 “MUST” (absolute) requirements for the brand name, and 2 “SHOULD” (recommended) requirements.
Oh hello, BlaBlaCar!
One evening after a long day at work, Fred was browsing through recently published trips on the platform. When he clicked on one of the member’s posts, he saw the member’s BlaBla preference and the member’s car type, and suddenly put the words together to form BlaBlaCar. It instantly made him laugh. When cross-checked against the 10 requirements, it seemed like a perfect fit. Although he bought the domain that evening (at 1.06am on 1 September 2010 to be exact!), he was concerned that the name was too eccentric to become a company brand and wouldn’t dare propose it to the rest of the board members.
With over 250 names imagined, the selection process became based on the strength of brand recall. Several lists of names were sent off to dozens of friends and family. Among them were other possible names including MeetDrive, Gonexion, CharlieGo, Nation, 2gez and PeoplePole – all domains which had been quickly registered after initial conception. A few months later, the family and friends were asked if they could relay some of the names which were previously sent. BlaBlaCar was the one which people recalled the most, and in some cases, the only name they could recall at all. Knowing how expensive and timely it is to instil a brand name in people’s minds, it made Fred a happy man that people could memorize BlaBlaCar from reading a simple excel list of names. The memorisation power and the story behind the name is what sealed the deal. Moreover, the BlaBlaCar name was fun enough to be lovable and had enough serious rationale behind it to be a global brand name. It could also be used in many contexts, showing its strength as an umbrella brand, from BlaBlaTimes, a social gathering for members to meet each other and give feedback on the product, to BlaBlaTalk, a weekly meeting for all employees to share their learnings. Funnily enough, the brand name is even representative of BlaBlaCar’s trio of founders. Internally, Francis is fondly known as “Bla”, Fred as “BlaBla” and Nicolas as “BlaBlaBla”.
Inside BlaBlaCar’s Fun & Serious culture
In the heart of Paris sits BlaBlaCar’s HQ with its bright spaces, contemporary architecture and open plan seating. Besides leading the development of BlaBlaCar’s technical solution, Francis spent months trying to find an office which would make employees happy and excited to come to work. Together with the rest of the team, they have created an inspirational hub. Old school desks and industrial lights sourced from Parisian second hand stores fused with neon Fatboys offer zen spaces for employees to have informal meetings and hang out with each other. With foosball machines and ping pong tables, taking a regular break is encouraged. One team gets together for 15 mins every Friday afternoon to practice their hula-hoop skills whilst other teams take part in nerf gun battles. It’s not surprising to walk by a department and see someone hashing out some serious work whilst wearing a pirate’s hat or a banana costume for no apparent reason. A group of colleagues have even signed up for a fitness revolution and motivate each other to go to the in-house gym during lunch.
Sometimes when the Member Relations Team have too many tickets to deal with during high season, a sort of commando operation is formed where people from other teams stop what they’re doing and help solve member’s queries instead whilst listening to some good tunes. When BlaBlaCar launched in India, there were some last minute problems just before the launch date. In true BlaBlaCar fashion, the team stayed up all night to fix everything and after a successful launch partied together until the early hours.
Values replace processes in a fast-paced environment
As BlaBlaCar grows both in size and geographical footprint, the biggest challenge is to retain this dynamic start-up culture. In 2013, the founders felt the need to formulate BlaBlaCar’s values and thought the ideal place to do this would be during the first ever BlaBlaBreak, a three day ski-trip in the French Alps, with all 60 employees at the time. With the help of Jean-Bernard, an INSEAD business school classmate of Fred and Nicolas, the team split into 7 different groups and together they tried to vocalize the top 3 things which BlaBlaCar’s culture embodies and which motivates everyone and keeps people passionate. Soon after all these thoughts were transformed into the 10 values which are now the driving force behind BlaBlaCar’s company culture. In building out the list of values together, they created real, personal values. To this day, it’s still reflective of the people-powered brand that they are and continues to shape more than 550 employees’ day-to-day activities.
BlaBlaCar Values are proudly written on the walls of the offices, distributed as stickers for laptops and mobiles, and are at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Most of the 10 values are used internally by teams at least once a day. They act as a compass and help guide the teams into making the right decisions when there is no established process in place. In a startup, these situations pop up every day, if not every hour. By referring to the values, decisions can be taken which fit best with what a common meeting would have decided, and therefore keeps the overall direction of the brand in check.
At BlaBlaCar, values take precedence over processes, showing the team the ‘why’ but leaving the ‘how’ up to them. This brings more autonomy and responsibility to each employee, and allows team members to grow with consistency. The values are part of BlaBlaCar’s DNA, and DNA doesn’t change. When hiring new talent, the team make sure to select those who will continue to cherish the established culture. Together, everyone strives to keep BlaBlaCar Fun & Serious.