oVote: How an App Was Born at Yale SOM
Sometimes, it takes a village to raise an app.
oVote was born at Yale School of Management. I came to SOM with the idea that we should be able to ask a large group of people a question from their smartphones. As a middle child, I had always wanted family decisions to be decided by vote, instead of by determining which child (usually my older sister) could argue the loudest for his or her choice. My co-founders Jake Dreier ’16 and Laura Fletcher ’16 loved this idea. Bringing sleek and simple democracy to large organizations and easy decision-making to groups of friends struck a chord with them, and our team was born.
We have built oVote as an iPhone-, Android-, and web-based platform that allows users to ping questions to smartphones using SMS and push notifications. Users can choose which groups receive questions, whether questions display results to voters or not, and whether responses are named or anonymous.
How We’ve Grown
Our SOM village has been instrumental in making oVote the tool it is today. Academic Affairs and Student Life agreed to be an early adopter, using oVote for the Class of 2017 Global Communications challenge. Club leaders created oVote groups to ask members everything from which speakers they would like to when meetings should be held. Professors began using oVote to survey their classes before, during, and after session. Social groups sprang up, including SOMopinions and AweSOM Class of 2016. In one of these groups during fall 2015, a student asked, “Which candidate would you most like to become president in 2016?” A majority of students voted for Hillary Clinton. oVote was lucky enough to show her the results, and she was thrilled!
We were so grateful to have such support from the SOM community. Being able to see oVote in action and talk to users about their experience has meant great improvements and iterations for our platform. Based on this feedback, we added features such as a feed of questions from all groups, multiple moderators in a group, and—one of our most exciting new features—the ability to ask and respond by SMS, meaning responders do not even need to have oVote downloaded in order to have their voices counted.
The Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI) has also taken an active role in shaping our technology. On Chief Diversity Officer Debbie Stanley-McAulay’s advice, we held two focus groups with representatives from ODI's seven affinity groups. We were humbled by how engaged and lively the discussions were. Members suggested novel use cases and helpful features, for example, adding a central notification dashboard to keep track of all new activity. By collaborating, we ensure we’re building technology people will be excited to use, and that’s the most important part of growing a startup.
A Little App with Big Plans
Right now, oVote is optimizing to support groups such as classrooms and university communities, political campaigns and constituencies, and connective associations such as alumni organizations. But, we have big ideas. We want city councils to ask whether they should build a new park or a new library. We want Starbucks’ customers to vote on what the next holiday flavor should be. We want Oprah Winfrey’s fans to vote on which questions she should pose in her next interview. We want families to ask where their next family reunions should be. We want to build a world where no one has to wonder what any group is thinking; we can just ask.