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Exploring the Philosophy behind BlaBlacar

Dreams Of A Better Economy

In the collaborative economy value is created from “peer-to-peer”, from one person to another, thanks to a direct interaction. Individuals rent other peoples’ spare rooms on Airbnb; groups of enthusiasts collectively fund viable and deserving projects on Kickstarter; creatives the world over sell their works on Etsy, a marketplace to buy craftsmanship directly from talented individuals.

Of course, there have been direct connections enabling the creation of economic value since the dawn of human society. But historically, these connections have been limited in space and time, limited by the realities of the number of people we can build a trusted relationship with. Today, connected technology has enabled a revolutionary paradigm shift, in which we can directly transact with an exponentially larger number of people. And the more people we can interact with, exchange--and indeed create--value with, the richer we all are! Sound like a dream? In a way…

Several years ago, back when I had never even seen a smart phone, I had a dream, a big one: I imagined a peer-to-peer transport network based on empty seats in individuals cars. It just struck me, one day when I really needed a ride... someone had to help passengers and drivers match their needs so they could travel together, share their journey—and it’s cost! As I set about building the platform that would enable this, I came to understand that only with strong trust between individuals would drivers be happy to offer their empty seats, and passengers comfortable to choose a driver to share a journey with.

I called the company BlaBlaCar, because, on joining, members indicate how chatty they are in the car (from Bla if you’re the quiet type to BlaBlaBla if you’re a real chatterbox). Today BlaBlaCar is the leading collaborative consumption community in Europe, with several million members. Every month over half a million people travel via BlaBlaCar. If my dream has come true, it’s in great part because we have succeeded in creating an unparalleled level of trust in our community of members.

The D.R.E.A.M.S. model is a framework for the collaborative economy that shares the insights born of our success. It's an acronym for the six essential prerequisites to enabling a trust-based, peer-to-peer transaction, described below:
 
Declared information is the foundation of a trusted online profile. The information volunteered by the user tells the community a bit more about themselves. No-one trusts a stranger, so this is the first, essential, step in moving away from anonymity towards online trust. 

Ratings have long been used online because people trust content created by a third party. However, unlike older online services,  where objects or services are rated, collaborative services ask users to rate one another after having met “In Real Life”, enabling people to build valuable online personal reputations over time.

Engagement is the third key: in order for members to feel completely comfortable transacting with another peer, they must believe that the other party will respect their engagement. The best way to do this is by asking members to make a financial commitment,  via online payment.

Activity is another crucial aspect. All the information given in the D.R.E.A.M.S. framework gains it’s full value within a specific context. For example, a positive rating about a persons’ ironing skills does not indicate that they will be a good driver to ride share with, therefore, a successful sharing service must be activity-based.

But there's another aspect to activity: it's also vital to enable a reactive exchange between members, ensuring that every transaction progresses smoothly and rapidly. To do this, information about one users' activity must be provided to the other party in a transaction, for example "Laura was last online yesterday at 6pm", or "Laura has read your message".

Moderation is the fifth facet; all information transferred by users of a sharing service must be third-party verified, whether this is the verification of contact or bank details or the approval of User Generated Content. Users need to know that everything they see online always meets the highest level of goodwill and authenticity. Sharing platforms are quality controllers.

Social is the sixth element; social networks allow users to connect their online identity with their real world identity, be it socially, via Facebook, or professionally, via LinkedIn. So, the final key to online trust is that collaborative services should be part of, and connected to, a persons' global online presence.
 
Thanks to D.R.E.A.M.S. model, we can create an infinite number of direct trust-based connections. An individuals’ trusted online profile is available to anyone, at anytime, and so their value exchange potential is now unlimited by space and time. That’s the very real, and very radical, paradigm shift enabled by collaborative economy services like BlaBlaCar.

As BlaBlaCar continues to build an entirely new, people-powered, transport network across Europe, I hope that what we’ve learnt can empower other entrepreneurs to innovate in different sectors. The collaborative economy is a powerful force for social and economic progress in our society, and its continued growth is a real beacon of hope for our shared future.

Find out more about the D.R.E.A.M.S framework on www.betrustman.com

Byline:
Frédéric Mazzella is founder and CEO of www.blablacar.com. He holds an MBA from INSEAD, a Masters of Science in Computer Science from Stanford and a Masters of Physics from ENS Ulm (Normale Sup). He’s an accomplished classical pianist and prior to founding BlaBlaCar he worked for 3 years as a scientific researcher, at NASA (USA), and NTT (Japan). He teaches Internet Strategy at leading French University, Sciences-Po, is a regular speaker on the theme of sustainable development, entrepreneurship, and building trust in online communities. He tweets @mazaic.