“BlaBlaCar community members trust each other more than their neighboors”

Building trust for startups in the sharing economy is key. The fastest growing startups in the sharing economy are those which have been able to build trust in their community. BlaBlaCar just released a study about trust on their online ridesharing network with some striking findings. I met with Frédéric Mazzella, its founder, to discuss the future of online trust in the sharing economy and its impact on society.

You just published a study about trust in your community. What are the most important findings?

Our findings showed that members with a complete online profile are trusted by others more than they would trust their neighbour – almost as much as a close friend. When you think about it, that’s world changing. Trust is highly valuable to society and is equally hard to create. It has allowed us, as a society, to build our economic structures and collaborate productively. For millennia we have built our societies on trust between people that shared something: a geographical location, a territory, a family tie. But the study reveals that there is now a new kind of relationship of trust for people to build on: trust in online profiles. In a situation where there previously would have been nothing on which to build trust between two people, nothing shared and no apparent relationship, trust is now possible thanks to online profiles.

Where there is trust, there can be collaboration. There can be value.

This is not an incremental change to society—it’s not a bit more, or a bit better of what went before—it’s a disruptive change. Nothing will ever be the same. The building block of society, interpersonal trust, has been transformed from a scarce into an abundant resource. Our potential to collaborate and create value are also transformed.

So we trust a person with a complete online profile more than our neighbours. Why?

It’s fascinating. Let’s think about what trust means, theoretically. Trust means that you believe that there’s a high probability that the result of an interaction will be desirable. Or put another way, you believe there’s a low probability that the result of an interaction will be undesirable! It’s the same thing. Trust is an evaluation of probable positive outcomes; in other words, you think it’ll work out.

But we can only predict the result of future interactions with people if, and only if, we have information on which to base this evaluation. So, the answer to your question is simple: we trust a person with a complete online profile more than our neighbours because we know more about that person. More information equals more trust. Trust in any community is an activity enabler. No trust, no transaction.

What our study shows is that past recorded transactions are a trusted proxy for a relationship.

If a member has made successful transactions in the past (and we have a proof of it, i.e. ratings by other members) they appear to be trustworthy. When you see a member’s ratings, this makes you confident that the result of an interaction will be desirable. Strictly speaking, the trust that was measured in our study only relates to a specific activity (the one for which transactions were recorded) and it cannot be generalised. Nevertheless, it shows that it is possible to create interpersonal trust where none previously existed.

Being able to create trust is a game changer for society.

Where does this trust come from?

Our study shows that trust in the BlaBlaCar community comes from the following factors (in order of increasing importance): a photo (a 2.5 trust level), verified contact details (a 3.2 trust level), positive ratings (a 3.4 trust level). With all of these combined, trust leaps to a level of 4.25. To give you some context a neighbour is only at 3.3. Friends and family are at 4.7. So we can conclude that strong trust is a confluence of several factors. But if we must isolate a single one, it’s undoubtedly peer ratings. This is the most important proxy that people use to evaluate the probability of a desirable outcome ie. to trust.

Who is Trustman ?

There’s not only one Trustman. We are all a Trustman.

Trustman does not have mystic martial arts skills like Batman or is from another planet like Superman. The source of his superpower is simply his trust profiles on peer-to-peer websites of all types, from car sharing  to skill sharing. They allow him to enrich his life by creating value for himself and for society. In a way, being trusted is trivial, because everyone has it. But on the other hand it’s really awsome, because thanks to online profiles, we are now free to share or rent essential resources like cars or accommodation, to swap items, houses and skills, to crowdfund and crowdsource and to massively collaborate… all things that not only save us money and time but also enrich all of our lives.

Why is he a superhero? What is he going to save us from?

Trustman is a new superhero for a new economic era. Trust is among the most constructive attitudes we can have towards fellow citizens, since it offers the infinite possibility of collaboration and co-operation, to the benefit of all.

Trustman is the symbol of new collaborative attitudes and the positive impacts of which have only just begun to be felt.

Trustman embodies our vision of hope for a collaborative future.

Are you planning on launching any trust-related products or services soon? Will Trustman become BlaBlaTrust? 

Trustman is a metaphor, it’s not a feature. We wanted to encourage people in the media, in tech and in the collaborative consumption community to engage with the topic.

Because trust is so important to BlaBlaCar and indeed, all peer-to-peer services, and because of our success in creating a trusted online community of already 2.6 million members in Europe, we thought we had something to contribute to the awareness and understanding of this important topic. We just wanted to share our insights and data about how trust is key in the BlaBlaCar community.

Is ride and car sharing a gateway to other types of sharing? Are members of your community more likely to use other sharing services?

Yes, a proportion of our community began using other online collaborative services after becoming a member of BlaBlaCar (between 1 and 6 percent). This suggests that by using BlaBlaCar, people become more aware of the benefits of collaborative behaviour and are more open to try new behaviours.

Interestingly, our findings also show that when the declared intention to practise a collaborative behaviour amongst respondents was low (crowdfunding and p2p car rental), awareness levels were also very low. These findings suggest a correlation between levels of awareness in a population and it’s intent to adopt a new behaviour. This makes sense because whilst awareness necessarily precedes intent on an individual level, there may also be a required level of generalised social awareness necessary to precipitate behavioural change. This suggestion is consistent with our experience at BlaBlaCar, where general awareness and media coverage has been a key driver for adoption.

This is important data for the actors of the collaborative economy, because it shows that we can and must work together to raise awareness of different collaborative platforms across sectors, from accommodation to transport, finance and beyond.

Frédéric Mazzella is the founder and CEO of BlaBlaCar. Started in 2004 as a side project, the startup reached a critical mass of users in France in 2010. It is now growing exponentially all around Europe (with 100,000 new register users every month, it’s one of the two fastest growing ridesharing networks in the world).