This Startup Seeks Cash to Become the Uber of Business Travelers

Photographer: Erik Snyder/Getty Images
  • Berlin-based Blacklane chauffeur service to use money to hire
  • Blacklane plans to open offices in Singapore, eastern U.S.

Blacklane GmbH, a Berlin-based chauffeur service with 200 employees, is in talks to raise funding as it seeks to add personnel, enter into more corporate partnerships and expand in new markets to challenge rivals such as Uber Technologies Inc.

Blacklane, which links travelers with professional drivers via a smartphone app and its website, is in talks with investors about additional financing after raising about 25 million euros ($28 million) since the company was founded in 2011, Chief Executive Officer Jens Wohltorf said in an interview in Berlin.

Unlike Uber, which relies mainly on private drivers, Blacklane links business travelers with licensed chauffeurs by using limousine companies’ free capacity. Customers can book a trip for a fixed price one hour to months in advance. Blacklane, which doesn’t own a car fleet, is preparing new services including lower-cost and group fares, Wohltorf said.

“We want to use the money to grow organically,” Wohltorf said at the company’s loft headquarters in Berlin’s Schoeneberg district. Blacklane, which is active in about 200 cities in 50 countries, plans to open its first offices outside Germany in Singapore and the eastern U.S. in the coming months, he said. “Europe and the U.S. are well-covered, but there still are some white spots in Asia Pacific, Latin America and the Middle East.”

Japan’s Recruit Holdings Co. led Blacklane’s latest funding round in November, which valued it in the three-digit million-euro range, the company said at the time. Other backers include German investor Carsten Maschmeyer and Daimler AG.

The talks come amid a surge in cash for ride services including Uber, with a valuation of about $50 billion, and China’s Didi Kuaidi, which was close to raising about $3 billion in September, people familiar with the matter said at the time.

Blacklane has partnerships with companies and travel websites including China’s Qunar and Expedia Inc. It’s looking for more such deals to expand and further boost revenue, which is growing about 20 percent a month, Wohltorf said. Blacklane seeks to be profitable in 2017, he said.

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