Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith and media: What’s wrong with US? Over the years I’ve faced bouts of depression related to religion that probably – at least in part – are traceable to my childhood years falling asleep on a cot in my parents’ bedroom while – as my father worked the […]
Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.
“Awesome stuff.” Bob Pritchett is the co-founder and CEO of Faithlife, a multilingual electronic publishing developer dedicated to helping Christian educators better utilize the internet. The company makes the Logos Bible software discussed in the above video.
Pritchett has been programming computers since he was eight years old. As a freshman in high-school he founded his first software company and developed and marketed programming tools used world-wide. He left high-school in his junior year to major in Computer Science at Drexel University in Philadelphia. He also left that school a year earlier to accept a position as one of Microsoft’s youngest program managers.
He co-founded Logos Research Systems (now Faithlife Corporation) in 1992 and continues to serve as the company’s president and CEO. In 2005 he won Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award. That same he was among the whippersnappers included in the Puget Sound Business Journal’s 40 Under 40. His first book, Fire Someone Today, And Other Surprising Tactics for Making Your Business a Success, was released in April, 2006.
Despite the book’s rather scary title (at least from a worker’s point of view), Pritchett, who is married with two college age kids, contends that Faithlife employees tend to be happy campers. He notes that the company’s executive team is largely grown in-house. For that reason, he says employee resumes tend to be short – reading something like “went to school, joined Faithlife, did awesome stuff.”
I spoke asked him about how he has successfully applied the disciplines of faith, science and entrepreneurship to build his company.
JWK: How and why did your launch Faithlife and what is your mission?
BOB PRITCHETT: Faithlife started as a hobby project with a friend in 1991. We went full time in 1992 with Logos Bible Software, and ever since then our mission has been to use technology to equip people for more and better Bible study. Now we’re expanding that mission to include tools for churches and community building, helping people do Bible study together.
JWK: Can you tell me about your personal faith and how it helped you in choosing your projects and focusing your vision?
BP: I was raised in a Christian home and attended Christian schools; I had Bible class several days a week, and I didn’t like all the paper page-flipping involved in using Bible reference works. So when I saw my first Bible software, in grade school, I was fascinated with the idea of using the computer, instead of Strong’s Concordance, to look things up. I wrote my own first Bible software when I was 15, and that experience led to starting Faithlife.
JWK: I’m told that you’ve been programming computers since you were eight years old. That’s pretty amazing. It doesn’t seem that you’re one of those people who sees a conflict between faith and science. Can you give your thoughts on how the two disciplines relate to each other?
BP: There is only one truth; science and the Bible are both speaking to us about the same reality. When they don’t line up it doesn’t mean one needs to be dismissed; it is more likely that we’re interpreting things incorrectly. Go back a hundred years or more and people were asserting that science could offer some absolute truths that we now know were wrong. ‘Science’ as a whole isn’t wrong, though — we got more data, found a more accurate interpretation of the evidence, etc. In the same way people read the Bible long ago as speaking certain things we now know to be scientifically inaccurate; today we read those same passages through a better-informed interpretation. The Bible isn’t in any way diminished as God’s Word to us simply because we’ve stopped trying to make it say things it didn’t. And I’m sure that we have yet more to learn — and to be corrected on — in our understanding of both science and the Bible. That’s why we study them!
JWK: Tell me about your former position at Microsoft and how that prepared you to build Faithlife?
BP: In the short time I was at Microsoft I tried to learn everything I could. I learned a lot about the process of software development, about useful technical and organizational tools, and, most importantly, that the people who made the world’s leading software tools were just like me. It gave me the confidence to go out on my own.
JWK: How does Faithlife help connect the church throughout the world?
BP: We have users in almost every country on earth. Faithlife Groups let people connect with each other around any shared interest, whether it’s members of a single church or people interested in studying Greek grammar. It’s exciting to me to see how Faithlife Groups have sprung up around some very specific topics, and allow people to share ideas and study together without any concern for country or location or denomination. These groups feature the standard tools for posting messages, etc., but they go even further, allowing people to share notes and comments directly within the electronic books they are reading.
JWK: How are seminaries using your products?
BP: Our Logos Bible Software is an essential tool for seminary students; we eliminate a lot of the manual labor in referring to reference books. This gives students more time to focus on reading, thinking, and writing, and the schools that have adopted Logos as a required tool have even been able to change their classes and assignments to take advantage of this timesaving vs. paper resources.
JWK: Your products include Proclaim presentation software. Briefly, what is this and how does it help spread the Word?
BP: Proclaim is a specialized slide presentation tool. It is cloud-based, so the pastor and worship leader can collaborate on the same slides for Sunday morning. Pastors can easily send content from their sermon preparation to a slide in Proclaim (it even auto-formats the slides!), and when Scripture is on-screen during a sermon, Proclaim sends a signal to the Bible software running on smart phones in the congregation, making it easy for them to follow along in their mobile Bible app.
JWK: Tell me about your e-book business and how you arrive at what you call a “practical price tag” for an e-book?
BP: We want to make Bible software tools available as widely as possible, so we price our ebooks as low as we can while sustaining the business and meeting our royalty obligations. Our goal is that ebooks cost the same or less than the street price of the paper book, and are available for much less if you’re willing to buy a large bundle of content. Bundles are a key distinction of how we sell versus Amazon or other platforms: you may only need one novel today, but when you’re buying books for study and reference you can use lots of them well, and we make that very affordable.
JWK: Is the church, in general, utilizing the internet and social media to its fullest?
BP: I think the church does a great job of embracing the Internet, and I am constantly surprised by the innovations we come up with. Because there are so many churches and ministries spread around the world it’s not always obvious how cutting-edge the church is, but if you spend time looking, you’ll find that the church is almost always on the leading edge, just as it has been through every innovation in media from printing to radio to television, etc.
JWK: You’re a very successful entrepreneur. You wrote in your book “Fire Someone Today, and Other Surprising Tactics for Making Your Business a Success” that, when it comes to business, “cash is king.” Two questions. First, what do you mean by that title? While accountability is important, is it really good for a business if people are feeling insecure in their jobs? Isn’t loyalty a two-way street?
BP: The book was written for entrepreneurs, and so the focus is on the reminders entrepreneurs need most. I certainly don’t want people to be insecure in their jobs, and I don’t recommend firing anyone suddenly or without warning. But my observation was that many small-business entrepreneurs have the opposite problem: out of a well-intentioned desire to ‘do no harm’, they often hold on to people who are in the wrong job. They hurt their business, frustrate their customers and other employees, and prevent the ill-fitting employee from moving on to a better job where they’ll do better, get positive feedback, and have opportunities to grow in income and responsibility. And this is all the more damaging in the small-businesses I was writing for, because a single wrong-fit employee is a much larger percentage of the team (and budget) in a small business.
There’s more to loyalty than keeping this particular job; when you truly care for people you want the best for them, and keeping someone in a job where they are performing poorly is condemning them to a work-life of little or no positive feedback, little encouragement, and likely no growth or reward. Sometimes the best job for someone is a different job, where they’ll perform well, be encouraged, be rewarded, and have opportunities for growth.
JWK: Secondly, when you say “cash is king,” isn’t fulfilling the mission the purpose — with cash being a tool for and result of that?
BP: You don’t have to remind small business entrepreneurs to stay ‘on mission’ — that’s why they’re entrepreneurs! They do have to be reminded sometimes about the importance of cash; without cash you don’t get to stay in business, and if you’re out of business you can’t accomplish your mission. So while mission, not cash, is of course what drives us all, in a book for entrepreneurs I thought it useful to talk about the subjects we’re prone to forget.
JWK: Briefly, what advice would you have for others seeking to start their own business?
BP: A business serves a customer. It’s tempting to build something cool, or to solve a problem, but what distinguishes a business from an art project or a hobby or an academic exercise is that someone is willing to pay for it. I love that form of accountability — people only pay for what has value to them! — and it’s the most important thing to focus on when starting a business. Put the customer first.
JWK: What’s next for you and Faithlife?
BP: We’re excited to build the next generation of digital tools, where we don’t just take content from physical forms and make it digital, but really embrace digital-first content, building new kinds of tools that aren’t bound by the constraints — or conventions — of physical mediums. This will blur the line between software and content, and I believe it’s going to be really exciting for our users.
Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11