According to PitchBook data, faith-based, mostly Christian, apps attracted $175.3 million in venture funding this year through mid-December, more than tripling the $48.5 million they attracted from VCs last year.
It's a far cry from the meager $6.1 million they attracted in 2016.
As readers might recall, we talked with one of the startups that raised a big round -- Glorify -- earlier this month when it landed $40 million in Series A funding led by Andreessen Horowitz. The subscription-based “well-being” app currently offers users guided meditation, along with audio bible passages and Christian music, and its co-founder and co-CEO, Ed Beccle, has big ambitions to create a broader platform that includes dating and other features.
More recently, we talked with Alex Jones, the founder of another of the year's buzziest faith-based apps. Called Hallow, the three-year-old, 40-person outfit raised $40 million in Series B funding back in November from Peter Thiel, Drive Capital and others and has raised $50 million altogether this year to "help folks to build a routine of prayer and to journey together through the content," says Jones.
Beyond the fact that Hallow is exclusively focused on Catholics, while Glorify focuses on all Christians, we wondered how the two outfits -- which are clearly racing to capture many of the same users -- differ in their offerings and in their outlook. What we observed is that Hallow's CEO, Alex Jones, sounds more "religious" than Beccle, a young serial entrepreneur who describes himself as a philosophical person who is largely focused on how tech impacts how people think and feel.
But we'll let you hear directly from Jones regarding how he thinks Hallow's app differs from its rivals. Our chat, below, has been edited lightly for length.
TC: What do you see as Hallow's place in this increasingly crowded competitive landscape?
AJ: First off, we're big fans of anybody helping folks deepen their relationship with God and find peace, so we're excited to see a lot of folks -- Glorify, Pray, Abide -- all these folks continue to try to help folks to grow deeper in their spirituality. As for Hallow, we are focused on the Catholic world, so all the content is 100% authentically Catholic and in line with the Catholic Church's teaching, which is a specific theology.
Then on the content side, we have a ton of really phenomenal exclusive content, [including] Jonathan Roumi, the guy who plays Jesus from "The Chosen," [who] does a lot of the meditations for us. [YouTube priest and personality] Father Mike Schmitz, [author and speaker] Bishop Robert Barron, [author] Dr. Scott Hahn, Sister Miriam and Sister Josephine create content for the app. We also have Mass readings that align with the Catholic Church's daily Mass; we have daily rosary stuff; and we have a massive music library with a lot of really beautiful Gregorian chants and old-school traditional stuff, along with new contemporary music and peaceful, ambient music and all that jazz.
Like other apps, this is a subscription product?
Yeah, I think everybody has the same model, but there's a free version of the app that has 1,000-plus meditations, and then with Hallow Plus you can unlock up to 3,500 custom meditations.
How many daily average users do you have and what percentage of them are paying customers?
We don't disclose the daily active user stuff, but we just crossed 1.5 million downloads or so, around 50,000 five-star reviews and 25 million prayers completed.
Why start this company?
It was largely a personal journey. I was raised Catholic but fell away from my faith in high school and college. I would consider myself atheist or agnostic most of the time. Then I got pretty into secular meditation. I was fascinated by it, and Headspace had just launched [as well as] Calm and I loved the products and thought they were an awesome way to learn the technique of meditation from the comfort of your own home. But every time I would meditate, my mind would feel pulled toward something spiritual, something Christian. So I started talking to priests, brothers, sisters, pastors, anybody I could talk to, asking the question, "Hey, is there any intersection here between this meditation thing and this faith thing?" And they all laughed at me and said, "Yeah, we've been doing it for 2,000 years. It's called prayer."
Are you a first-time founder?
Yes. I was an engineer in undergrad, so I'd known a little bit of how to code. Then I went to McKinsey [and worked in] strategy consulting for a couple years, then I went to [the Stanford Graduate School of Business], so I had some exposure to entrepreneurship. When we started talking about this idea, I learned how to code in Swift for iOS in a couple weeks [with the help of] a free Stanford course, so I was able to pick that up quickly enough, but I am a terrible engineer [and we've thrown away] the code that I've written [since]. I'm by no means a legit developer.
Glorify plans to add a lot of features that turn it more into a social network centered around micro interactions. Is that also on Hallow's road map?
There's a lot of opportunity to help folks bring God into as many aspects of their life as possible. I know folks have thrown out the dating stuff or [generating revenue through] tithing stuff. For us, we're just really maniacally focused on trying to help folks grow deeper in their spiritual lives and to find peace with God, so the categories we're focused on right now are really the categories [we already feature], including music, sleep, Bible, prayer and meditation. We think we've really just scratched the surface with all of these. Just 5% to 10% of the Catholics in the world are in the U.S.; the vast majority are international; we're just now launching our Spanish content. We're also very focused on school and parish partnerships.
Has anyone from Facebook reached out you? The company is reportedly also very focused on trying to keep Christians on its platform, including by forming partnerships with faith-based groups.
Facebook has been really helpful for us in terms of reaching out to folks and spreading the word about Hallow, especially during the pandemic. Facebook has also been incredibly helpful in helping us figure out how to advertise to folks and what messaging works. They have a core partner program thing that we've been able to be a part of.
Still, the majority of our growth is from just folks talking about the app and sharing it with folks. Also, our big pitch is that your phone is usually a place of stress and anxiety, where you have to figure out how many likes you got or who commented on your thing or what your aunt said about whatever political hot button issue. Our goal is to try to build a place of peace away from that.
Who do you consider your biggest competition? The Bible app is the giant in the space, I know.
That's a tough one because, in all honesty, if folks are ending up in heaven, we don't really care how they get there.