Conversation with Steve Gatena, founder & CEO of Pray
Tell us a bit about how you started working with Science.
I am a local entrepreneur from Thousand Oaks, California. I started my first company while attending the University of Southern California (USC). After I graduated, I moved back home to Thousand Oaks and built my company from there. My only connection to other entrepreneurs in Los Angeles was through the USC Trojan Alumni Network.
In 2011, I had the opportunity to meet Mike Jones at a USC Marshall School of Business event. Science was a brand new incubator and venture capital fund and Mike had recently left as the CEO of MySpace.
As a young media entrepreneur, I thought Mike was the coolest (I still do). When I heard Mike communicate his vision for helping turn Los Angeles into a booming tech ecosystem, I knew we had to work together somehow.
I’ve always believed in Mike’s vision for LA and I’ve always admired what he’s done through Science. As a young entrepreneur working in media, Mike was the kind of person I could see myself becoming one day, and to this day I’ve never met anyone who understands LA’s entrepreneurs and our ecosystems strengths as much as Mike Jones.
After my first company started to succeed, I decided to start a second business called VideoFort that sold stock footage. I considered partnering with Mike and the incredible Science team, then at the last minute, I decided to pass on the deal. Passing on a partnership with Science and choosing not to work with Mike was an opportunity I regretted for years.
Eventually I successfully exited both of the companies I had started and when the opportunity came for me to begin Pray.com Mike was the first person I reached out to. Working with Science as an organization, and specifically Mike, Tom, Greg and Peter Pham has been a dream come true for me. I’m grateful I had the opportunity to redo a decision I had regretted. As a entrepreneur in Los Angeles, Science has been transformative in my ability to develop software technology and use data science.
Walk us through your vision for Pray. How has it evolved from when you got started?
The idea for Pray started after losing my business partner/mentor in a plane crash. As I was trying to make sense of what the next chapter of my life was going to be, my wife and I did a lot of soul searching together and decided that we wanted our next season of life to be one of purpose and meaning.
We began listening to a lot of spiritual content and I felt called to use my talent as a media entrepreneur to build the digital destination for faith. We felt called to help others, and our mission is to grow faith and cultivate community. By doing this, we believe we can help create the most empowering moment in your day.
As we’ve grown, our vision for Pray.com is to create a world where everyone leaves a legacy of helping others. We aim to solve society’s biggest challenges by building tools that inspire people to grow their faith and cultivate their community, and act in times of need.
How do you think about vertical (ie. single purpose) versus horizontal (ie. general purpose) and public versus private social networks? Where does Pray fit in that matrix and how does that decision serve the vision?
In its current form, our first product is a private social network that makes it easy to pray with, connect with, and give to faith organizations. This space is, at the outset, is inherently vertical and private, as it creates a platform for your faith identity within your private faith community. While other social networks might serve as a public place for your professional identity or your social identity, prayer is more traditionally a deeply private experience. At the same time, 90% of the social impact made by 501(c)3 Religious Organizations is embodied in the form of community outreach via social services that help people in the local community with differing beliefs. So it is important that as we go forward, we build those elements into the product with purpose and caution, and keep the wants and needs of our members top of mind.
To do that, Pray is centered around three main pillars: the power of prayer, connecting communities, and giving to organizations that make a local impact. We call these pillars pray, connect, and give. Together, they enable our members to interact with positively impact others in ways not previously possible in digital form.
What can people do with your product today? Any major new updates on the product roadmap for next 3–5 months that you can share?
Pray.com allows you to:
• Pray with the people you love, share prayer requests and praise reports with your community, and pray for others
• Connect with faith organizations and receive daily inspirational messages, podcasts and devotionals from faith leaders
• Give to verified 501(c)(3) Religious Organizations, building your own legacy of helping others
What does an average user look like? Are there any surprising or interesting lessons in who is using the product more or less than you expected?
Pray.com is place for everyone who wants to pray. We help people grow their faith, cultivate their community, and leave a legacy of helping others. Our members span 185 countries across a wide range of demographics. On average in any country, 49% of people pray daily, and it’s even higher than that in the U.S., so there is no one “person” that prays. People that love Pray.com are people like myself who enjoy cultivating a healthy habit of daily prayer, who find joy in praying for others seeking encouragement, and who are uplifted from a daily dose of inspiration from their favorite faith leader. Our target audience is anyone and everyone who wants to connect with their community to make the world a better place. Pray.com is an all-inclusive platform, we welcome everyone interested in prayer and praying for others.
What secular trends is Pray capitalizing on?
501(c)(3) organizations, and specifically faith organizations, are some of the most technologically underserved on the planet. While the secular world has transitioned to micro content, data-driven business software, and mobile payments, these organizations have been largely left behind. At Pray we are bringing these tools to your local 501(c)(3) organizations, helping them renew their business processes and maximize their reach.
What are some emerging consumer behaviors you think the bigger social networks are underestimating or ignoring?
Social networks are ignoring the power of prayer and action. I have never heard other social networks encouraging people to pray and with all of the mental health challenges, anxiety, depression, etc… we are encouraging people to pray. Our product is designed specifically for people who pray and we are specifically addressing the needs of faith organizations. I spend a majority of my time working in partnership with our customers. We work together to identify their biggest challenges, so we can take those challenges back to our team and innovate new solutions that make their faith greater, communities stronger, and lives easier. I do not have a Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat so I don’t really know what other social networks are doing, but I do know that billions of people around the world are searching for a way to grow their faith and cultivate their community. They are searching for inspiration, hope, love, and guidance on coping with pain, loss, and heartbreak. Pray.com is providing a place for this and we started with the power of prayer at the push of a button. When people want to uplift others, they go to Pray.com to help. When people need to be uplifted, they go to Pray.com to get help. What has been estimated and ignored are the needs of these faith organizations, and the powerful impact that helping them can have in society. You can see how this is different from any social network anyone has ever created. People of faith have a lot to offer the world and we are honored to have the opportunity to leverage this very early technology to make a difference in their lives and the lives of those they serve.
Pray is all about building online communities that map to offline lives of the people. How do you see the future of online and offline communities playing out?
Pray.com is a social impact company. We are committed to creating a world where everyone leaves a legacy of helping others. We are growing people’s faith and cultivating their community through a platform that helps you pray, connect, and give.
We believe that local action leads to global impact. People have been praying, connecting, and giving to faith and non-profit organizations for thousands of years, but with very localized effect. Creating the digital destination for faith, our pray, connect, give feature set allows you take action at any moment, with the potential to help people and organizations all over the globe. While the actions are digital, the results are tangible. We’ve helped prevent suicides, celebrate miracles, and create small moments of joy for people around the world. I see pray.com scaling these types of moments to every community around the world.
At pray.com we’re committed to fostering solidarity on a local level by empowering communities because we believe empowered communities create empowered societies. We give communities the tools they need to amplify their impact and leave a legacy of helping others because we want to live in a world where everyone leaves a legacy of helping others.
As we’ve built this social network, we’ve learned that partnerships with faith organizations strengthen civic engagement and social support in a secular manner as well as a spiritual manner. Results of these efforts include increased economic activity for local business, improved early childhood education, and more nonprofit startup-ups in a community. Bridging online and offline to amplify social impact is the future. Our work is helping to contribute to that future one day at a time.