How Rally Became the First-Ever Bus Ridesharing App
Rally is a NYC-based ridesharing app exclusively focusing on buses, and the first to do so! We had the chance to speak with Co-Founder and President Siheun Song to learn more about the company's past, present, and future.
Tell me about your background, Siheun. What was your career like prior to founding Rally?
Unless you were born into the industry, you don’t end up founding a bus rideshare platform without a little serendipity. The common thread through these disparate projects is my desire to make a positive impact.
I graduated from The Juilliard School’s Pre-College as an organist, and started a rock band when I was a senior at Columbia University. The band continues to thrive. I needed a job that gave me the flexibility to tour, gig, and live the precarious life of a musician. My mentor encouraged me to join her financial services team. She believed in my ability to juggle this dual life.
When I graduated from college, I didn’t expect the end of the world was around the corner. I kid — but that’s how everyone felt when the market crashed the following year. I found myself in the thick of it. I was a newly minted Financial Consultant, helping families and businesses with their financial planning and risk management. It felt like noble work, and that I could advise clients with their investments for the rest of my career. I loved the intellectual and emotional process of walking decision makers through a myriad of choices and long-term visions.
But, the pull of further education became strong. When I was offered a full ride to attend Yale Divinity School, I took a chance. It was a leap of faith; like my undergraduate degree in Comparative Literature & Society, this was a subject matter that I knew would not tie directly into my career. But I’m glad I did — because both degrees undoubtedly trained me to better at business by studying people, culture, and history.
What’s the story of Rally? How did it get started?
Five weeks before a rally in DC, my co-founder Numaan got the activism bug and wanted to help as many people get to the event as possible. Buses were the obvious solution, but it cost a few thousand dollars to charter one, and we had no idea where people wanted to come from. Hence, our business model of “risk-deferral” was born: a minimum number of riders must commit to the bus before we confirm the bus. Within that one-month lead time, we had a live MVP and 5,000 paying customers.
I’d love to hear more about the company and your crowdpowered travel app. In other words, for the uninitiated, what is Rally?
Rally is the first platform in bus ridesharing. It allows like-minded individuals who are traveling to the same destination or event to combine their itineraries. For example, let’s say you’re searching “bus to Kentucky Derby.” You’ll then land on the Kentucky Derby Rally page, where you choose where you want to come from, or you can add your own stop. Rally’s platform enables riders to create new trips, and incentivizes people to share the trip with a referral bonus. Each trip needs to reach a tipping point before it’s confirmed — essentially, it's a like a Kickstarter for each bus. The bus has to be 40 percent full in order for the trip to be confirmed.
How has the company (and platform) evolved over time?
Putting a bus trip together for an event is nothing new, but we’ve automated multiple roles that are needed for the planning process and the event day to run smoothly. A few weeks ago, we launched the latest Driver App, which is how we’re able to track the location of the bus. The Driver App is what allows us to empower the driver as well, so that they don’t need an assistant or group leader to board passengers.
From the outside, Rally looks simple, and that’s how it should be. Technology should feel easy to use. And the basic business model and primary user journey has not changed much: Rally creates on-demand trips that defers risk by requiring a minimum number of riders to commit to it beforehand.
But a lot of technological heavy-lifting is required to aggregate 50 strangers for each trip. What happens when there are 250 riders at a given Rally Point (what we call our virtual bus stops)? Or, when you’re working with multiple bus companies and coordinating all of their drivers? These are some of the questions that we’ve answered with our technology and processes, which are under the hood.
While amassing all the possible use cases of bus travel and incorporating them into Rally, at the heart of our company is a dedicated Customer Experience team. We have handled the largest mass mobilizations in history by applying the latest Customer Service tools to address conversations efficiently with riders from all possible channels: social, email, live chat, and phone.
Who are your core customers?
Our mission is to unite people with their passions. So our customers can be (and are) anyone — from a diehard Swifty, to a 49ers faithful. A third of our trips are around sporting events. We just partnered with the Buffalo Bills, for example. The second largest percentage would be music — festivals, concerts, etc. The other piece is comprised of mostly private trips: wedding parties, schools, and, of course, political rallies. Watch our 1-minute recap video from the Women’s March on Washington.
What does the competition look like? Is there any?
Our number one competitor is the personal car. We’ll enter the zeitgeist of popular culture once we convert 1% of those event-goers who are currently driving to become Rally riders.
As I mentioned previously, people have been organizing buses to events as soon as the bus was invented. But to date, no one is leveraging crowdsourcing and crowdfunding algorithms the way we are to create on-demand trips, or what we call “pop-up mass transit.”
What kind of success have you had so far?
Rally has transported hundreds of thousands of riders in 40 states and provinces across the US and Canada. As soon as we launched our product, our customers found us, as we realized there was an untapped demand for our service.
There was a defining moment after the last presidential election, when the buzz around the Women’s March was just starting. Within a few days, thousands of people had booked rides from all over the country — eventually, some people came from as far away as 20 hours by bus. We ended up moving nearly 50,000 people to DC and simultaneous sister marches. It was the largest mobilization by any transportation company for a single-day event. It was shocking to say the least.
How big is the team? Looking to hire any particular positions in the coming months?
There are 10 people in the core team. We also work with of lot of distributed team members who are doing technology, business development, marketing, design. All told, it’s closer to 30 people.
What’s next for the company?
This year, we’ll be launching a new brand — new logo, new visual identity, and new tagline: Let’s get there together. We’ll be going live with the new website (http://rally.co) and a brand new Rider App. Our ultimate goal is to enter the cultural mainstream and become the brand that is synonymous with buses. When you think of buses, you're going to think of Rally.
Any final thoughts?
If you have partnership ideas, please contact us at [email protected].