Built By: Polina Raygorodskaya of Wanderu
My family moved to the United States when I was four years old. We came here from Russia on a refugee visa, and settled in the Boston area. At the time, people were fleeing from the communist regime and my parents wanted to make sure their kids didn’t grow up in such an oppressive environment. They had friends who had already been living here, and were able to help us transition into our new lives in America.
Since I came here as a four-year-old, I don’t really have many clear memories from my early years in Russia. What I have always found different and unique about America is the opportunity to build a life for yourself and your family on your own terms. You could come from nothing, but if you put in the effort and work hard, you can create your own path to success.
My father’s professional journey is a great example of that. When we first arrived to this country, he provided for his family by working as a pizza delivery guy. At night, he would take computer classes and actively work towards adjusting his skillset to American standards. It took a lot of time and continuous effort, but he persisted, and slowly but surely re-built his engineering career. As a result, he was able to buy a home in one of the nicest suburban areas of Boston, and allow me and my brothers to have a wonderful childhood. Now, all these years later, he works as an executive at Verizon, and his remarkable journey is something that I always draw inspiration from.
What I find most attractive about entrepreneurship is the ability to find solutions to issues that affect people’s everyday lives. That’s how the idea for Wanderu came about. During one of our journeys, my co-founder, Igor Bratnikov, and I found ourselves stranded somewhere in rural Virginia after another traveler who was supposed to drive us to our next destination backed out at the last minute. While we were looking for a way to continue our travels, we realized that there was no easy way to see what bus or train options were available in or near the area we were in. That was the first time we recognized that particular gap in the travel industry.
After doing some research, we found out that a lot more people in the United States travel by bus or train than by plane, and realized we couldn’t be the only ones who had experienced the inconvenience of not having one central platform where you could easily find and compare all your ground travel options. So we set out to fill the void and, so far, we’ve been quite successful in doing so.
There are many people who write to us every day to thank us for creating Wanderu, and share their stories of how it has helped them save money or find a last-minute travel option when they really needed one. That’s what draws me to entrepreneurship and motivates to keep going — the ability to make a positive change in people’s lives.
I work with immigrants in many different capacities every day. After all, the U.S. is a country founded by immigrants for immigrants and, unless your ancestors are Native American, everyone’s family immigrated here at one point in time or another.
My co-founder, Igor Bratnikov, is actually a fellow immigrant, also from Russia. We know each other from high school, as we both grew up in Newton, MA, but it wasn’t until years later that we decided to start Wanderu. Our families came to the United States for the same reasons and we had very similar experiences growing up, so we have that in common, and it’s certainly something that helps us find a common ground.
In addition, our team at Wanderu consists of people from various backgrounds, including people born in America, people who came here as kids, and others who immigrated as adults. I think it makes for a highly creative environment because everyone is able to pull from their own experiences and cultures. That’s especially true in the Marketing department. Our Creative Director, Ani Avanian, came to America from Armenia as a kid and our PR Manager, Staffo Dobrev, came here from Bulgaria, and went to college and grad school in the U.S. They have both lived and worked in many different parts of the world, and that has come in very handy in finding the most effective ways to communicate our brand to various types of audiences.
As a matter of fact, this type of diversity is one of the main things I like and find unique in the U.S. Our diversity is what made this country a global leader and I really hope we will continue to see more of it going forward.
There are many similar characteristics between being an entrepreneur and being an immigrant. Many people seem to think that immigrants arrive in a country and immediately start reaping the benefits of their new environment. The reality is that they have to work twice as hard to make it and, the majority of times, they have an even harder time convincing people of their abilities, simply because they were born in a different country.
The situation is similar with entrepreneurship, especially if you’re a novice in the industry in which you are starting a venture. My business partner and I had that experience when we founded Wanderu. I came from a fashion background and he was a patent lawyer, so it was quite the challenge to convince both ground travel industry leaders and investors that we knew what we were doing. I think one of the most prominent traits of both entrepreneurs and immigrants is the ability to push forward in the face of adversity. I can’t even count the times that people in the ground travel industry have told me that Wanderu would not be successful and that it would be impossible to create a one-stop shop for bus and train travel. Instead of backing down, I worked harder and let the results speak for themselves. Wanderu is now the leading bus and travel search platform in North America and Europe, and it’s one of the very few tech startups that have become profitable within just five years of existence.
Written by Polina Raygorodskaya
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