CORRECTED-With funky name but big demand, BlaBlaCar eyes global push
(Corrects paragraph 5 to reflect that passengers do not travel for free but pay the driver one-third of the cost of the journey in cash. Corrects paragraph 9 to say commission payments in two countries, more specific than just charges passengers. Corrects paragraph 10 to clarify that gross merchandise value of its payments is set to reach $500 million in this calendar year, not simply a theoretical calculation.)
By Eric Auchard
LONDON Nov 14 (Reuters) - A fast-growing French firm is making a name across Europe for its inter-city ride-sharing service, drawing big funding from venture backers while showing a drive to go global that is all too rare among European start-ups.
Called BlaBlaCar, a play on how much chatter drivers and passengers can put up with on long-haul journeys, the service has wooed nearly 12 million members across 13 countries in three years of expansion, or more than 2 million travellers a month.
The online company is a pioneer in connecting drivers with passengers to cover the costs of long-distance trips.
To spur demand in new markets, it pays drivers a set amount per passenger to help them cover the costs of inter-city trips, say 16 pounds ($25) for a 200-mile trip from London to Manchester, or Paris to Luxembourg.
Passengers reimburse drivers for about a third of the cost of the journey, typically in cash, which costs less than alternatives such as rail travel. BlaBlaCar aims eventually to charge a small commission to passengers for connecting them up to drivers.
"If you create value, at some point you will be able to extract value," said Nicolas Brusson, BlaBlaCar's chief operating officer.
In July, BlaBlaCar raised $100 million (80 million euros) in funding to begin connecting cities globally, before potential copycats can beat them to it. The latest investment round was led by Index Ventures and joined by existing investors Accel Partners, ISAI and Lead Edge Capital. Continuación...