Agile and skilled development teams for a French unicorn
This is a story of Parisian unicorn BlaBlaCar and how they won a race for market domination in 27 countries, with help from Boldare’s development teams. Together we delivered 10 products for 27 countries over 18 months employing agile development and lean startup thinking.
Setting the scene: one year to dominate 27 markets worldwide
When BlaBlaCar approached Boldare, they were at a stage of rapid growth with around 24 million users already buzzing about their excellent carpooling platform. But the visionaries at BlaBlaCar understood that the competition never sleeps. Other tech startups around the world were quickly entering the race for a piece of the carpooling pie. BlaBlaCar’s traction was impressive on their home turf in France and they wanted to expand quickly into 27 markets around the world, ensuring their competitive advantage over other travel and carpooling app contenders. They had just over a year to succeed by establishing themselves as the leading and most trustworthy platform.
Business needs: satisfy and wow the users
BlaBlaCar’s web and mobile app required customization for each of the 27 countries, mostly due to local legislation as well as cultural differences. Additionally, the management understood that the key to business success is customer satisfaction and decided to further develop the app with new and improved features, including maximizing payment security. Finally, BlaBlaCar wanted to act quicker and respond in real-time to the needs cropping up in different markets.
Problem: quickly finding a self-organizing development team
BlaBlaCar needed an agile, self-organizing development team to join their Tribe Satisfy team to work on new features for the app. Additionally, their marketing team wanted to quickly design, develop and deliver products to wow both new and current users. However, due to a limited talent pool in Paris, they struggled with expanding their HQ team. They decided to build a second development center in Warsaw. They knew that it would take time to recruit, onboard and train a new Poland-based development team; especially a high-performing team with all the skills necessary to do a top job.
But time was the one resource BlaBlaCar didn’t have if they wanted to achieve their goal of market dominance. Therefore, while recruiting the developers for their Warsaw office, they decided to look for a partner with a readymade team to move the product development more quickly.
BlaBlaCar got in touch with Boldare in mid-October and only two weeks later the product kicked off.
Partner: speed, agility and startup mindset within a mature organization
So what were the deciding factors for BlaBlaCar when choosing the right software development partner?
First of all, they were impressed with the quick reaction time from the business team at Boldare, and their readiness and ability to assemble a team within two weeks.
They wanted a team which was already a high-performing unit. BlaBlaCar were looking for a business partnership based on the augmented team model. In this kind of collaboration, an external team becomes a full-time extension of the client’s team. Thanks to this approach, the Boldare team members could use their skills and experience to extend BlaBlaCar team’s capacity and resources. One of the key rules of forming teams at Boldare is that the core members have experience of working together in the past, which means they can quickly skip the storming and norming phases and become high-performers more quickly. What’s more, the full-time commitment allows the teams to apply a deeper focus to the client’s products and needs. In this model, the client gains fresh insight and energy but the people remain 100% focused on achieving the business goals. Boldare’s augmented teams work with an agile methodology, allowing for a high level of responsiveness to change and faster results due to iterative delivery.
Equally important for BlaBlaCar were the skills of the developers and product designers. Each member went through a rigorous interview process led by the client. This way, BlaBlaCar was able to ensure the chosen team had all the necessary skills to successfully work on the customizations, improvements and new products they envisioned.
Finally, BlaBlaCar were searching for a true partner, a company with a similar DNA to theirs – a mature organization but with a startup culture built on trust, accountability, knowledge-sharing and teamwork. BlaBlaCar meticulously reviewed all the processes at Boldare, also enquiring into work culture and values.
A collaborative approach: one product vision, clear communication, solid processes.
Boldare selected two development teams for BlaBlaCar - one which became an extension of BlaBlaCar’s Tribe Satisfy and another which became part of the marketing Team. From the start, both parties knew that the most successful collaboration is supported by the following three factors:
One product vision
The teams, consisting of designers, backend and frontend developers, QA, DevOps and a Scrum Master, went to Paris for a product kick-off and two-week onboarding. During this time, they took part in a complete introductory programme alongside BlaBlaCar newbies. This not only gave the team members a good understanding of the complex product they were building as well as the company structure, culture, and processes, but also allowed them to meet their new Parisian colleagues in person.
Daily communication was enabled by communication tools such as Slack, Basecamp, email, and Google Hangouts while the development tools included Jira and GitHub. Communication was exclusively in the English language.
Every two months, the BlaBlaCar and Boldare teams worked face-to-face either in Paris or in Boldare’s HQ in Gliwice - in total, the teams held 10 face-to-face meetings.
All team members also enjoyed spending time together after hours during visits to Paris and Gliwice. This directly transferred to an openness in communication, especially in situations such as giving feedback or discussing problems.
“I was lucky to work with these guys for almost a year. They were very professional from the beginning to the very last day.” <BlogQuoteAuthor text="Nicolas Renon, Lead Engineer at BlaBlaCar" />
Boldare offered complete transparency to the client. BlaBlaCar was constantly aware of the product development status and informed about progress and any problems encountered. As a rule, Boldare is always open and never hides anything from a client. This helps to solve any issues much quicker and allows the client to eliminate risks.
Efficiency and the quality of cooperation was based on strong organizational design and development processes. All Boldare teams work in a scrum framework, which allows systematic delivery of product increments with every sprint and fast reaction to changes and problems; and BlaBlaCar’s agile teams gladly joined in. The Boldare teams had a real influence on the planning and scheduling of the product scope, which made the development realistic and attainable from the start.
Working with the scrum framework helped to improve the teams’ performance with each sprint, including daily meetings, reviews, retrospectives and planning held together with the Paris team.
“Boldare made remote cooperation super easy.” <BlogQuoteAuthor text="Zeynep Esin, BlaBlaCar Product Manager" />
Working with Boldare also gave BlaBlaCar a greater degree of flexibility regarding budget. They could downsize or enlarge the teams depending on current needs, and the team size fluctuated between 4 and 9 members at various stages of the collaboration.
Methodology: product development process, augmented teams, and coding standards
Product Development Process
The development of each new product always starts with a product vision workshop. With the entire team and the client present, the workshop helps to identify the core features and define the target audience as well as bring the entire team up to speed with the vision for the product. Based on BlaBlaCar’s data, the development teams then undertook research and analysis to design and develop the most suitable products to suit user needs. Following that, the teams were responsible for mapping out the service architecture, preparing moodboards, wireframes, graphic design, coding and testing.
Contrary to common practice, Boldare’s developers and designers work hand in hand from the start of each development. This allows them to significantly speed up product delivery. Developers working together with designers means that graphic design is done simultaneously with coding; feedback is instant and changes can happen in real time.
Boldare’s frontend and backend developers also follow a number of rules which allow them to speed up coding but at the same time ensure code quality. Following SOLID code principles, GitFlow, Automated Testing, Continuous Delivery and Continuous Integration allows the team to deliver better code quicker. There is no need for detailed instructions, documentation or endless fixes, which saves a lot of time for all parties involved.
Results: new markets, new users, new products, and a new team
By the end of the collaboration, BlaBlaCar had became the market leader in their selected regions, achieving their key business objective and increasing membership from 24 to 35 million users.
The combined teams designed and developed 10 new products for BlaBlaCar: BlaBlaLife (dedicated blog service), UEFA (special service for EURO 2016), About Us (BlaBlaCar history page), Axis Page (service for passengers & drivers), Inside Stories (page about BlaBlaCar values), Dreamjobs (BlaBlaCar recruitment service), Newsroom (news page for journalists), CO2 Emissions (ecological landing page), Legal Pages (advanced design for legal pages), Wir bringen leben (marketing landing page) as well as improvements to payment security and the addition of new functionalities in the core web and mobile app.
While fulfilling their business goal with help from Boldare, BlaBlaCar also managed to recruit and onboard 20 developers for their new Warsaw hub and form teams who were able to take over the work longer term.
“It is very likely that we’d choose Boldare again if found in a similar situation. Boldare is definitely worth the money.” <BlogQuoteAuthor text="Christian Jennewein, Head of Engineering at BlaBlaCar" />
Today BlaBlaCar’s business is thriving. The carpooling giant is one of the biggest European startups with over 60 million users and is valued in excess of $1.5 billion.
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