This story initially appeared in East-West Digital News, an international news resource covering the Russian innovation scene.
BlaBlaCar, the carpooling giant born in France, is expanding to a new market segment with the acquisition of international bus ticketing platform Busfor. The deal, announced in September, has just been completed after obtaining the required antitrust permits in Ukraine, reports Kyiv Post.
The terms of the agreement have not been disclosed, but it might be a non-money transaction with Busfor’s shareholders receiving a stake in the French unicorn, according to leaks which appeared in September in the Russian media .
Thus, Kommersant reported from unnamed sources that Busfor’s options were limited due to the small amount of cash remaining in the company’s coffers, in spite of the $8.5 million injected by its shareholder Vostok New Ventures (VNV) in 2018. As of Q2 2019, Busfor was valued at $69.95 million, according to the financial report of the Swedish investment firm, as reported by Kommersant.
The deal marks an important step towards the consolidation and digitization bus ticketing market in Russia and other countries where both BlaBlaCar and Busfor will jointly operate.
Commenting on the acquisition, BlaBlaCar’s country manager in Ukraine Oleksiy Lazorenko said that the merger aims to create “a unified, user-friendly marketplace by supplementing carpooling rides with bus tickets.”
“We want each intercity trip to be available within two clicks on a smartphone,” Kyiv Post quoted Lazorenko as saying.
A French-Ukrainian-Russian success story
BlaBlaCar entered the Russian and Ukrainian markets in 2014 through the acquisition of Ukrainian site Podorozhniki, founded by Lazorenko. Activity in Russia quickly reached a “phenomenal level,” as stated by Bruisson in a past interview – to such an extent that BlaBlaCar, in addition to asserting itself as the market leader in Russia, saw this country become its largest market, even before France.
BlaBlaCar asserted its leadership even more strongly last year with the acquisition of BeepCar, a competing carpooling service run by Mail.Ru Group. In early 2019 BlaBlaCar began publishing bus ride offers on its Russian platform.
BlaBlaCar claims to have invested more than $10 million to develop its service in Russia, which is used today by “over 20 million members” with “more than 100,000 daily rides.”
BlaBlaCar has two shareholders in common with Busfor: Baring Vostok, the famous US-led Russian private equity firm, which invested €21.3 million in the company in 2016, and VNV, which could see its stake in BlaBlaCar increase as a result of the acquisition of Busfor.
A global bus ticketing major born in Eastern Europe
Launched in Ukraine in 2010, Busfor — previously known as Gillbus — is now headquartered in Poland. It operates in a Belarus, Russia, Ukraine; in a range of EU countries including Albania, Austria, Bulgaria, Czechia, Italy and Poland; as well as in Thailand and other emerging countries.
The company claims to partner with more 700 bus transport companies, and hopes to sell more than 10 million tickets in 2019. According to Yekushevsky, the number of sold tickets more than tripled in 2018.
The average ticket price amounts to $22, with Busfor getting a 15% fee on each sale, reported Kommersant last year, citing company data.
The bus transportation market in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union amounts to some $9 billion, with online ticket sales accounting for just 2%-5% in 2018. Busfor believes online sales will grow to some 30% by 2022, and aims to control a third of this volume.
Since its inception in Ukraine in 2010, Busfor has received financial support from Intel Capital, InVenture Partners and FinSight in 2014, from Ukraine’s Chernovetskyi Investment Group (CIG) in 2015, then from Baring Vostok and Elbrus Capital in 2016. In November 2017 InVenture Partners sold its share to Baring Vostok and Elbrus Capital. The last capital injections took place in 2018 as noted above.