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How She Got There: Polina Raygorodskaya, Co-founder and CEO of Wanderu.com

Posted Feb 18 2013 - 12:00pm

Name:  Polina Raygorodskaya           
Job Title and Description: Co-founder and CEO of Wanderu.com.
Our first product is a ground travel search that helps people find and book inter-city bus and train travel between any two points in the country.
College/Major: Babson College/ Entrepreneurship and Marketing
Website:  http://www.wanderu.com 
Twitter Handle: @gowanderu

What does your current job entail? Is there such a thing as a typical day?
Polina Raygorodskaya:
As a co-founder of a start-up, there isn’t a typical day. On some days, I am meeting with our existing travel partners or bringing on new, exciting providers. On other days, I’m recruiting talented people to join our team, doing customer service, seeking out distribution partners, meeting with our brilliant engineers to go through our product development and much more.

What is the best part of your job?
PR:
Our team. I love who I work with and believe in building the best team. It is very important to go to work and enjoy the people that you see every day. And we have a lot of fun at work, which is extremely important. In fact, our holiday outing was taking everyone in the office to a Celtics game and pre-gaming at the local bars beforehand.

Are there any things about a CEO’s typical day at work that would surprise our readers? If so, what?
PR:
Although my title is CEO, we have a very open policy where everyone contributes. I believe that no one is perfect and the best way to grow is through honest feedback. If there is something that I do that may not seem the best way to do something, I want everyone on my team to tell me that. By limiting each person’s job to specific tasks and not creating an environment that allows brainstorming and creativity, companies can miss out on some of the best ideas. From our interns to our executives, everyone’s opinion is equally valuable in our company.

As a CEO, how do you balance all the responsibilities you have?
PR:
If you set deadlines on tasks, you become much more efficient at getting them done. If you have a task that needs to get done and you don’t want to do it, do it first. It will make the rest of your day much more productive if you can’t move onto anything else until that task is done.

What was your first entry-level job in your field and how did you get it?
PR:
I started a PR firm when I was a sophomore at Babson College and continued running that company after graduation. I did that for nearly seven years before co-founding Wanderu.

What is one thing you wish you knew about your industry when you first started out that you know now?
PR:
Every industry has its own politics. It’s important to do a significant amount of research and understand how things work in that industry before diving into it.

Who is one person who changed your professional life for the better?
PR:
I would have to say my parents (I know that’s two, but they are equally important to my professional life). We immigrated to this country from Russia and had absolutely nothing when we arrived. My father started out as a pizza delivery driver to support our family and saved enough money to take a computer programming course. After completing the course, he got a job as a programmer and worked his way up to being one of the lead senior consultants at a major corporation. My father taught me that you can start with nothing and become anything that you want. My mother has always been extremely supportive of everything that I wanted to do. When I started my first company, I would fly out to different states to produce fashion shows and couldn’t afford to hire an assistant. My mother would come with me and be my right-hand woman. She really helped me get my company off the ground and supported me the whole way. I am extremely lucky and grateful to have two of the most amazing parents. They gave me the drive, inspiration and support to be the businesswoman I am today.

What words of wisdom do you find most valuable?
PR:
One of my favorite ones is probably one of the most well known quotes: “Birds of a feather, flock together. If you are an eagle don’t hang with chickens: Chickens can’t fly.”
I really value this quote because it emphasizes the importance of surrounding yourself with people that inspire you and bring out the best in you. This is important in your social life as well as your business life. It is also extremely important when building a team—you want to build a team of eagles that help each other soar.

What is one mistake you made along the way and what did you learn from it?
PR:
Be very careful of who you have on your team and who you start a business with. Find people that have different skills from you and personalities that you get along well with. After all, starting a business is like getting into a marriage. Make sure you know that this is the person that you want to be with through thick and through thin because startups have a lot of ups and downs. You need to be able to be civil and support each other through the worst.

What do you look for when considering hiring someone?
PR:
Talent, vision and personality—all are equally important. We want to make sure each person that we hire inspires the others. Otherwise, they end up bringing the rest of the team down.

What advice would you give to a 20-something with similar aspirations?
PR:
The traditional corporate world is not for everyone. If you can’t find the job you love, create it. Whether that means running your own company or creating a new job role within an existing corporation – both involve entrepreneurial thinking, vision and excellent bargaining skills.

 

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