Faith Tech


Stephen Kiesling has a virtual dialogue with venture capitalists bent on buying the stairways to heaven.

We received a video from a venture capital group raising both awareness and money for what’s called Faith Tech. The video raised more than a few questions about the rapidly changing business of faith. Here are some excerpts:

[Video transcript] Hey, everybody, my name’s Grant Demeter. I’m an investor at the Yard Ventures, which is a Harvard Network Empowered VC fund and part of the Alumni Ventures family of funds. And today I’m gonna be taking you through a deep dive on a topic that’s near and dear to my heart. It’s called Faith Tech....

…Many people, when I brought this up, have asked the question of whether this is really an investable space. And I would give kind of a trite answer, which is that religion has been the stickiest and most retentive human institution of all time. Thus, probably the most fundable startup ever…

There are some market studies which define it as a trillion-dollar market based on affiliations to charities or organizations like Chick-fil-A, which have some kind of religious lean to them. But I define it quite conservatively, I think, as a $130 billion market in the US in terms of annual turnover…

Hmm. If Jesus had just had more cash, he could have done… what? Or if the Buddha had been born with less funding, would he still have become enlightened? Is there a right relationship between VC funding and starting a religion? What would it be?

For some people, there’s a discomfort about using the kind of [VC] business lingo [on religion] as I’m doing now, which, if anything, kind of speaks to how important and central it is to many people’s lives. If you’re able to facilitate value for people’s religious lives, that value, and what you’re doing for that consumer, will be able to carry you through multiple years of continued engagement compared with Facebook… I mean, religious communities are not just where people spend most of their time, and thus generating retention because of Mindshare. They’re where people spend most of their [time] or attribute [to] most of their personal and life meaning, which means that the Mindshare is more stable…

The world’s umpteen-thousand, often fractious religions may represent stable mindshare when the lens is focused on extracting cash. But what other values does such focus facilitate?

One thing I mentioned earlier on is a tech-driven consolidation of religious organizations. So organizations which fail to adopt tech become subsumed by organizations which do adopt tech; megachurches continuing to grow, as an example.

Ironically, even sects that don’t believe in evolution must evolve or die. But does a virtual flight to online megachurches create real-life faith deserts? Dollar General both serves and creates food deserts. Is there a correlation with online megachurches?

An interesting fact is there’s a Bible app... It is basically the Bible app. It’s got more than 500 million downloads, which is pretty wild… So, if this was a for-profit company, it would be a unicorn many times… But think about it: This is a very simple digitization of a text. You know, it’s not very feature-rich. Willingness to pay is low, and still it would be a unicorn. You know, what

if you’re able to serve this same 500-million-person market with a more feature-rich tool, which generated higher willingness to pay? That’s kind of my thesis on the space…

Will these new stairways to Heaven be served by feature-rich tools? Or just owned by them?

Cool. Now onto some companies here. So, here are three companies which have very similar business models, which have raised a whole bunch of venture capital from really prominent VC firms. They’re all Christian prayer apps. So, very similar kind of focused, narrow-use case, one might think. But of course, there’s 2.1 billion Christians on Earth, and a lot of them pray. [The apps are]Glorify, Hallow, and Pray. Glorify and Hallow are a bit newer. I think they’re series B. And you’ve got strong investors across the board in all three of these: Andreessen Horowitz, SoftBank, General Catalyst, Kleiner Perkins, Greylock, Spark Capital, et cetera… There’s been a lot of attention here. The traction has really proved out, and I think these startups are opening the gateway, the floodgates rather…

Isn’t this why the Christian God told Noah to build an ark?

And then Gloo is an example of this web data-driven—it’s actually AI-scraping driven—evangelism and conversion. It’s fascinating. It’s kind of like Gloo will scrape your social media and all of your cookies data basically to find signs of whether you are convertible; i.e., you’re either experiencing financial stress or you’re looking more at religious content, or there’s been a significant life event in your life, either positive or negative. And based on that, they will provide your information to a religious organization in your area, and they’ll use you as a lead for their kind of outreach and conversion efforts. Very fascinating, very controversial…

The beauty of this algorithm is that you don’t have to believe in it—or even know it’s there—to be saved. But is this an evolution from prayer app to prey-er app?

…and Facebook actually has this giant initiative to capture churches and Christians and have them operate their businesses and communities on Facebook’s or Meta’s Metaverse. Super fascinating. They’ve already partnered with Hillsong, which is one of the, one of America’s biggest megachurches, and a couple others to develop feature sets that are specifically built for churches and find ways to acquire them and everything like this.

Through his majority stock ownership, Mark Zuckerberg controls the algorithms that control Facebook, Instagram, and Whatsapp—thus shaping the newsfeeds and perhaps now even the prayers of billions of people. Given the abundance of gods in the world, should we be worried that a small handful of humans are now richer and more powerful than each of them?

All right, so finally time to wrap things up. I’ll say Faith Tech is one of the world’s largest markets. It’s significantly under-addressed by tech solutions today. And customers are sticky, engaged. There’s a high duty of customer attention, which speaks very, very well to kind of the lifetime value of an individual customer…

Ouch! In the 25 years of writing and editing S+H, we’ve never thought of you, our readers, this way. But we have tried to make this your favorite magazine and are extremely grateful to all of you who have stuck with us.

25 Years of Total Aliveness

S+H founding editor, T George Harris, briefly edited the Harvard Business Review. When T George called me to join him in Cambridge, he was thrilled: “The collapse of the Berlin Wall and communism has created a great opportunity to take a critical look at capitalism.” It sounded like fun, but the HBR gig didn’t last. Since then, capitalism, armed with ever-more-powerful tech tools, has been bringing us back to a future of what’s being called “neo-feudalism” while HBR keeps score. Meanwhile, T George and I were hired by Trinity Church, Wall Street to launch S+H. (Thank God!)

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Faith Tech

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