Marrying Margin and Mission
Podcast Episode 13 | November 10, 2020 | The Mike Thakur Show
It was tremendously inspiring to chat with Matt Potter for a recent episode of The Mike Thakur Show podcast and learn about how he came to co-found Pray.com, a social impact platform delivering high-quality, faith-based content. Launched in 2016, it’s a classic start-up story with a twist. The entire entrepreneurial venture was predicated on providential timing and a set of priorities and passion that Matt and his colleagues all share.
“I knew if I could merge my passion for God and faith with my skills that I’ll never work a day in my life,” says Matt. That not be strictly true, of course, given that a bootstrap undertaking like Pray.com requires total commitment. Read on for some of the highlights and insights Matt shared:
First a little about Pray.com, an interactive app offering rich faith-based content as well as opportunities to donate directly to churches (with no fees so that 100% goes to the recipient) and a community exchange for requesting and offering up prayers. They are branching into many areas, but their trove of inspirational content is central. Subscription- rather than advertising-based, Pray.com is an application that offers uninterrupted access to a huge amount of high-quality biblical content. The founders could have gone with other ways to monetize, but opted to ensure users the most satisfying experience. Most of the content is available free to all, but $49.99 annually (the price of a single latte a month) buys total access.
Pray.com’s faith-based focus is very specific but at the ground level, in terms of building an online social impact platform and business, the challenges are much the same as in any start-up environment. We dove into discussing the journey Matt and his colleagues are on.
IT’S A GRIND
Matt’s first venture out of college was developing HomeStack, a custom app for real estate brokers and agents nationwide. He and his partner did well with it but not without a huge amount of financial risk and emotional investment. He didn’t think a venture-backed startup could possibly be as rigorous. But guess what? It’s still 100-hour weeks, working weekends, grinding constantly in search of solutions.
“You go through the steps and you eventually reach a point where you are able to automate and create scalable solutions,” he says, “but you still have to go through the manual work.”
MUTUAL RESPECT WINS THE DAY
When conflict arises, as it inevitably will in any entrepreneurial environment, the Pray.com team defaults to its foundational value: Mutual respect. Disagreements are aired, colleagues listen to one another, ideas are hashed through and, if a collaborative resolution can’t be reached, there is always the data.
“We call conflict friction and friction is actually really healthy,” says Matt. “We make mutual decisions and if we can’t come to one final decision, then we’ll take it to our experiments, launch those experiments and then track everything with data.”
DATA IS KING – BUT SO IS GUT INSTINCT
Matt believes in metrics, concrete feedback and demonstrable results. But he also knows that there’s art in commerce and value in watching for and heeding signs, like the fortuitous exchange with a childhood friend and daughter of his pastor that ultimately led to his involvement with Pray.com. To succeed as a platform, Matt believes his team needs to cultivate some of both – and they do it by focusing intensely on their customer base.
“Everyone at the company talks to customers. Head of product, designers -- everyone. That’s how they find out how their audience feels. What do they want? What do they need?” Matt says. “The only way to develop the gut to make those gut decisions is to talk to the customer – and being obsessed with the customer.”
THE ANSWER IS: QUALITY
There are many things to which Pray.com’s promising growth and positive reception might be attributed, but Matt believes there is one core commitment that is foundational to everything else: quality of content. From website production to every email and text that goes out, employees all adhere to the very highest of standards, and that extends to delivery of that content as well.
“Every individual pixel has been standard-checked to make sure that we are delivering the content in the best way possible for the users so they have the best experience,” says Matt.
BALANCING PROFIT AND PURPOSE
Although driven to make Pray.com as successful as possible, the team is unified in an overarching desire to be of service. Without that element, the whole venture would take on a different character. It’s a constant balancing act, adjusting price to ensure inclusivity for all who wish to access their content. Offering discounts or extended trials, knowing that by helping out a user Pray.com is also executing its business plan and building a customer base over time.
“Whether it’s a service or a product, you can always afford to give some away for free for a period of time to bring more customers in the door later,” Matt explains.
SPEAKING OF BALANCE
When it comes to advice on maintaining a work-life balance, Matt has none to offer. He’s a realist and entrepreneurial ventures require all-in effort. And that’s what the Pray.com team is dedicated to bringing. Matt has missed family gatherings, neglected friendships and pulled many late nights, because that’s part of the bootstrap start-up environment.
“There is no balance,” he says. “You have to love what you are doing, because if you love what you are doing you will always put the maximum amount of effort into it. And that’s what it takes to make a successful business. There’s no silver bullet.”
THE BOTTOM LINE: What three pieces of advice does Matt want to share?
1) Never go it alone (in work or in well life). Find incredible people and rise to big challenges together at the end of the day
2) Always do something you love. “Because if you’re doing it just for the money, you will quit.”
3) Always do something that is profit and purpose; margin and mission. “Our vision is to create a world where everyone can leave a legacy of helping others.”
Pray.com is on track to do exactly that and Matt is very excited about the social impact platform’s future, which includes lots more content and a new feature: Pray Radio, which offers bible stories and music streaming live and free. For more information, visit the links below and you’ll find our conversation with Matt in its entirety at: The Mike Thakur Show_Episode13
Additional episodes available at: www.mikethakur.com/show