This Entrepreneur Was Ready When Opportunity Knocked | Tech Industry

 

Siheun Song and her cofounder weren’t looking to disrupt a sleepy . But when an presented itself to disrupt the charter bus industry — estimated to be a $5 billion industry in 2017, according to IBIS World they gradually, then wholeheartedly seized the day.

In 2013, Song and Numaan Akram, a technologist, needed to get to a political rally in Washington DC from NYC. “We figured it would be cheaper and more fun if we went with a group who wanted to go there, too,” said Song. However, they didn’t know enough people to fill a charter bus and didn’t want to use their credit cards to pay for the rental with the hope that the other riders would pay them back.

There had to be a better way. By reverse engineering the business model, they were able to find that way: They crowdsourced the trip. To finance it, they crowdfunded it. Akram built the app. In less than 5 weeks, the two cofounders arranged transportation for 5,000 people and Rally was born.

Of course, the idea of taking a group of people from point A to point B isn’t a new one. People have been doing this for eons. From camel caravans to stagecoaches to high-speed rail, people have been coming together to travel together. The twist for Rally was the focus on people traveling together to an event that they are passionate about and using technology to make the process cheaper and easier to do. The idea makes economic sense and it’s better for the planet when fewer people drive their own cars.

If the idea worked well for organizing people who wanted to go to political rallies, Song and Akram thought it might also work for people who wanted to go to sporting events, such as football and NASCAR, and to concerts. They kept their day jobs but continued to pilot the app.

In 2015, while also working at AXA and going for her masters in religion at Yale, Song was accepted into the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, a summer accelerator program. She worked on the idea and raised $100,000 from the Yale Innovation Fund (YEI) and $1 million from the Yale Angel Network. “The money allowed us to go full time and start to scale the business,” said Song.  

The two founders continued to perfect the model — a technology platform and marketplace that connects people who want to go someplace with like-minded people to bus operators and drivers who can get them there. Individual riders can book a seat on a crowdsourced trip, while trip creators can use Rally’s innovations and algorithms to modernize their logistics. Their marketing expanded from Search Engine Optimization (SEO), which they perfected, to include partnering to work with event stakeholders such as fan clubs, local bars, etc.

The accelerator experience was so valuable in terms of making connections most especially to funders that they applied to and got into the Techstars Mobility program. They moved to Detroit for the summer in 2016 to attend the program.

The Saturday after the presidential election, they began responding to the chatter about a Women’s March in DC in 2017. Song worked her social network. She built links on Facebook and told how Rally could help. She did this in a very personal way, telling her story of being an immigrant female founder. The links went viral. In short order, Rally had 50,000 bookings, not just to the DC March but to sister rallies throughout the country.

Song’s story makes it sound like success was easy and a sure thing. It was not. “I never missed an opportunity,” she said. This included going to Hunter College H.S. for gifted students in NYC to winning scholarships at Julliard, Columbia and Yale. It also included meeting with mentors and funders when YEI arranged meetups. Often, she was the only one at these meetings. Not everyone makes the effort to take that step through the door when opportunity knocks.

Song took risks but also mitigated them. She kept her day job while she and Akram tested the market for the service they offered. She built a strong network of support at every chapter of her life.

How will you make sure you’re when opportunity knocks?

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Siheun Song and her cofounder weren’t looking to disrupt a sleepy industry. But when an opportunity presented itself to disrupt the charter bus industry — estimated to be a $5 billion industry in 2017, according to IBIS World they gradually, then wholeheartedly seized the day.

Siheun Song of RallyStephanie Geddes

 

In 2013, Song and Numaan Akram, a technologist, needed to get to a political rally in Washington DC from NYC. “We figured it would be cheaper and more fun if we went with a group who wanted to go there, too,” said Song. However, they didn’t know enough people to fill a charter bus and didn’t want to use their credit cards to pay for the rental with the hope that the other riders would pay them back.

There had to be a better way. By reverse engineering the business model, they were able to find that way: They crowdsourced the trip. To finance it, they crowdfunded it. Akram built the app. In less than 5 weeks, the two cofounders arranged transportation for 5,000 people and Rally was born.

Of course, the idea of taking a group of people from point A to point B isn’t a new one. People have been doing this for eons. From camel caravans to stagecoaches to high-speed rail, people have been coming together to travel together. The twist for Rally was the focus on people traveling together to an event that they are passionate about and using technology to make the process cheaper and easier to do. The idea makes economic sense and it’s better for the planet when fewer people drive their own cars.

If the idea worked well for organizing people who wanted to go to political rallies, Song and Akram thought it might also work for people who wanted to go to sporting events, such as football and NASCAR, and to concerts. They kept their day jobs but continued to pilot the app.

In 2015, while also working at AXA and going for her masters in religion at Yale, Song was accepted into the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, a summer accelerator program. She worked on the idea and raised $100,000 from the Yale Innovation Fund (YEI) and $1 million from the Yale Angel Network. “The money allowed us to go full time and start to scale the business,” said Song.  

The two founders continued to perfect the model — a technology platform and marketplace that connects people who want to go someplace with like-minded people to bus operators and drivers who can get them there. Individual riders can book a seat on a crowdsourced trip, while trip creators can use Rally’s innovations and algorithms to modernize their logistics. Their marketing expanded from Search Engine Optimization (SEO), which they perfected, to include partnering to work with event stakeholders such as fan clubs, local bars, etc.

The accelerator experience was so valuable in terms of making connections most especially to funders that they applied to and got into the Techstars Mobility program. They moved to Detroit for the summer in 2016 to attend the program.

The Saturday after the presidential election, they began responding to the chatter about a Women’s March in DC in 2017. Song worked her social network. She built links on Facebook and told how Rally could help. She did this in a very personal way, telling her story of being an immigrant female founder. The links went viral. In short order, Rally had 50,000 bookings, not just to the DC March but to sister rallies throughout the country.

Song’s story makes it sound like success was easy and a sure thing. It was not. “I never missed an opportunity,” she said. This included going to Hunter College H.S. for gifted students in NYC to winning scholarships at Julliard, Columbia and Yale. It also included meeting with mentors and funders when YEI arranged meetups. Often, she was the only one at these meetings. Not everyone makes the effort to take that step through the door when opportunity knocks.

Song took risks but also mitigated them. She kept her day job while she and Akram tested the market for the service they offered. She built a strong network of support at every chapter of her life.

How will you make sure you’re ready when opportunity knocks?

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