The limousine service Blacklane, a Berlin-based rival to American startup Uber, has secured financial backing from a Japanese investor to help with its global expansion plans. Handelsblatt has learned from insiders in Tokyo that Recruit, a recruitment and Internet services firm, has invested in Blacklane with a strategic minority share.
The exact size of the investment is not known. But according to sources, Recruit values Blacklane at €140 million ($177 million). When contacted, a spokeswoman for the limousine service did not wish to comment on the matter.
The partnership with the Japanese giant is intended to open doors in the Asian market for the start-up. Blacklane already has a presence in Tokyo. According to reports, it offers services from Tokyo’s Narita Airport into the city for the equivalent of €250 – 40 percent cheaper than rival Uber.
The Blacklane service is still relatively unknown in Japan, but Recruit, with sales of almost €9 billion, has a well-established network in Japan and a few other Asian countries.
The partnership with the Japanese giant is intended to open doors in the Asian market.
Carsten Maschmeyer, founder of the German financial services company AWD, is likely to remain the largest investor in Blacklane. He initially acquired an 11 percent share in late 2012 and will hold 22 percent of shares through his investment firm Alstin in the future.
Based on current valuation, the multimillionaire will have increased the value of his original investment of €5 million by a factor of six – which more than offsets the current loss of his stake in insolvent bicycle maker Mifa.
Frank Steuer and Jens Wohltorf founded Blacklane in September 2011, based on the Uber limousine service model. Their Internet company forwards requests to local chauffeur companies seeking to fill empty capacity. Customers can book limousines, such as the Mercedes S Class, online, with a smartphone or a regular phone.
Unlike Uber, Blacklane is not geared to the mass market but focuses mainly on business travelers who feel that taxis are too uncomfortable or not sufficiently discrete. The start-up now offers its services in 49 countries and about 150 cities, including New York, Cape Town, Hong Kong and Palma de Mallorca. The team of 80 employees provides services for about 10,000 passengers a month.
Blacklane negotiated a joint venture with rental car provider Sixt in late 2012, as the German business publication Wirtschaftswoche reported at the time. But then Erich Sixt, the company’s chief executive, surprised the market with his own chauffeuring service, MyDriver.
“Under the condition Blacklane drivers have car rental concessions, they are within the law.”
Blacklane has been spared the kind of legal challenges in Germany which have dogged rival Uber. “Under the condition that the Blacklane drivers have a car rental concession, they are within the law,” says Detlev Freutel of the Berlin-Brandenburg Taxi Association. Nevertheless, Blacklane drivers are often the target of verbal abuse by regular tax drivers, who have also held mass protests against Uber.
Mr. Steuer and Mr. Wohltorf both hold a 18.5 percent share in Blacklane. Carmaker Daimler, which reportedly contributed €10 million last December through its subsidiary Daimler Mobility Services, holds 17 percent.
As part of an expansion drive, Recruit is investing in more and more Internet companies worldwide. The company aims to become the world’s largest personnel recruitment firm by 2020 and the world’s largest marketing and human resources firm by 2030.
The Japanese are focusing their attention on Berlin, where Recruit employees are fishing for lucrative ideas in the German capital’s spirited start-up community. Blacklane appears to be their first catch.
Martin Koelling is Handelsblatt’s Asian correspondent, based in Tokyo. Christoph Schlautmann is a Handelsblatt editor in Düsseldorf. To contact the authors: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com.