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Launch HN: Rally.Video (YC S20) – Dynamic video platform for social groups
194 points by Ali_Jiwani 9 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 87 comments
Hey HN!

My name is Ali and I am one of the three co-founders of https://rally.video/. Rally is a video application that makes it easy to hop between breakout conversations. Users can see and hear other conversations around them, as if they were in a shared space.

We started Rally because we needed to host a virtual birthday party, and existing solutions suck for larger groups. At the same time, we noticed bars and restaurants closing, and wanted to build a platform that emulated these physical spaces. With that in mind, we added venues, rooms, and tables. A venue (like a bar or banquet hall) can consist of multiple rooms (like a patio, DJ lounge etc). Each room can fit 35 people, and people can form tables (groups) in a room organically. Tables could have up to 9 people, and can be joined with a simple click. Users can create multiple rooms, allowing for events of all sizes, and we are working quickly to expand the capacity of each room.

What’s magical about this is how much more it feels like a real party, as opposed to feeling like a meeting. Instead of being stuck in a giant gallery view or siloed into breakout rooms, you are free to switch between tables and rooms as you like. Instead of everyone being on mute, you can choose to vibe off of the audible laughter and chatter from neighbouring tables in the room. You can also create private tables for more personal conversations and take the stage to present to everyone around you.

Since launching, people have used our platform for happy hours, team socials, hackathons, brainstorming sessions, conference networking, trade shows, virtual parties, and community gatherings. We know a lot of people are using Zoom breakout rooms for these types of events. Those work fine for board meetings, training, structured workshops and interviews. We think our platform is more valuable when you want less structure and a more social element. Simply put, if you want spontaneity, our platform works. If you want formal structure, use the other tools.

Rally is a web app, with video being streamed using WebRTC - so no plugin installation is required. It works best on Desktop Chrome. We are also working on a mobile version - coming soon.

I am really excited to share our startup with the Hacker News community. I have tried and failed at building a number of companies, and reading a lot of the content here has helped recharge my batteries and helped me keep going.

We are free for anyone to use until the end of August. We are still testing out different use cases and seeing where demand for our product is the strongest. I recognize the space is competitive, and would appreciate your feedback on our product. We’d be grateful if you tried it out for yourself, or joined us for one of our happy hours today or this week. We’d be super grateful if you’d be willing to try it out with a group of 6 or more people, maybe with your work team, and letting us know what you think!

Start your own room by visiting https://rally.video

Attend a happy hour by signing up here: https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/happy-hour-at-rally-bar-tickets-...

Interesring! Enabling the social dynamics that naturally happen when large groups gather together, is something defenitevelly needed and the existing video conf solutions are too rigid to implement anything similar. Good job!

In his 1998 book, "Interactive Excellence," Edwin Schlossberg identified one key aspect of large group dynamics: A sense of audience. Particularly how much more enjoyable it is at, say, a concert, when you can experience—see and hear—others in the audience.

I have yet to see any remote technology that comes anywhere close to representing that golden sense of audience.

Thanks for the comment. Haven't read that book but that is the basic philosophy we have been thinking about. We are hoping our technology can provide that kind of ambience.

wholeheartedly agree! our project focuses on that part specifically - in a 3d environment https://twitter.com/NeeshStudio/status/1280492070805929984

for the last two bigger events we had a live-stream with the audience watching (together) on the big screen

We've been experimenting with Rally on/off for a while. A lot of other attempts at this try to replicate physical space for larger groups (avatars wit WASD controls etc.), and that seems unnecessarily ham-fisted shoving a 3D experience on a 2D screen.

Rally was the first one that felt natural, to leave and join a table, and for there to be a natural speaker "on stage".

Next it would be cool to see if we would hold these calls persistently so we can capture some of the serendipity of hearing conversations one table over when in person.

Kudos to the Rally team!

I think we've all seen various attempts to solve this issue over the years, but no one has quite figured out a decent UX to replicate the party experience. I'm glad to see you haven't gone the common & kind of intellectually-lazy route of moving an avatar around a virtual space.

Am I far off in thinking that the core challenge would be replicating the transition between sub-groups? That moment where you'd like to move on from a conversation and can gracefully step away without interrupting a conversation to announce your exit, walk through the room until you hear something interesting, sidle on up to another conversation without it feeling obtrusive, then join in.

I wonder if the abrupt nature of popping into someone's conversation with a new video-chat window would go against this. Either way, seems like an interesting puzzle to solve. Plus, the market is big, has a ton of attention right now, and any product has some inherent virality built in since some number of attendees will try it again afterwards. Very cool.

> kind of intellectually-lazy

I think that was rather uncalled for. My own use of avatars was a result of a lot of specific design decisions, around dissatisfaction with webcam video, i.e. the incongruity between the theoretical reason for why it's there ("to provide eye-contact!") and the reality that it fails at that task.

It was not a personal attack. Makes sense some people won’t like avatars in a world. I don’t think I’d like it either even though I wouldn’t word it like OP.

Good luck with your project.

We need all sorts of ideas to make sure this industry progresses. I wouldn't take this comment to heart.

We have been thinking about this A LOT. We actually have some ideas and I am happy to share them with you. Some include helpful nudges, permissions, a quick DM etc. Want to brainstorm or hear some more ideas? Happy to jump on a Rally call and throw some ideas around!

not a user yet, but: if you could "pay attention to" a second group, elevating their priority so you can see/hear them as well as your current group, then not have to 'hop' to them officially until you speak, and could have some ability to send your audio to that other group primarily for a moment -- that's pretty similar to turning your head a little and briefly joining a different conversation at a big table.

Our project "laptopsinspace" shifts the whole experience into 3D which makes it feel a lot more natural. https://twitter.com/NeeshStudio/status/1279130738500272129

For bigger events, there is an elevator, that takes you flying from room to room: https://twitter.com/NeeshStudio/status/1286010155772108802

Houseparty’s culture is to mostly just enter and leave as you please. It is nice. None of what you described as issues.

Similarly in a remote coworking community I started in 2019, we have also settled on a culture of not worrying about “politeness” when it comes to coming and going. It is so much better.

Of course like you say, to have all of this work for people across the board is a much harder feat.

So much of the dynamics you describe are mediated by body language and spacial/kinematic cues.

If anyone manages to actually crack that, either by simulation or some other method, they'll monumentally change telework.

This product looks very cool, it's a step in that direction.

I looked at it a bit and am pretty stoked. Not sure how the reliability will work across different internet speeds and countries but will definitely try.

Main desire: ability to name tables.

In running workshops, sometimes each table will have a theme and then people who want to talk about that theme can join the table. Would make it easier for people to know what is being discussed at a table before joining. One facilitation example is the World Cafe method [1].

Any way to do this now as a host or plans to include it?

[1]: https://therightquestions.co/the-world-cafe-workshop-facilit...

It's probably one of our top 5 or top 10 most requested features. All I can say is coming soon. Any way we can let you know when we release it?

Excellent! Glad to hear. Yes, what's the best way to sign up? I already registered, I think, so sending a message thru the help function?

Sign up is good. I'll make sure you're on the list!

Named tables would also lead to tribal separation, which may not be the best.

What if the table names were generated automatically instead of allowing you to specify them? That way the "lupiform" table is talking about Javascript while the "wortle" table is all about cooking.

I think that would work as long as the table names were somewhat ephemeral. Otherwise, people would eventually form identities as lupiforms and wortles and you'd end up with the same tribal conflicts.

I'd say could lead to tribal separation, which does happen sometimes at in-person events: people sit with their friends.

However, I think having the ability to take the stage and speak to all participants can help to reduce that, by requesting people to try to mix it up a bit, sit with someone new.

Also, I think the dynamics would be different based on who gets to name the tables. If just the host of the room, then maybe more control. If table hosts can name their table, maybe it has a higher likelihood of people sticking with people like them.

Even if it does lead to tribal grouping, sometimes that's not a bad thing. For example, if I'm running a session where I want people to reflect deeply about some topic, sometimes it's nice to have the built-in trust that comes from being of the same group.

I could talk about this stuff for days :-)

interesting point

I really love the idea and have been waiting for more apps to support these features!

That said, I'm a little concerned about the business model. What's preventing the popular (and sometimes free) platforms such as https://whereby.com or https://team.video from adding these features?

Great question. One answer is focus. These companies seem to be focused on small business team meetings, and we are focused on creating social environments for networking and hanging out. Another answer is around where we want to take Rally. Video applications usually focus on making sure the connection works. Little thought has been put into what happens after a user is connected. This is where we believe there is an opportunity for multi video/audio solutions to win. Rally could not only emulate a bar online, but why not emulate a concert, a lounge, a standup comedy stage etc. There is a world of online events that need more engagement and social functions and I think Rally can solve for that. Ofcourse, this is just a 5 month old company saying this!

> These companies seem to be focused on small business team meetings, and we are focused on creating social environments for networking and hanging out.

Exciting! Can't wait to see how your product evolves.

You can add features but you can't really change your default behaviors without alienating your existing user base. If they're suddenly thrown into some wacky thing that they don't understand they will flood you with bug reports and subscription cancellations. So if you're approaching an activity from a fundamentally different point of view it's very hard for your competitors to clone.

Great point! One I totally should have said in my YC interview.

One thing I'd recommend is to focus even more on dynamically updating the experience depending on the user's system resources. For instance if the browser starts crashing with too many video/audio streams, or bandwidth makes video basically useless, you could allow the user to participate in a conversation audio-only, or automatically turn off background audio to save bandwidth.

That is a terrific idea! Thank you

This is cool! I imagine this might be too far off your intended use case for now, but Rally feels really close to the perfect solution for live performances. Rather than breaking off into tables, you could use your "ambient sound" feature to lower the sound of all the audience members, so that you can enjoy the response of a crowd without drowning out the performers.

Totally - we fully intend to try our hand at this space. Here is in article when were still considering the space https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2020/05/stand-up-meets-covid-...

Makes me think about how some live events will sell tables to groups of people. Imagine attending a live concert with your own private table. Maybe not as fun but who knows?

I'm DJing in there right now if anyone wants to see how it might look for a party! https://go.rally.video/venue/a999ddd9-ab89-4d9b-b509-d322d5e...

Hmm. I'm not sure if maybe I'm not using it correctly or what, but I can't actually hear people that have joined. (Might just be they're not talking.)

Confirmed working now. Yes that was me. :)

haha was the party fun?


We've been using Rally for our happy hours, and internal meetings where there are more than ~5 people. It's great being able to easily hop between tables as conversation topics shift. It brings back a lot of that serendipity that we're all missing from in-person events.

In fact, I find it allows for more serendipity than a lot of in-person events. In person, once you're sitting down at a table it's socially awkward to get up and move to another table. Mostly you just talk with whoever you're sitting next to or across from. With Rally it's much more fluid. I find myself hopping around all the time.

In our internal meeting this week we split into groups of 3, and then took turns jumping on stage to report back to the group.

Disclaimer: we invested

Thanks Tim!

Would be good to have a sentiment about the "room" that could be displayed and conveyed to others. An engagement or virtual clapping would show to others the temp of the room. Also a key thing would be to have a way for a small room to grow to a room of 3 or more. A way to discover new rooms that are interesting would be good. Another thought is to have a time minimum that a person would have to be in a room. While this is counter intuitive it would help provide bouncing and promote a minute or more before making a judgement. I see this as something that would be healthy and prevent room hoppers that never fully engage and a attention currency that is helpful to meaningful engagement.

We aim to release something around 'room presence' this week. Eventually we will get to a feeling of answering which room is hot or not based on movement, laughter, etc.

Room discovery is definitely in the works. We thought about a public bar platform at one point. IE imagine going to a Japanese bar with your friends online and hanging out with them. It feels like an interesting consumer use case.

Minimum time is not something we thought of. That is interesting. Definitely some food for thought.

We're from Toronto and not only are we Drake fans but 'The Drake" is a popular bar in the city that used us a few times to host trivia and happy hours. I was very confused at first when I saw your username haha!

:) Credits could be a currency. You give them to the person/people in a room and the room starter would get a higher percentage. The credits could also be taken away/used when moving from room to room. This would help with the currency/value placed on a room.

Hey this is very cool! How does your product differ from https://spatial.chat?

Thanks for the question! Spatial chat is actually a really interesting product. They tend to keep the images small so you can drag or move your profile the room. By doing so, the focus is not as much on the conversation, but rather the shared links or pictures. Our goal is to encourage more conversation, and socializing, even while sharing a video or playing a game.

From what I can see, inside each "room" it's basically a traditional teleconference session, with the added wrinkle of having an audio feed in the room from every other room at reduced volume.

Spatial.chat and my own Calla.chat provide a completely different interaction metaphor. The room is solitary, but all audio in that room is spatialized. Spatial.chat does volume scaling, Calla.chat does full spatialization, including support for HFRT.

Calla chat is super cool! Would love to talk to you about it!

https://gather.town/ is another. Probably one of the most solid right now.

We're trying to take it the direction of conferences/tech events with https://meetfromhome.io/.

Nice! would love to talk to you as well- ali@rally.video

email is in my bio

I'm curious why you decided to target businesses instead of people.

In other words, the pitch on your site doesn't sound like a place I'd go as a normal person to have a party with some friends. It sounds like a service a company pays for to host branded events.

Targeting everyone seems like the explosive growth trajectory where as targeting businesses does not, at least to me. If some venue uses this they'd advertise themselves, not you?

I get that I'm clueless about this topic so I'm not claiming to be right. Just curious. I get that business customers pay but the YC way seems to be growth first?

Our team thinks and builds consumer first - we're all fairly young and artistic (some of us were musicians, standup comedians, and prank show hosts in our past lives.)

We started by telling bars this could be a way to talk to your customers during COVID but they wouldn't budge. We then saw business uptake first and thought, this is what we should do, so we decided to go down this route.

Through YC we have been exploring different use cases and thus kept the platform open for anyone to try. I think what we realized is the money is in large conferences and remote teams. There will always be a free tier for consumers and smaller communities, but b2b or b2b2c seems to be the direction to take this.

I'd love to hear more ideas from you but definitely agree a fully open funnel isn't right.

Is this only about talking to other people or does it allow shared experiences, such as watching a movie, playing games or watching a concert together?

I'm thinking about something like https://kastapp.co where people can do stuff together. It's easier to hang out with other people if there is something to do.

Kast seems cool. People have hosted watch parties on Rally to stream a sports game or a webinar but it's not our forte. Fun fact, our initial customers were standup comedians using us to deliver virtual comedy to their top fans. Might be something we go back to at some point.

I am also a big believer in the watch party space. Shared online experiences are an undiscovered opportunity in the consumer space. Happy to share more thoughts on this as well!

> I'm thinking about something like https://kastapp.co where people can do stuff together.

https://kosmi.io/ is pretty good at co-play and screenshare.

And there's the much simpler https://www.comeover.io/ built on WebTorrent (comes with all the limitations that entails wrt file sizes).

https://rally.video is something drastically different to those, but could very well implement the missing features, I reckon: it'd be über cool to host a virtual School, let alone host a movie night.

I really like this idea but I wish I could try it without linking my Google/Facebook/LinkedIn account.

As a guest you don't need to log in with your socials. For now hosts do but we are working quickly on a login with out socials solution. Stay tuned, and thanks for the feedback!

Cool product! I've actually been working on something somewhat similar (WIP: https://cyberparty.io/).

Have you considered or tried playing background music to get more of a bar atmosphere?

We have! We should also chat if you want - ali@rally.video

Hey Ali! This ticks a lot of boxes I've been looking for from a workshop perspective. Without a chat window available it's not possible for my content though. Is chat coming to the platform any time soon?

Chat is coming very soon. It won't be the same chat as all the other video applications. Chat streams tend to make it hard pay attention to the conversation so we purposely didn't add chat just yet.

As a "pro" feature, have people sign up for events that will coordinate delivery of food or beverages at the start of the event. Everyone gets doordash-ed tacos and beer at the start of the gathering.

haha this is a great idea and definitely one we have tried with a few teams!

Is there a demo/video of this I just want to see before trying?

Looks very cool and I want to try it out for some workshops I help run, but I'm struggling to create an account on Firefox––it doesn't seem to be working for me.

Can you try chrome? We were working on Firefox until their most recent update.

Very cool. Just curious, for your mobile version, are you thinking about Android or IOS? And are you going to develop it natively or cross-platform (react native/flutter).

I don't think we will go native anytime soon. I think we'll still focus on cross platform initially. One of the value propositions is how easy Rally is to set up and use. Forcing people to download an app might turn people off.

Do you support end to end encryption? I understand that to get thru NATs you have to have relay servers. For companies, they may want privacy guarantees.

Great question, we are end-to-end encrypted and that we do not store any data from our users video sessions. We're also exploring SSO. We also worked with MasterCard and Amazon and while initially there were questions around privacy, we got through it in the end. The bigger problem ironically is corporate VPNs that tend to block video/mic access from certain applications.

Initially positive to the idea, but to me this seems ill-concieved.

The tagline: > Stop taking turns to speak. Hop in and out of conversations with one click. Hear the chatter of tables around you.

To me it seems like adding the worst parts of social spaces like pubs/nightclubs etc.:

- Noise: People talking over each other. - Multi-tasking. So it’s hard to keep a decent conversation going. - Noise: Can hardly hear what people around you are saying.

Did you try it out?

You can turn down or off the background chatter and choose to have a private table so no one can hear you or join your conversation. Also the background chatter is never high enough to disrupt ongoing conversations.

I'd suggest giving it a shot and seeing how it goes. The founding team is also pretty extroverted, so we really built this for socializing first.

What's the pricing structure? Seeing no reference to it on your website makes me caught of adopting it.

Free until the end of Aug. Custom pricing if it's a one off event. If you wanted a recurring use case, lets chat? ali@rally.video

Any particular reason safari isn't supported as it does seem to support WebRTC?

Safari works amazingly at the moment, the issue is slack in frameworks/libraries to support the latest changes.

Congrats. Just curious what is your max on concurrent users?

We actually haven't tested that limit yet. We have seen atleast 200 people on at the same time across multiple rooms. The system didn't break or lag with that number but lets see. Does that help?

How's it different from Houseparty?

Houseparty is focused on social consumers and maxes out at 8 people. We are focused on networking and events that would normally require a bar or banquet hall, and right now we max out at 35. Houseparty might work best for small groups, and we find most people use it once and leave. With Rally we see people coming back at least weekly for events on our platform.

This is great! Well done

Thank you!

Cool product. How is this different from https://speakeasy.co?

From what I see speakeasy is something closer to chat-roullte. Though I failed to match with someone there.

Oh just saw this. We have a shuffle feature that is similar to speakeasy but I think our room structure and goals are very different.

yes it could be very useful

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