Every day, Blacklane connects thousands of passengers with a vast network of licensed and insured professional drivers. Blacklane offers the most reliable global professional driver service at the most competitive rates in 50 countries. Morgaine Gerlach had the opportunity to interview Jens Wohltorf, CEO, and co-founder of Blacklane.
Morgaine Gerlach: How did you come up with the idea for Blacklane?
Jens Wohltorf: In my previous career, I was in the consulting business, and therefore I was traveling a lot. Quite often, I found myself in the following situation: I was traveling to a city unknown to me, and I needed to find a way to get from the airport to the hotel and so forth. I was allowed to use limousine services, but I did not know the local providers and if they were any good.
So, it often took a lot of time and effort until I had sorted out my ground transportation at my travel destination. When at some point my friend and co-founder Frank Steuer visited me in the U.S., we talked about this issue, and that was when we came up with the idea for Blacklane: A platform and brand that aggregates professional driver services and delivers the same high-quality travel experience globally.
What kind of services does Blacklane offer?
Blacklane is all about taking the stress out of traveling – especially for the modern business traveler who is at home in a global world. Today, we primarily do this by providing a global professional driver service that takes you from your doorstep to the airport, from the airport to your hotel or meeting and vice versa. Our drivers will greet you with a pickup-sign at the airport, will always help you with your luggage and – if you want them to – provide you with knowledge about local places to eat and shop or other useful information.
In the future though, Blacklane will be even more. Right now we are for example rolling out our new product called Blacklane PASS which is an Airport Concierge Service that helps travelers with check-ins, fast-lane security, hassle-free immigration, entry to airport lounges and everything else you might need at the airport.
What is the primary success factor of Blacklane?
I think essentially it is one of our core company values which is care. It means that we care about our passengers, about our drivers and each other. In a people-facing business, it is self-explanatory that you should always put the customer first. But in fact, this is something you have to work very hard every day. We believe that we can only be successful in reaching this goal if we care about our drivers (who are partners, not employees) and about each other just as much as we care about our passengers.
How does your business approach differ from the ones of other start-ups?
What makes us unique in my opinion is the way we strive to combine technology and what we often call “the human factor.” We take the best from both worlds. If our goal is to reduce the stress of traveling and to provide calm in a busy day, this is inevitably something entirely individual and depending on personal preferences. Many of these individual needs can be supported very well by personalizing the customer experience through employing advanced technology. On the other hand, we firmly believe that humans will always want a service experience that includes interacting with other humans. Maybe this need will even increase in the future, as our world is shaped more and more by digitization and automation.
Even though, transportation-on-demand-services are on the rise in Germany there is still room for improvement. What kind of (legal/social/economic, etc.) developments would you like to see in Germany?
First of all, I would like to point out that we are not an on-demand-service in the sense of car-sharing and ride-hailing services. We are and want to be part of the travel chain: Getting people into and out of cities is and will be our most important mission, not so much inner-city transportation. Nevertheless, we are of course part of a more significant trend that is defined by less and less car ownership and more flexible modes of transportation, and we will provide services in an important area.
Regarding legal developments, we would surely like to see a level playing field with taxis. At the moment, taxis still have a lower VAT; they can use bus lanes and, at least in Germany, they do not have an obligation to return to base after completing a ride. Especially the latter point is inefficient in many ways: It wastes drivers’ time, increases pollution and adds congestion. Another aspect is that we would like to see fewer European requirements for cross-border transfers. The tax code adds unnecessary complexity for journeys in multiple countries. We are seeing increasing demand for inter-city rides, both in Germany and between German cities and non-German cities.
Where do you see Blacklane in 5 years from now?
We will continue on our journey to become a service provider that delivers peace of mind for the modern business traveler in a global world. With Blacklane PASS, our new product that I mentioned before, we will take an important step in closing the travel chain. Our customers will be able to book peace of mind through Blacklane: You get picked up at home by your driver, the airport concierge welcomes you when you leave the car at the airport and assists you until you enter the plane. Once you arrive at the destination airport, the next concierge will meet you at the door of the aircraft and so on. We want to make sure that you don’t even need to think about how you will find your way to the car, to the plane, to the hotel and so forth. And it saves a lot of time as well.