After years of driving their three sons to and from swim practice, music lessons and other activities, Heather Wechter and her husband, Dave, understand the challenges parents face when transporting their children.
“We kept seeing the craziness of everyone going to the same place and then coming back and waiting in line to pick up their kids,” says Heather, a 52-year-old Pittsburgh native and long-time Mt. Lebanon resident whose children are now in college. “I felt like I was spending hours of my life driving or waiting.”
When families in her neighborhood tried to make the process easier by coordinating carpools, parents were often hesitant to depend on others for rides, especially if it meant getting up in the wee hours of the morning.
“Everyone was afraid to set up a carpool because what if that was the morning that your kid couldn’t make it,” says Heather. “You didn’t want to call someone at 5 a.m.”
To address the issue, she and Dave decided to create tribepool, a mobile app that makes it easier and safer for busy families to arrange free shared rides. (While geared towards parents, anyone is able to use the app.)
But there was one problem.
“We had no experience of bringing an app to market,” says Heather, who studied merchandising and art history at Pratt Institute, while Dave’s background includes a computer science degree from Allegheny College and developing financial instruments for banking.
So they partnered with the tech services company OpenArc. After more than a year of development, which included stints at the University of Pittsburgh Innovation Institute and being part of the Pittsburgh Technology Council’s Co-CREATE pilot program, the Wechters officially debuted tribepool last Thursday at the CREATE Festival.
The app works by allowing users to create profiles and identify location-based activities for which they would like to arrange carpools. Members can then invite family, friends and neighbors to join “tribes” based on their shared activities. To ensure privacy, only chosen tribe members are able to see a user’s contact information and ride requests.
Heather claims that while other carpooling apps exist, they do little to alleviate the headaches faced by families trying to organize transportation, especially if they’re new to a neighborhood and have yet to join an existing carpool. At $1.99 per download, she says tribepool is also more affordable than the subscription-based carpooling apps currently on the market.
They also got requests from users wanting an “oh, crap button” to press whenever something unexpected happens. That led to an SOS feature designed to provide users with extra peace of mind. Users create specific SOS tribes of trusted family and friends to alert when they experience car trouble, or are in situations where they feel vulnerable or at risk and need someone to pick them up. It also applies to carpooling by letting tribe members know if you’re late for a pick-up or stuck in traffic.
The Wechters plan to expand the app to address the transportation needs of local organizations. They’re currently in talks with the Sarah Heinz House, a Boys and Girls Clubs of America-affiliated nonprofit focused on improving the lives of Pittsburgh youth.
“We wanted to first offer it to individual users so we could better understand their challenges with carpooling,” says Heather. “We wanted to see how people use it.”