Real Estate
and the companies of tomorrow

By Nicolas Brusson, CEO and co-Founder of BlaBlaCar & Bertrand Julien-Laferrière, Head of Ardian Real Estate

Nicolas, what were your concerns when you moved in your new headquarters in Paris in the #Cloud business center?

Nicolas Brusson: The main concerns are flexibility and a central location. In five years we could double in size or disappear and this is why we always chose offices that were too big. In our first offices, we rented an office for 45 people when we had 12 staff and brought in other start-ups to sublet the extra space, which gave us room to grow and enabled us to develop relationship with interesting people at the same time.

Bertrand Julien-Laferrière: It is amazing to visit a place that I helped to create and to see how you as a tenant are developing here. Very impressive! But I agree that it’s a problem that companies have to‑ sign long‑term fixed leases with little flexibility when they need to adapt continuously. I’m certain new models are going to emerge in real estate too.

How does Paris compare with tech hubs like the West Coast of the US?

Nicolas Brusson: When I arrived in Berkeley I discovered this ecosystem which had existed for 30 years. There was a whole generation of entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and lawyers who understood that the tech sector and the real estate sector had adapted to this way of working. At the beginning of the 2000s you could find open‑plan offices that suited tech businesses. The infrastructure was in place: you could rent premises, turn the key and settle in.

Bertrand Julien-Laferrière: The system is starting to adapt. You turned your first office into a kind of incubator with all these start‑ups and now the City of Paris, WeWork and private entrepreneurs are developing incubators quite effectively. At the same time, the city’s center of gravity is shifting, with new districts emerging east of the Central Business District that are more integrated and mixed use.

Alt text “When we moved, we checked the commuting time of every employee against the various office buildings available.” Nicolas Brusson

Where do co-working concepts like WeWork fit into the picture?

Bertrand Julien-Laferrière: WeWork shook things up when they came along with a change in paradigm - people could rent a desk and services rather than a number of square meters. This move toward a hotel concept is exactly the kind of innovation the real estate market needs, but it doesn’t suit everyone. It is much more widespread in the US, UK and even China than it is in continental Europe today.

Nicolas Brusson: We use WeWork in London and since it’s extremely difficult to predict how the London office will evolve, WeWork is perfect because it gives us maximum flexibility. We also used it when four of us were at a conference in Miami and needed a place to work. It’s great for small teams but it won’t work for an office of 500 people.

Why is having the right office so important in attracting talent?

Nicolas Brusson: We want to hire the top graduates and to attract these people – usually single, often without children, average age 29 – we need a great office environment and a good location because they won’t commute long distances. When we moved, we checked the commuting time of every employee against the various office buildings available. Having a central location was a major factor in our choice because it really affects our ability to recruit and retain staff.

Bertrand Julien-Laferrière: It’s true. Paris’ urban landscape has changed and the way people live and work in the city has changed too. Twenty or thirty years ago the best young graduates would live on the west side of Paris. Now they are in the more vibrant and popular districts in the east which are cheaper. If you want to attract them you’re much better off next to Opéra, Bourse or Sentier than in the traditional business districts.

What’s behind this change of attitude among younger employees?

Nicolas Brusson: They want a place close to home because the border between the office and home is becoming increasingly blurred. You don’t really disconnect any more: the new generations are connected all the time. They send e ‑mails at 8:00am and work at home at the weekend. Enabling them to commute by bike is a big asset: we have 150 spaces for bikes in this building.

Bertrand Julien-Laferrière: It’s very important for the policy ‑makers to understand this because there’s a big push now to develop an ecosystem of tech companies that will give new impetus to the economy. If we want to encourage these companies to grow we need a new mentality, and we need office buildings in the right places and with the right concepts, like we see here with the #Cloud business center.

Alt text “There will still be real estate owners, although they will have to better meet the needs and the evolution of their clients.” Bertrand Julien-Laferrière

What does that mean for our relationship with property in future?

Nicolas Brusson: It’s changing. People really don’t need offices in the same way anymore. I probably spend one hour a week in my office at most. The rest of the time I set up where the teams are working, in different parts of the building.

Bertrand Julien-Laferrière: Real estate is becoming a pure service sector, where it’s all about managing the way it is used. What will an office building look like in 30 years? I’m not sure but my instinct is that it will be something like a hotel, with the same flexibility of use and a succession of short stays rather than long leases.

Does that mean people won’t place so much stress on ownership?

Bertrand Julien-Laferrière: If you take it a level further maybe people won’t be so concerned about ownership. Maybe they will just want access as a user when they need it. But there will still be real estate owners, although they will have to better meet the needs and the evolution of their clients.

Nicolas Brusson: I’m not sure. Young people want to own their own home. All BlaBlaCar employees buy an apartment when they can afford it, although it happens later in life because buying in Paris is tough financially. On the other hand, their attitude to property when they are an owner is different: “When I’m not using it I sublet it.” Half of our employees use AirBnB when they go on holiday – they rent out their flat on one side and they rent another AirBnB in their holiday destination. This is how life is for them!

BlaBlaCar is the world’s leading long-distance carpooling service, connecting drivers with empty seats to people taking the same route.

Nicolas Brusson is the CEO and co-Founder of BlaBlaCar, he led the company’s corporate development, overseeing acquisitions, expansion to twenty markets, and three successive rounds of fundraising. Nicolas is a regular speaker at leading international conferences and in the media, where he comments on the European startup scene, innovative growth strategies, and mobility. Prior to joining BlaBlaCar in 2011, Nicolas worked for several startups in Silicon Valley during the dotcom boom, before moving on to executive and investor roles, including spending time as a Venture Capitalist at Amadeus Capital Partners in London.

Bertrand Julien‑Laferrière joined Ardian as Head of Ardian Real Estate in September 2015. Bertrand has 30 years’ experience in the field of real estate design, project management, development, asset management and investment.