Rally, a startup co-founded by Numaan Akram and Siheun Song DIV ’15, helped to bring 50,000 individuals to this past weekend’s Women’s March on Washington. According to its website, Rally is “crowd-powered travel,” a platform that connects users with other riders traveling to the same event or destination. Since Rally’s formation in 2011, there have been over 580,000 seats reserved throughout 3,025 cities, according to its website.
The Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, which previously provided funding and resources to Rally, wrote in a press release that Rally coordinated buses to the Women’s March from 25 states and 200 cities, as well as buses in 12 states hosting their own Women’s March rallies. According to Song, the 50,000 that Rally transported to the Women’s March means that one in 10 of those at the march were sent on a Rally bus.
“It was the biggest instance of one company sending so many people to a single event,” Song said. “It wasn’t breaking records just for our company’s short history, but if you really pan out, no other company has moved this many people to a single event on a single day.”
According to the YEI press release, Rally was first developed with the guidance of YEI during the YEI Summer Fellowship. Following this, Rally won the inaugural Harvard-Yale Pitch-Off competition, during which the best students start-ups compete during the Yale-Harvard game weekend. Rally also received $100,000 in November 2014 from YEI’s Innovation Fund, a source of pre-seed funding designated for promising Yale start-ups.
Song said that the inspiration for Rally came as Akram was thinking about best ways to transport people to the 2010 Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear in Washington, hosted by comedians John Stewart and Stephen Colbert. She added that there were strong environmental considerations: not only are buses safer, but with fewer individuals driving on the road, there is less congestion. A car can hold only a few individuals, but a bus, depending on the type, can hold over 25.
Song said that Akram developed the platform to help people self-organize and crowdsource their bus trips, and in less than five weeks, Akram was able to mobilize 5,000 people. Akram noted in the press release that Rally is largely about building community for individuals with the same shared interests who attend the same events.
“The idea behind [Rally] wasn’t even to start a business,” Song said. “It was to solve a problem [Akram] saw for a particular event, and that event was the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear.”
In addition to raising over $2 million during a funding round, Rally was also chosen for the 2016 Techstars Mobility accelerator program. According to a Techstars press release, the program is for start-up companies “building automotive mobility technologies and services that enable people and goods to move around more freely.”
Song explained that the company’s success relies on basic economic principles of supply and demand.
“[The bus industry] is made up of small businesses,” said Song. “A good analogy is Open Table: we bring demand to the industry and we manage customer demand … We partner with bus organizations and act as a marketplace for these individuals, aggregating demand from customers who would otherwise be driving.”
Akram noted in a press release that for the Women’s March, thousands of people signed up in the first few hours, and as the event got bigger, more registrations came in. The team had to hire additional staff and release multiple versions of their app, Akram added.
In terms of pricing, Song said that for the Women’s March and other similar political rallies, Rally takes the original cost that people would normally pay for the bus and divides it by 40 in order to decrease the final cost for customers. For music and sporting events, Rally divides the cost by 25.
Rally is available for download on both the App Store for iPhones and the Google Play store for Android devices.