Igor Brantikov is Co-Founder and COO of Wanderu, a ground travel search engine that helps people find and book inter-city buses and trains between any two points in the country.
One of the things we have done and continually do is keep a very close connection with our customers and general target audience. As a consumer search being the first to tackle improving the ground travel searching and booking process we succeed as a business when we can solve consumers’ current problems.
To do this we connect with consumers through surveys and listening closely to feedback. We take the time to help people find travel options even if they outside our coverage so that we can connect with future customers and learn what they are looking for. Of course the second part to this is processing all this feedback efficiently and implementing it into the product with every release.
We do weekly game nights. And even though it’s not a traditional productivity practice, it helps us as a whole team stay very close and have fun with each other. And a team that is close helps us build and implement new ideas much faster. We’ve also used it as a networking tool by inviting executives from other travel companies and even potential hires to join us for beers and Pictionary, or whatever the game of the night is. It builds great relationships and helps us find people that fit our team.
We stay very close to our customers and at the same time we have great relationships with our partner carriers. I have on occasion discussed customer requests and feedback with owners of bus companies and helped brainstorm ways of better meeting the needs of consumers. we want the consumers to not only love the Wanderu service, but also the services provided by our partners.
What is unique about our company and the need we are solving is that it is a vast problem that people can relate to not only as a good business idea, but as fundamental human need. Wanderu is making it easier for people all around the country to visit friends, family, go to school or do business by connecting them to affordable and in many cases the only available form of transportation. Most people will interrupt us before we finish the pitch, even if they haven’t ridden the bus in a while, with a story about them or someone they know that perfectly fits the Wanderu use case. So we use stories and examples to better illustrate how basic of a need getting someone from point A to B is, so people connect with Wanderu emotionally.
The business we work in is very close-knit, traditional and often family businesses. It is a place that is hard for outsiders to easily sell in. So we have invested a lot of time to building relationships, learning the industry, speaking the language and in general becoming industry nerds. It was hard to convince the first couple of customers that we understood them and how we could help. But when we were able to show them that we understood their needs, their business and we invested in the industry our original partners actually become our biggest promoters in the industry. In an industry where all the companies listen to each other it’s a big achievement to come recommend by industry leaders.
Both my co-founder Polina and I gave up very promising careers to take on the challenge of building the best ground travel search. Polina ran a very successful PR company that she founded while still in college that generated a very nice revenue stream. I on the other hand gave up a legal career at one of the top law firms in the country. Though it was a big sacrifice to make, neither of us would want it any other way.
The best source of money will come to you through hard work and super networking. It might come when you least expect it and even when you are not raising funds at all. The key is to understand who the right investor is and then keep pushing forward, because just money is cheap they need to bring more to the table.
If you want someone to buy into your sales pitch, you have to get them listen and the easiest way to do that is to give them something they really want. The easiest is to come with a really compelling product and warm introductions from industry leaders. Most start-ups don’t have that for quite sometime, so you have to bring them something else of value. For us we’ve found media and promotion are great tools. If you can bring the company a media feature or some other form of promotion they will listen to you and you can get straight to the decision makers. As a start up you don’t have the time to fight through the gate keepers save your energy for winning over the decision maker.
Before we started the company Polina and I were part of a campaign that did ride shares across the country to promote National Parks and Forests to the youth generation. We got rides from strangers that wanted to participate from park to park, met amazing people that hosted us and along the way decided to take it upon ourselves to revolutionize the way people search ground travel options.
For me the key thing about starting this company is that I am I enjoying the ride, it’s not the destination. I think the most successful people enjoy doing what it takes, they enjoy hustling and building. If your mind set is only towards the goal, any time there is a bump and the goal gets pushed further away it will shake your confidence, you will wonder if it’s worth pushing on. If you enjoy the ride every challenge is one more hurdle you get to conquer to add to your list of accomplishments. And if the venture doesn’t work out in the end you get to walk away with a long list of accomplishments rather than one unmet goal.