Wanderu: The Next Big Travel Company? $2.45M Says Yes

8/12/13Follow @gthuang

The Boston area has a rich tradition of Internet travel companies. But the future is uncertain.

Who will follow in the huge footsteps of ITA Software (now part of Google), Kayak (acquired by Priceline, with an engineering team near Boston), and TripAdvisor (independent again, and now one of the East Coast’s biggest Web companies)?

Could it be Hopper in travel search? Smart Destinations in local tourism and marketing? TripReactor in travel advertising? Perhaps it will be no one local.

Or perhaps it will be Wanderu, which already bills itself as “Kayak for buses.” In fact, probe a little further and the fast-growing Boston startup is even more ambitious than that: now it wants to be “Kayak and ITA for buses,” according to CEO and co-founder Polina Raygorodskaya (pictured). Its goal: to simplify the process of searching for and booking intercity ground transportation.

Wanderu is coming out of beta today and opening its bus-and-train-search site to the public. The company, which has grown to 15 people, is also announcing a $2.45 million seed funding round led by Alta Ventures. Other investors include Jeff Clarke (chairman of Orbitz), Craig Lentzsch (former CEO of Greyhound.com), Drummond Road Capital, and Boston-area angel Semyon Dukach.

We last wrote about Wanderu back in early March. The company went on to win a major award at South by Southwest Interactive and has continued its expansion in the U.S., now with some 20,000 people signed up to use its search site.

“Our plan is to be [ground travel] search for North America,” says Raygorodskaya, speaking by phone from Ohio. She was on a multi-state trip through the Midwest last week, meeting with bus companies.

Her startup is currently working with bus partners across the U.S. and Canada. Its lead investor Alta Ventures, which has offices in the U.S. and Mexico, should help with the company’s expansion south of the border.

“At this point, we want to keep building our relationships,” she says. “We are very close with our partners.”

The company has no illusions about how hard it will be to solve the tech problems of the bus industry. Keeping track of schedules, prices, availability, and so forth across hundreds of carriers is a big challenge—especially since most bus lines don’t have online registration systems. And there’s plenty of competition from startups such as Busbud and others. The key to success or failure will be Wanderu’s user experience, product development, and, of course, getting enough people to try its site.

One advantage the startup has had is mentoring from its landlord—PayPal’s Start Tank incubator and co-working space in Boston. Raygorodskaya says PayPal executives and developers have helped her team with everything from product development to marketing to design. One other area of advice stands out: how to be in compliance with payment standards and regulations.

But Wanderu is getting too big for the incubator space and will be moving into a new office come October. By then, perhaps we’ll see how big it really could be.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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  • Al

    Or perhaps StudentUniverse? The world’s largest student/youth travel site – growing fast and based in Waltham!