Who's That Gal: Polina Raygorodskaya of Wanderu

Sometimes it is life's experiences that can lead you from one career to another and after many travel hours logged running her own PR firm and one broken down bus later, Polina Raygorodkaya and her now co-founder, Igor Bratnikov, set out to change the way millenials travel forever. Together they started Wanderu, one of Boston's hottest travel startups that helps you book and navigate your way around the country in the simplest and cheapest way possible.  We caught up with Polina to talk about how she navigated her career path and why she thinks travelling is so important for our generation. Have questions of your own? Come meet Polina at Ladies Lounge on July 30th!

Name: Polina Raygorodskaya
Occupation: Co-Founder & CEO of Wanderu.com
Current Hood: South Boston

Tell us a little bit about your background. How did you go from Babson, modeling, starting your own PR firm to becoming the co-founder and CEO of Wanderu?

Growing up, I was always interested in the fashion industry, so after I finished high school I moved to New York and signed with one of the top agencies there. However, I came to the realization that I was more intrigued by what was happening behind the scenes than actually modeling. I went to Babson college and while still in school, I opened a boutique fashion, beauty and travel PR company which required me to constantly travel back and forth between Boston and New York. During that time, I experienced first-hand the bus industry’s biggest problem at the time: the lack of a comprehensive one-stop platform for online booking.

Fast forward to the summer of 2011, my now-business partner Igor Bratnikov and I joined a group of young professionals traveling across the country using shared rides on a mission to raise awareness about national parks and forests. At one point during the trip, the driver with whom we were supposed to travel to our next destination cancelled on us at the last moment, so we found ourselves stranded in the middle of rural Virginia with no way of knowing what buses or trains we could catch to continue our journey. We couldn’t even locate the nearest station. 

That incident inspired us to create Wanderu - a ground travel search engine that allows people to easily find and book the best deals on bus and train travel. With the help of Wanderu, travelers can easily find the most convenient and cheapest bus and train tickets from their location to more than 90% of the U.S. that is reachable by ground, as well as major cities in Canada.

What was the biggest challenge Wanderu faced when starting out? 

The biggest challenge we faced at the beginning was creating a digital platform that could easily integrate and work with the ticketing systems of various ground travel providers. Unlike the airline industry, bus and train companies operated using very old-school platforms and many of them were not even designed to conduct online retail operations. Therefore, we had to figure out how to take into consideration the peculiarities of every single carrier’s ticketing platform and converge them into a universal system that would be both reliable and user-friendly. 

You’ve quoted your COO, Igor Bratnikov, who said “We need to be like dancers, mobile, light on our feet - ready to move as the beat changes.” Can you tell us more about how this principle applies to your day-to-day operations and overall success? 

We live in a very dynamic world where everything can change at the drop of a hat. Technology is developing at an extremely rapid pace and we need to be flexible and constantly adapt to new trends and developments if we want to deliver the best possible service and experience to our customers while staying on top of the competition.

Our company was founded on the basis of innovation and the desire to continuously push the boundaries of the ground travel industry. Therefore, it is our responsibility and obligation to adapt quickly and embrace change. 

What about working in the travel industry excites you? 

The obvious answer here is the opportunity to visit different places. Even though I travel mostly for work, I always try to allocate time to explore the place I am at and interact with local people because, in my opinion, that is the perfect opportunity to enrich my own cultural mindset and cultivate ideas that will help me grow both as a person and as a business leader. 

Why do you think travelling is so important for millennials, or any generation?

Traveling is the ultimate way to broaden your perspective and knowledge of the world. Whether you are traveling to a different country or to a nearby city, there is always something exciting happening and interesting people to meet. This is especially relevant to the millennial generation as it constitutes a very eclectic group of individuals who thrive on the ability to explore new territories and connect with their peers on a more personal and unique level than gen X-ers or baby boomers used to. Besides, traveling can be a lot of fun and those who don’t travel are missing out big time.

What’s next for Wanderu?

We are constantly expanding and adding new partners, routes and geographies.

In addition to that, we are always striving to provide our customers with the most reliable resources to live their lives to the full. Our goal is to be more than just a place where people come to look for bus or train tickets. We want to inspire them to travel to different places and explore both local and distant destinations that they wouldn’t have considered otherwise. 

Quick Questions:

#1 travel tip: Travel by train as often as possible and use Wanderu’s bus and train guides for the ultimate travel experience :) 

Favorite city to visit: Any city that I haven’t yet been to.

Favorite summer in Boston activity: Sailing around the Boston harbor and the Charles River 

Last book you read: The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz


Join the JUGs, General Assembly, and WeWork for a night of inspiration as we talk travel, startups, tech and all things in between with Polina and Laura of Bookity.

Thursday, July 30th, 2015 at 6:30pm - 8:30pm

WeWork Fort Point
51 Melcher St.
Boston, MA 02210


Images via Wanderu and Mashable