There are too many travel websites to count, offering discounts on travel planning by allowing users to book flights, hotels, or rental cars in one location. But there was no comparable site to compare bus fares or train routes – until now.
Polina Raygorodskaya was working in business and trying to find a cost-effective way to travel. Whenever she tried to buy a bus or train ticket, however, she had to go to several carriers’ separate websites and manually compare fares. “I couldn’t afford to go through that process every time I needed to go somewhere,” she told Opportunity Lives.
The breaking point came on a trip in 2011, when Raygorodskaya found herself stranded in the middle of rural Virginia with a group of young professionals and no idea how to find bus or train options nearby.
With her business partner Igor Bratnikov, Raygorodskaya created Wanderu – a service that allows travelers to simply compare options for traveling by bus or train. Users can book directly from the website after finding the cheapest or most convenient rate.
The Wanderu website launched in the fall of 2013, and Raygorodskaya said the service has already had over 10 million users.
Predictably, one of the biggest challenges was reaching out to all of the individual ground transportation companies and finding out how to integrate their scheduling and ticketing systems into Wanderu’s database. “Unlike the airline industry, many bus and train companies operated using very old-school platforms and many of them didn’t even sell tickets online,” said Raygorodskaya.
After a lot of hard work, the Wanderu team was able to synthesize many major transportation companies into their site, including Greyhound, Amtrak, and Megabus. A streamlined mobile app prevents people from being stranded like Raygorodskaya once was.
The site was recognized as the “Most Innovative Web Technology” by SXSW Interactive in 2013 and recently named on Inc. Magazine’s “30 Under 30” list. Wanderu is currently based in Boston.
One of the benefits of bus and train travel is that travelers are able to visit harder-to-reach destinations, not just major cities with airports. Raygorodskaya said this will be a focus for Wanderu in the coming years. “We want to inspire [customers] to travel to different places and explore both local and distant destinations that they wouldn’t have considered otherwise,” she said.
The entrepreneurship advice Raygorodskaya thinks is most important? “Make sure to invest heavily, yet smartly, in building an amazing team – people who are passionate about solving the problems you are working on.”