Wanderu Helps You Book Affordable Bus and Train Travel
Company name: Wanderu
The gist: Figure out how to get from point A to point B by whatever priority is most important to you—price, speed, time in transit, etc.
Who will love the app? Millennials who live in a major city, crave convenience, and frequently travel by bus or by train. And Richard Branson, who’s dubbed Wanderu among his personal favorites.
Who should not download the app? Bostonians who own a car and love to drive—even through three of America’s worst traffic bottlenecks. Or those who’d rather fly than “Netflix and chill” in traffic.
Sixteen million Wanderu customers have rural Virginia to thank for the convenience of their favorite travel app. It’s there that cofounders Polina Raygorodskaya and Igor Bratnikov got stranded—far from a bus route, and with no way of finding the closest station.
The experience inspired the duo to create a search engine that lets users input their travel date, starting point, and destination to receive a list of bus and train options that can be sorted by categories, such as “cheapest,” “earliest,” and “shortest.”
“It’s easy if you’re going from Boston to New York,” Raygorodskaya says. “But what if you’re going from Wellesley? If you went to a bus company’s website and searched for ‘Wellesley,’ you wouldn’t find a station.”
Twenty percent of searches done through Wanderu, Raygorodskaya claims, could not be performed on any other site.
“The exciting part is solving that [transportation] problem for those people who aren’t in major cities,” Raygorodskaya adds. “There’s a lot of middle-of-nowheres in Virginias all over the world.”
Since launching in August 2013, Wanderu has undergone a rebranding, launched iOS and Android apps, formed partnerships with the likes of Amtrak, Peter Pan, and Greyhound, and pitched to Virgin Group Founder Richard Branson on his private island after being named a top three finalist in the Extreme Tech Challenge. In the beginning of 2016 alone, the cofounders have been named to Forbes’ “30 Under 30” and expanded their services to Canada via train travel provider VIA Rail.
A key to that growth has been acknowledging that while they created a powerful search tool, the user experience still needed to be improved and iterated on.
“We realized we had done a good job building a utility tool,” Raygorodskaya says. “But we asked, ‘How do we create not just the best experience in bus and train travel, but the best experience in travel overall?’”
The rebranding paid off. TIME recognized Wanderu as one of its favorite iPhone apps, after it was featured as the “Best New Travel App” in the App Store and on Google Play.
Wanderu is starting to add lodging to its site and is exploring additional areas where they could add convenience for millennials. The 30-person team added five new employees in the last two weeks and is actively hiring more—primarily to build out Wanderu’s technology and better cater to customer needs.
The startup’s positioning in Boston makes hiring easier. Kayak, TripAdvisor, Priceline, and Google’s travel division, ITA Software, have headquarters in the Northeast.
“Our goal is to continue building out a great travel brand for millennials,” Raygorodskaya says. “It all started as something I wanted to start for myself, but now we’re touching the lives of so many.”