The morning was chilly and overcast as students sleepwalked into Freddy’s Bar at 7:25am, clutching croissants wrapped in paper napkins or quickly shovelling a piece of fruit into their mouths. After rounding up all 90-odd of us, we were off to Paris to spend the morning at BlaBlaCar, a ride-sharing start-up that originated after a chance meeting of its founders at – where else – INSEAD in 2007, and has since expanded to 22 countries, across Europe, South America and Asia.
As we entered the sleek, glass building that is the BlaBlaCar offices, we were amazed to walk inside “the Village” to see potted plants, colourful block chairs, sofas, and all other types of groovy merchandise around the office space.
We were lucky enough to be immersed into the world of a real, successful start-up, and met by another INSEAD alumna following the engaging strategy lecture by Peter Zemsky and preceding the Start-Up Bootcamp taking place on Thursday with Adrian. With start-ups becoming one of the most popular models for young entrepreneurs, it was fascinating to hear from BlaBlaCar about their strategy in terms of growth, their history, and how they’ve come to be one of the fastest growing ride-sharing companies in the world. They shared their vision for the future of car usage and ownership, and gave valuable insight into the differences between the urban markets that may turn to shared fleets, dominated by Uber and Lyft, and into the longer-distance private-ownership market they sought to corner. Of course, it was even more enticing to see the offices that were vibrantly designed and looked straight out of a film (we heard lots of whispers floating around the room about how people wanted to work in an office just like this!) and the yummy breakfast was only an added bonus.
After a rejuvenating morning at BlaBlaCar, we set out for what was finally a chance to relax: free time on the Champs Élysées, Paris’ luxury shopping street. Students were free to have lunch in Paris (we spotted quite a few at Five Guys – a slightly questionable choice!) and roam the wide paved roads, passing luxury stores from Gucci to Laduree, and even joining the queue outside Paris Saint Germain’s flagship boutique for the diehard Neymar fans among them. Despite the occasional downpour, everyone returned happy (and slightly damp) with a few shopping bags in hand.
After returning to Fontainebleau, we had an informal entrepreneurial dinner, where students and counsellors ate together and invited everyone interested in entrepreneurship at a young age to join in. Businesses among this year’s participants included sneaker trading, a YouTube personality, clothes production, and app development. Experiences and tips where enthusiastically shared and everyone left the cafeteria smarter and even more passionate about their business.
After a long day of exploring Paris, we had a short teamwork session, where students worked in their groups in preparation for the next YFCD-packed day, where they would be interviewed by the BBC and presenting a sales pitch at the Eurobike Fair.