Making A Splash: Nicolas Soucaille, General Manager - UAE, Blacklane Nicolas Soucaille, General Manager - UAE, Blacklane, on how the chauffeur-hailing service's debut in the UAE has it aligned with the country's high standards for quality, professionalism, and sustainability.
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Among successful examples of market entry strategies, the manner in which Blacklane, the chauffeur-hailing service founded by Jens Wohltorf and Frank Steuer in Germany in 2011, made its debut in the UAE would probably rank pretty high on the list. After all, not only did Blacklane support the UAE's declaration of 2023 as the "Year of Sustainability," but it was also aligned with the nation's "Net Zero by 2050" strategic initiative.
However, Nicolas Soucaille, General Manager - UAE, Blacklane, explains that the company's all-electric chauffeur service is just one of many unique features it has developed in order to adjust to the nuances of the UAE market. "Our business model in the UAE takes a unique approach, as we operate a dedicated fleet and full-time, salaried chauffeurs," Soucaille explains. "Also, our vehicles are operated by our dedicated team of male and female chauffeurs (who are trained by Blacklane's proprietary Chauffeur Training Academy), prioritizing every guest's safety as their number one priority. Our female chauffeurs currently represent nearly 50% of our crew, and we are in the process of further growing this number."
When comparing the Blacklane of today to what it was when it launched in Berlin 12 years ago, Soucaille points out a major transition from an initial emphasis on delivering exceptional customer service as well as a strong focus on sustainability, to the company today training its attention also on innovation, passenger safety, and a strong commitment to the well-being of chauffeurs. "These elements collectively set us apart in the competitive landscape of ride-sharing platforms," Soucaille adds. Another stand-out factor is the company's choice to have sustainability be a fundamental element of its operational focus. "We at Blacklane are passionate about offering chauffeur services that enables seamless, stress-free, and sustainable travel for the fast-paced travelers," Soucaille says. "Since 2017, we've made substantial progress in reducing our ecological footprint by implementing carbon-offsetting projects for all our rides. Looking ahead, we are committed to globally delivering 50% of our rides with electric vehicles by 2025."
Soucaille also reveals that Blacklane has developed strategies for integrating sustainability into daily operations, which include filling empty leg journeys for chauffeurs and thereby ensuring that they have a reliable income, as well as introducing city-to-city services in order to reduce the need for shorthaul flights.
Today, Blacklane operates in more than 200 cities across over 50 countries across the globe. Boosting a workforce of 300 dedicated employees, it offers a comprehensive range of chauffeur-hailing services, including one-way, return journeys, airport transfers, hourly bookings, and inter-city travel. "We offer both on- demand and schedule for later services, with fixed transparent pricing, established at the time of booking," Soucaille adds.
Soucaille also points out that all of the company's chauffeurs undergo a comprehensive training program through the Blacklane Chauffer Training Academy, which ensures that they practice the highest standards of excellence in service, safety, etiquette, and discretion. A UAE branch of the Academy launched in September 2022. "The training journey commences with a comprehensive assessment, facilitated through advanced artificial intelligence and the use of a driving simulator, where we evaluate the chauffeurs' driving skills and behavior," Soucaille says. "Subsequently, they embark on an intensive, immersive training curriculum, encompassing both theoretical and practical components. The program delves into driving techniques, safety procedures, navigation and route planning, vehicle intricacies, and the art of delivering an excellent guest experience." In addition to professionalism and training, the chauffeurs are also educated on health and cleaning standards, Soucaille adds.
As an entrepreneurial endeavor, Blacklane has, according to market intelligence platform CB Insights, raised approximately US$90 million over 13 funding rounds, with some of the rounds including UAE-based investors Abu Dhabi-based business conglomerate Al Fahim (Series D in 2018) and Gargash Group (Series F in 2023). Other investors include Daimler Mercedes-Benz, SIXT, Japan's Recruit Holdings, and more. As such, it is with this kind of backing that Blacklane aims to strengthen its position as a global leader in premium ground transportation. As Soucaille put it: "Blacklane's primary strategic objective is to position itself as the preferred choice of transportation and an industry leader."
THE EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Blacklane's Nicolas Soucaille offers his pointers for businesses expanding into the UAE and the wider Middle East
Do your homework "When entering any new country, it is important to prioritize market research to grasp its unique dynamics. Consider factors such as local regulations, competitive landscape, and market trends. These will help tailor your approach and offerings to suit the market's specific requirements."
Forge strong ties "Like all businesses, trust and relationships are paramount to building your business in the region. One must always carefully recognize the diverse and culturally rich landscape. This also plays a crucial role in tailoring your products, services, and marketing strategies to align with local values and traditions."
Communicate effectively "Ultimately, communication plays the most important role in establishing your brand in the region. Effective communication entails clearly defining your unique selling points, and how they meet the UAE market needs. Your messaging should resonate with the local audience, highlighting the benefits of your offerings in a way that speaks to their specific requirements."