Ground transportation startups are continuing to spring up and capitalize on the underserved market when it comes to travelers searching for and booking trips via bus or train. Wanderu, a company that we took note of when competitor BusBud launched its iPhone app, announced recently that it has started accepting early users for its private beta, with more than 10,000 signups to date. The startup is currently focused on the North American market, looking to be the Kayak for buses, and will be one of 8 finalists heading to South By Southwest next month to compete in the ‘Innovative Technology’ category.
Co-founded by Polina Raygordoskaya, who previously ran a boutique PR company focused on the fashion and travel industry, the idea for Wanderu came after Raygordoskaya and her friends planned a cross-country tour to promote the country’s parks and forests using only ridesharing. One ride failed to show up, and the group had to abandon their ambition and rent a car after failing to figure out any bus routes close by or any relevant bus booking information. Frustrated by how far behind the ground transportation industry was in comparison to the hotel and airline industry, Raygordoskaya and her co-founder Igor Bratnikov, who was also on the trip, decided to build a solution.
“We started thinking how it was possible in this day and age you can find anything online, you can find a flight on Kayak…yet I can’t figure out how to figure out how to get from Point A to Point B using non-air transportation,” said Raygordoskaya in an interview. “After we got back we got really excited about solving that problem.”
The company partners with major ground transportation companies like MegaBus, Greyhound, and BoltBus to obtain up-to-date schedules, pricing, and routes, while allowing users to plot out their trip with more than one service provider. Users can also book their tickets directly through the platform, at the same price they would if they booked directly with the carriers, and Wanderu takes a commission from each booking. The company is opening up its platform region-by-region starting with the U.S. northeast, and will be available across the country by the end of 2013.
The competitive landscape is full of early players, not to mention the larger bus companies like Greyhound which have booking capabilities on their own websites. BusBud’s focus is more global, and though it has partnered with intercity bus partners in its home province of Quebec, Wanderu’s partnership with major providers could give it an edge in the North American market since BusBud still updates most of its schedules by parsing data and is still working on rolling out more extensive booking functionality. There are also other startups like BusTripping, which is only a listing site for bus schedules, and others like Pombai that are focused exclusively on the Asian market.
“We’re like Kayak, can you imagine Kayak without having up-to-date schedules, prices or the capability of booking. That wouldn’t be a full solution,” Raygordoskaya added. “We have the coverage, we have multiple providers, the other thing is we’re extremely picky with who we partner with. So we partner with only the more reputable and safe brands, we want to position bus travel in a positive light.”
The startup has organized a road trip by bus and train through 10 cities and six states en route to SXSW 2013, giving away tickets for anyone looking to join them along the way. It will look to gear up for a public launch in the coming months, and with major partnerships in place, the company is poised to push the envelope when it comes to traveler’s expectations of booking ground transportation.