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Meet Rallie: This mother-son team built an app to help you find fun things to do nearby

Wendy Verna got the idea for an app that could find things to do within a 10-mile radius from her son. Now, the team has big plans for Rallie's growth — think Travelocity and Airbnb.

The Rallie app wants to enable spontaneous, hyperlocal activity. (Courtesy image)

With the world opening back up amid increasing vaccination rates, you might be looking for fun things to do or restaurants to try with the friends and family members you haven’t seen all year. The mother-son duo behind Rallie want to help you find them.

Wendy Verna, the owner and president of South Street-headquartered Octo Design Group, said her son Robbie developed the concept for the app three years ago. A graduate of Fairfield University with a degree in marketing, Robbie came up with the idea during an externship for an app that gives people things to do nearby.

The result, Rallie, lets you search businesses like bars, restaurants, stores and salons, as well as events like art festivals and farmers markets. Consumers can set their preferences of locations or things to do from one mile up to 10 miles.

Verna says the spontaneous, hyperlocal nature of the app can make it the ideal tool to help small business owners connect with their customers. She remembered how trying to find places to eat or things to do during the pandemic could be odious, when websites and search results weren’t always updated with businesses’ updated hours or changed menus.

“People were constantly disappointed, thinking they [could] go somewhere but [couldn’t],” she told “Google didn’t do the best job of updating information through the pandemic — and that issue existed before the pandemic.”

Given the app’s limited geographical span, businesses have an opportunity to reach higher conversion rates by engaging consumers in close proximity on a consistent basis.

“We really want to connect neighbors and businesses,” Verna said, so both can benefit.

The Rallie app. (Courtesy image)

The app is currently being piloted in East Falls and being offered for free for businesses for up to six months, after which they’ll need to pay $50 per month, or $75 for premium listings. According to Verna, the business owners who have adopted the app are pleased so far with its results. As a marketing professional, she explained that the fees for marketing services to show up in a Google search or on Yelp can usually begin at $500 a month and are less cost effective for small businesses.

Rallie app cofounder

Wendy Verna. (Photo via LinkedIn)

“Rallie was designed because I’m a marketer and my job is to fill businesses when they’re not busy,” she said. “You pay a marketing firm a monthly fee to advertise all times of day. I’ve always wondered as a marketer how can I let businesses spend marketing dollars more laser focused.”

A novel feature for business owners to employ while using the app is what Verna called the “Rush” toggle button. For moments when businesses become busy and might be less responsive to customers, owners can hit the Rush button to make their business temporarily disappear from the view of potential patrons. Businesses also have the option to send out notifications for time-sensitive deals or promotions.

The app is now available for download in the Apple Store and Google Play store and was designed by Dave Phelan and Phil DiMuro, partners in Maryland-based company Founders Approach. They both have Philly ties: Phelan is from Devon, and DiMuro is from Pottstown. Verna said she was motivated to work with them because they wanted to give back to the Philly area with the project.

The next plan Rallie’s mother-son team has for the app is to take it to universities and make it available for college students who want to better explore the communities and neighborhoods in which they live.

“The main audience so far is college students up to age 30 and people 55 and over,” she said. “Empty nesters are looking for last-minute things to do and are really excited about it. It’s an exciting time because people want to be out with things opening up.”

As Rallie grows, Verna predicts that it can eventually work as a complement to travel site Travelocity or travel reservation site Airbnb and provide activities to go along with the respective plane tickets, getaway plans or places to stay that those platforms offer.

Michael Butler is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.

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