Laura Fletcher SOM ’16, co-founder of the polling app oVote, believes that the app could help just about anyone, no matter how successful.
“If Oprah Winfrey were to have her fans in her oVote group, she could increase feedback and engagement,” she said.
Television hosts like Winfrey, Fletcher explained, currently have no way to collectively poll all of their viewers in real time -— a problem that extends to Yale organizations wondering what foods, time slots or movies their members prefer.
The app, which was launched last year by Fletcher, Nick Andris SOM ’16 and Jake Dreier SOM ’16, aims to outpace other fast-response polling tools. Used last year by a handful of residential college councils, it has spread this fall to several more colleges and even some freshman counselor groups.
The phone and web application empowers group leaders to send questions to phones, enabling faster, higher response rates from group members than current options like SurveyMonkey and Google Surveys, founders said.
“OVote is a really fast way to learn what a lot of people are thinking,” Andris said.
OVote can be accessed through a mobile app, through SMS text message and through the oVote website. Fletcher said they were motivated to add the SMS feature in order to make the service as accessible as possible. The SMS feature allows users to participate in the service without downloading the app itself.
When planning to pilot the app last year, the founders — who met as School of Management students — knew they wanted to use it with Yale students.
The startup gained its first foothold at Yale last fall when the founders convinced administrators at the SOM to integrate the app into the first years’ orientation process. This process required all first-year SOM students to download the app. After that, the app spread quickly to the rest of the school, Fletcher said. Because they were part of the deployment community, the founders were able to make several iterations to improve the product based off user feedback.
Andris reflected on his childhood as an inspiration for the app.
“Growing up, I was shy,” he said. “I liked my ideas, but being shy, I didn’t get to express them. So I’ve always had empathy for people whose voices aren’t heard.”
This genesis story translates well to the startup’s deployment. Sri Muthu SOM ’16, who used the app as a teaching assistant for an SOM course, said oVote seemed to help introverts interact with the class more.
Yale students are not only using the app, but contributing to it. Fletcher, Dreier and Andris recruited two undergraduate students, Alan Liu ’18 and Alex Ringlein ’18, to work on the technology side of the startup. Ringlein said he was excited to play a role in optimizing the app’s service capabilities. He said oVote now has a suite of premium features which allow administrators to more efficiently use the app.
The founders plan to expand further into the Yale College infrastructure. OVote has worked extensively with Jonathan Edwards College and is working to extend to all of Yale College’s residential college communities. The Branford College Council will use the app in making collegewide as well as council group decisions including which study-break foods to provide Branford students with during finals.
“As people see how a system like oVote lets them listen to others with so much more ease, we’ll see more organizations asking people what they think more regularly,” Andris said.