Startup Lessons Learned from Wanderu CEO Polina Raygorodskaya
Can you imagine what it would be like to start a business with your best friend? You’d enjoy inside jokes, text each other instead of using email, and, of course, receive the support that only your best friend can provide.
According to Polina Raygorodskaya, however, starting a business with your best friend isn’t always the best idea, and she would know. As the founder of multiple startups, Raygorodskaya came to Cornell last week to share this lesson and others with students. Raygorodskaya was recently named one of Forbes’ “30 Under 30” to watch in Consumer Technology, and is currently the CEO of Wanderu: a mobile and web-based platform that strives to be the simplest way for you to find and book bus and train travel. Wanderu has served more than 20 million users across North America, and has grown 400% quarter over quarter since its launch in August 2013.
At the same time, Raygorodskaya recognizes that she would not have found this much success without having learned from the failures she encountered with her other businesses. Her best pieces of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs are shared below:
1) Pick the right co-founders under the right terms.
After founding a separate business, Boutique Week, with one her friends, Raygorodskaya knows that it takes more than friendship to make a partnership work. Raygorodskaya explains that it is important to have a mix of “builders” and “sellers” on the co-founding team that have complementary strengths. Additionally, after abandoning the Boutique Week partnership following multiple disagreements with her friend, Raygorodskaya advises new partners to establish a clear decision-making hierarchy. A 50-50 partnership, as Raygorodskaya had at Boutique Week, makes it nearly impossible for new entrepreneurs to make decisions because each co-founder could have a different opinion regarding the direction of the business.
2) When looking for funding, focus on the people.
Approximately six months before looking for funding, every entrepreneur should have a “hit list” of investors whom they would like to secure partnerships with. According to Raygorodskaya, the ideal investor should be connected to your enterprise’s vertical; in other words, that investor should have ties to companies that do not compete with your business, but offer synergies that can help you to build your business. After building this list of investors, try to get introductions from mutual connections as soon as possible. That said, never try to raise money during the summer or the holidays as investors will frequently be distracted celebrating the season with their families, and thus find your emails annoying.
3) Follow your passion.
While aspiring entrepreneurs have heard this saying a lot, Raygorodskaya believes it is worth repeating. In her other ventures, Raygorodskaya has found herself pursuing ideas that were great business opportunities in fields that she was not passionate about. Ultimately, she believes one of the key reasons she has found success with Wanderu is that she is so passionate about it. Raygorodskaya explains, “Any business is going to have ups and downs, and you need to have passion to get you through those downs.”
If you’re interested in learning more about Polina Raygorodskaya or Wanderu, visit the Wanderu website.