Photo Credit: Julia Levine
Introduce yourself! Who are you?
My name is Polina Raygorodskaya and I am the co-founder and CEO of Wanderu, a travel search platform that helps you find all bus and train travel options across North America and Europe. I am also a foodie, an animal lover, and always ready to go on an adventure, especially if it involves sailing on a boat or hiking through places I’ve never been before.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Maybe the best advice I got when I was first starting out was to not be afraid of failure. It sounds like a cliche but it’s imperative that people embrace failure as a possible outcome of their actions and make the best of it. Not everything you put your hands on is going to work right away. In fact, if you don’t make mistakes, there is no way you for you to learn, improve and grow.
Have you ever had anyone doubt you? How did that make you feel?
I’m curious if you will ever find a woman who will answer this question with a no. As a woman who is both an immigrant and running a business in a highly male-dominated field, I have people doubt me and my abilities on a regular basis.
In addition, 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 multimodal travel search platform in North America and Europe, and it’s one of the very few tech startups that has become profitable within just five years of existence.
What do you love most about yourself?
I have to say, the thing I love the most about myself is my ability to surround myself with good people. That’s a very important ingredient when it comes to staying happy and grounded. The people with whom you interact on the regular can really make you or break you emotionally. I had to learn the hard way that you need to filter out the negative influencers but I am now a much happier person because of it.
What motivates you most?
One of the things that motivates me the most on a daily basis is the ability to find solutions to issues that affect people’s everyday lives. In fact, that’s the very reason I love being an entrepreneur.
Through Wanderu, I helped fill a long-ignored void in the ground travel industry. In the United States, there are more people traveling by bus or train than by plane. Yet, prior to Wanderu, those travelers didn’t have a central platform where they could easily find and compare all available options for their trips. 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 motivates me to keep going - the ability to make a positive change in people’s lives.
Photo Credit: Kevin Wolf
What do you do on a daily basis to grow and move forward?
My number one go-to activity to stay sane and focused is meditation. No matter where I am, I always find time to disconnect and clear my head. It allows me to regroup and prioritize the thousands of things I always have on my to-do list.
One other thing that I do is express gratitude on a daily basis. Around the same time every day, my friends and I take turns to mention three things that we’re thankful for from that particular day. I love that activity because it allows you to find and appreciate something positive that happened to you, even if you had an overall terrible day. It certainly helps put things in perspective and keeps me moving forward.
What is something on your bucket list?
I am an explorer. I like going to new places, learning about other cultures, and trying various cuisines, so my bucket list is full of all the countries and remote places on the planet that I haven’t yet visited.
If you weren’t doing the job you have now, what would you be doing?
Prior to Wanderu, I was running a different business of my own, so it’s safe to say that I’d probably either be doing that or I would have developed another entrepreneurial venture.
I’ve never been one to be satisfied with a 9-to-5 type of job but there’s also something very empowering about solving problems for everyday issues people face and being in control of my own destiny.
Where do you find inspiration?
My biggest inspiration since I was little have been my parents. Their story is basically the playbook for resilience. They came to the U.S. as refugees from Russia with very little and scraped by while trying to re-build their lives in this completely new environment.
My father, for example, worked as a pizza delivery guy and, 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 in a senior position at Verizon and his remarkable journey is something that I always draw inspiration from.
What are your biggest passions?
I have to say my love for animals is definitely one of my biggest passions. I’ve had various kinds of pets throughout my life and I think that they are a wonderful addition to any household. There’s just something really special about coming home and being greeted by your super excited furry friend.
I am a very big proponent for the ‘adopt, don’t shop’ movement and, as I tend to travel a lot, I work as a volunteer with various shelters to help them transport animals who have been adopted and bring them to their new owners. There are so many animals out there who need a home and it brings me joy to help them find one.
Over the past few months, I’ve been also very invested in the post-hurricane recovery efforts in the U.S. Virgin Islands. I own a vacation rental property in St. John and I witnessed firsthand the devastating effects that hurricanes Irma and Maria had on the local population over there. Not only did people have their homes destroyed, but the majority of businesses on the island depend on tourism and that got hit really hard. That’s why I’m very passionate about promoting St. John and the rest of the region as a must-visit vacation destination because it’s still the most beautiful place in the world. More visitors will bring a much-needed boost to the local economy and help speed up the recovery efforts.
More About Polina
Photo Credit: Julia Levine
Polina Raygorodskaya is the Co-Founder and CEO of Wanderu. Prior to establishing Wanderu, Polina was the founder and president of Polina Fashion, a boutique fashion, travel and luxury PR firm based in New York City. In 2016, Polina was featured in Forbes’ annual 30 Under 30 list in the Consumer Tech category.
Polina loves spending her free time exploring the world and hanging with her pup.