December 7, 2020

Can Meditation Apps Be Used For Prayer? – with Alex Jones

Show Notes

In a time when stress levels are high and many people feel stuck there are many mindfulness apps that help you destress and stay centered. Today we speak with co-founder and CEO of Hallow, Alex Jones.

With over 1.28 billion members of the Roman Catholic church, many people have struggled to stay connected in their faith. Hallow aims to help people combine the peace and stillness of meditation with the spiritual growth of prayer. The app is comparable to the popular mindfulness meditation apps trending today, but was built with a lens of Christian faith. It offers a variety of prayer techniques, a choice in audio guides, sessions organized by theme, and options for session length.

Since its inception in April 2018, Hallow has been downloaded 320,000 times helping its users become more mindful, get closer to their faith, and benefit from its abundance of meditation activities offered.


Alex Jones [00:00:00] It was this beautiful combination of this deep sense of peace that you kind of get from mindfulness meditation, you kind of get from secular meditation, but it had it was different. But it's kind of that feeling of your stresses, your stress is reduced, but at the same time, this sense of meaning and purpose and getting outside yourself. 

Adrian Grobelny [00:00:21] That was co-founder and CEO of Halo, an audio guided Catholic meditation and prayer app. It's comparable to the popular meditation apps trending today, but was built with the lens of Christian faith. 

Alex Jones [00:00:36] It's really important for us to get it right, and we try to create as much content so that we can give it to people in the different ways that they need it and package it in the right way and make it accessible. But we're not inventing anything new. So it's not like we're writing new meditations or new scripture passages. We're just using what the church has had for the last couple thousand years and trying to make it accessible. 

Adrian Grobelny [00:00:56] Stick around to learn about how Hallow aims to amplify people's faith through meditation, how the app garnered over three hundred twenty thousand downloads, and how the app is a. technology technology for its users. 

Alex Jones [00:01:11] It's not going to replace mass and confession. It's going to amplify them. I think it's an easier onboarding for folks, but by no means. And there's a handful of apps out there in the religious world who are trying to replace church. But a no means are we trying to do that. We're just trying to be a tool for church, for for priests and for pastors to use to amplify your own faith experience. 

Shikher Bhandary [00:02:01] Welcome to things have changed in this age of chaos all around us. Twenty, twenty, especially meditation apps have really come to the fore. And having something this katende with like a Catholic faith and spinto it is something really interesting. Thanks for having me. And don't forget, he's a mechanical engineer since we started this blog. That's been my goal. OK, let's just get at least one Meki on this. So much. Com still much ehi stuff. 

Alex Jones [00:02:33] Unfortunately I do not do most of the actual work. So the but 

Shikher Bhandary [00:02:38] that's all that's really the end. Is that because Meki is don't do anything. 

Alex Jones [00:02:43] I did technically I technically coded the first version of the app, which all it did was like play and pause autopilots to test it. And then we brought on real engineers who deleted all of my code. I still have one file in the in the app right now that has my name as the creator on it. And so we're not allowed to delete that file, but everything else. 

Jed Tabernero [00:03:04] Did you tell them you're not allowed to delete that file 

Alex Jones [00:03:06] now you're up to that table. It's like the first file that's generated. It's like the base file so you can delete it. So yeah, I'll be there forever, hopefully. 

Adrian Grobelny [00:03:14] So we wanted to jump into how you thought of this idea and this need in the market. Like what was the realization for you that something needs to be created to address that hole, that there isn't an audio prayer app that can allow you to really get your faith center and get closer to God as we're getting busier, as we're getting more isolated on independent, especially with coronavirus right now. There's definitely a big need for something like this. 

Alex Jones [00:03:45] So, yeah, definitely the and thanks again for having me on. So it's pretty it's pretty intertwined with my own faith journey. And it actually there's kind of two different angles that we take with the app. There's one that's. Kind of starting from meditation and mindfulness, secular meditation, what what folks in the secular world are used to, and then with the Headspaces and CALM's of the world and then the other is from prayer and kind of the angle of your faith and how do you deepen your faith. And so we kind of have both of those approaches. But I probably took the former one, the meditation one. And so my story, the quick version of it, I was raised Catholic by my saint of a mother who dragged me to mass, but that's just about it. And then I fell away from my faith pretty heavily in high school and college, which is unfortunately not an unusual thing. And when I graduated as a mechanical engineer, but when I graduated, I was really fascinated by this meditation thing. And I. Was going to I was looking into I was going to go to India for two weeks or whatever to try to learn how to meditate, but it was kind of in the early days of headspace. So as I was Googling around, I ended up finding headspace and I started using it. And I thought it was this really cool tool like this really powerful way to each morning you sit down and you plug in your headphones and you close your eyes and you have somebody there who teaches you this type of technique, this type of meditation technique. I thought it was really powerful, like an awesome way to learn that without having to go on a two week meditation retreat or something. And so I started using it for a while. But the and I would use it pretty much every day. But there was this weird thing that started happening, which is every time I would sit down and shut up. And that's pretty much what meditation is like, trying to focus on something simple that isn't all the crap that you have to do that day. I every time I would kind of sit down and enter into that space, my mind would be pulled towards something spiritual, something contemplative, something faith based like a word, an image, something that related to something in the Christian faith. And I thought that was very strange. And so I. So we started talking to priests, brothers, sisters, monks, nuns, all that the folks in the religious world. And just asking the question of is there any type of intersection between this meditation thing in this faith thing and. They pretty much all laughed at us and said, yeah, we've been doing this for thousand years, you probably should have known about it, it's called prayer for you. What do you think? All the monks, all the Christian monks do and sitting in the mountains all day, every day. And, you know, initially I was like, hey, I know this. Prayer thing, that's not new, it's not a revelation I've done, hey, thanks for stuff, sorry for stuff. Help me with stuff I've done. Repeat the things that I've learned as a kid. But there's no real there's no real relationship there. There's no real like the deeper level of peace that I'm getting there. It's helpful to grow in the virtues, maybe, but it's kind of just me journaling to myself or repeating things to myself. And I was talking to this this one priest, and he said, yeah, that's that's fine. But have you ever tried listening? And I said, I don't even know what that means. And he said, have you ever tried listening in prayer? How much of your prayer is talking and how much of it is listening? I said all of it's talking and just either repeat something or share what I need help with or whatever. And he said, Yeah, but you're talking to the creator of the universe. Shouldn't you try to listen every once in a while? Maybe he has some pretty important things to say to you. And so I started learning all about these really powerful, contemplative, meditative techniques within the Christian tradition that I'd never heard of before. So things like Lexia Domain and Benedictine spirituality, Ignatian spirituality and the examined chant, Taizé, obviously the rosary and these chaplains and stuff. But there's a much deeper level of contemplation and meditation. And so I started learning all about them, found Googled how to do it, which is one of the more popular ones, which is how do you meditate with words from scripture and. Opened up the Bible to a random passage, and it was Jesus teaching the Lord's Prayer, our father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. And what you do and you Davina's you pick out a word and you use that to meditate on. And the word that stuck out to me was Halep. And I broke down in tears. It changed my life. It was a it was this beautiful combination of this deep sense of peace that you kind of get from mindfulness meditation. You kind of get from secular meditation. But it had it was different. But it's kind of that feeling of your stress is your stress is reduced. But at the same time, this sense of meaning and purpose and getting outside yourself like, OK, Hala, what does that mean? It means to make holy OK, so hallowed be thy name. Is Jesus saying that he's going to hallow the father's name is God Hallowing his own name. Am I supposed to be making God holy. Is he supposed to be making me holy. What does it mean to be holy. Am I helping my wife grow in holiness and my helping my family grow in holiness? Am I supposed to be doing those things? I don't even know what holiness means. And so it was like all these pretty stressful questions of what do I do with my life type stuff? But in this deep sense of peace, I would probably would have considered myself agnostic at the time, brought me back on a on a journey of diving way deeper into my faith, rediscovering the beauty and the traditional faith, things like mass and confession and adoration and all these beautiful traditions within the church, as well as much deeper into kind of the prayer traditions and even the ones that we memorize as kids. But rediscovering kind of the beauty and power of those and how to pray with them meditatively. And Hallow is kind of just the idea of head space and calm can help folks learn these types of techniques. Why couldn't the same thing be done with these techniques that have changed my own life? And I was going to need it, something like that, for myself. And if it helped me a little bit get into heaven, then that seems like a positive role. I started to try to code it and then we shared it with folks and we've just been super blessed and fortunate. So that's probably two years ago. Year and a half ago, we launched the app publicly and then we've just been trying to make it better and improve it ever since, have more content and expand the functionality of the app. So we've been super blessed. We just crossed three hundred twenty five thousand or so downloads, then doubling every three to five months or so. We're the number one Catholic app on the App Store about six months ago or so. And so I've held on to that and are just continuing to work on trying to impact as many people as we can. So that's kind of that's the story. 

Jed Tabernero [00:10:16] I'm trying to imagine how we incorporate Hallow into our daily lives. Is it going to be some sort of an addition to our regular practices? Is it going to be something that purely meditative to get to that level? Or what kind of utility do you think the users will get from, like downloading this app? What's the way that they'll use it? 

Alex Jones [00:10:39] I mean, the beautiful part about faith is that it's so diverse and everybody's needs are so different. It's probably the first lesson we learned. We the first version of the app that I built just played and pours stuff. And there was only nine sessions on the app. Now there's probably closer to two. A thousand. But but we did three different types of prayer. So we're doing something that was more kind of meditative, closer to Carmelites spirituality. We did something that's like reflecting on your day, which is kind of Ignatian, and then we did something that's like that meditating with scripture thing that I talked about. And we figured, hey, we're just going to figure out what how people use this in the morning or at night or during their day, whether they're stressed or as a routine and then which of the sessions they like best. And we're just going to build an app for that and figure out which is the which is the most popular and just focus on that one. And the terrible part was that it's not that easy. So we talk to everybody and they all said actually what we were kind of expecting them to say, which was, hey, these three sessions were amazing, the other six were terrible or these six were amazing. The other three were terrible. I don't even know why you had them on there. And so there's three different types of prayer. And they were all like equally well, I mean, the one is is kind of this daily habit. And so people are saying, hey, I want to pray more. I want to build in a very similar way to meditation or working out or whatever. I want to start my day every day with prayer. And it can be anything from a minute to five minutes to ten minutes to an hour. But it's hey, I want to start with I want to start my day with prayer and the great part about the churches, there's a bunch of kind of built in routines that we can try to bring into the app and help people stay consistent with and build a real habit. So there's the Daily Gospel that's assigned every day that we can meditate on the using the legislative and the technique. There's the rosary, which is, I think, a lot more powerful in an audio form. So there's kind of that daily habit thing that is a that is a big tease. The second piece is, oh, and that's that's both in the morning and at night. So a lot of people use it at night, right before they go to bed, as we have like a night prayer thing or Bible sleep stories if you can't fall asleep. And so a lot of people use use the app in the morning and at night. The other one is as you're going through your day and you'd need something. And most of that is probably stress related. Also, like the humility stuff and the letting go stuff and but that we have something we call pray lists, which are collections of different prayers and meditations based off of what you need or what you're trying to grow in in that particular moment. And so, so so that's a big piece. And then the last piece is like actually actively trying to grow or deepen in your faith or in theology or in understanding. And so we have a bunch of sessions that are kind of like Bible studies, but not really that are much more meditative and kind of go line by line through the our father. Why do we say our father? That's weird. Why don't we say my father? So just going through each of those things and diving deep into the meaning and the understanding of of of the prayers and the traditions of the church and the saints and all that stuff. And so that that's kind of the last piece is for people who are looking to kind of dove deeper into their faith. They use the F in that way. So and we have homilies from folks who are amazing. Father Mike Schmitz's homilies are on. There was an awesome priest in the US and a handful of other folks who give guest sessions and talks on different ways to deepen your faith. So there's a bunch of different ways that people use the app. But those are those are three of the big ones. 

Adrian Grobelny [00:13:54] So you you mentioned how particular one word is. My father, our father that perfect that leads into how did you design the content, all of the prayers and the verbiage and the words that you're using, like where do you start with that? That's like you have to really understand what you're trying to bring to people and really understand the language. And so where did you start to really develop that content? And using the right type of language, someone's going through anxiety and wants to get calm down. And where did you, like, start with creating a whole database of prayers? 

Alex Jones [00:14:33] Yeah, the it's a great question and is by far the most important piece of the app. So it's important for us in a handful of different ways we're going to do things that help people that people need, that people want as well as it's super important for us, especially as a Catholic app, to stay true to church teaching and stay within the right theology, as well as we're guiding people towards a deeper faith. And so we have a we have a team of folks who had the biggest chunk of it were ten people on the team, and four of them are content folks and master's in theology, theology folks who are pulling together these sessions. Right. The sessions. And then we have a pretty broad swath of advisors who help us, who are professors in theology or bishops or monks or whatever, who help us go through the sessions and make sure that they're guiding people in the right way and using the right steps in the right spacing and all that fun. Jazz spent a lot of time, especially at the beginning, making sure that we were doing it in the right way. The and there's a bunch of stuff with like 15 seconds here, 20 seconds here or say this in this way or say this after this or not before this. And so there's a bunch of stuff that we have to do. Right, to make sure that it's leading people in the way that the past two thousand years have discovered and used to help people grow closer in their faith. The nice part, though, for us, frankly, is it's super important that we do it right. But it's not as hard because we've been doing it for two thousand years. And so to take an example, like sort of like pseudomonas, a method that we use in the app a lot, which is meditating on scripture and the steps of flexibility are pretty clear cut and pretty well known throughout the church tradition. You can go back to the guy who pretty much started it and read his steps. And there's maybe a handful of variations. But the core is you read a passage a couple of times, pretty slowly. You pick a word that sticks out to you and you use that to start a conversation with God, and then you rest with him at the end. And once we get that structure down, then it's really about, OK, so then what is the passage that we want to meditate on and what are maybe one or two of the prompts that we want to help people use to start a conversation with God? And those passages are I mean, Bible. The book is enormously huge. And so we can just and all of it is God. And so we don't really have to edit the Bible at all. We can just go and we pick one or two lines. The beautiful part for us is we try to put you in the right structure and give you the right content, but then the rest of it is up to you and God. And it's so powerful how just that line, you're the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. What words sticks out to you? We talk to it doesn't matter who you talk to, you'll get like five or ten different words, which is crazy depending on the day and depending on what sticks out to you, city, hill, light. And then you use that word and you meditate on it and you use it to start a conversation with God. It's it's really important for us to get it right. And we try to create as much content so that we can give it to people in the different ways that they need it and package it in the right way and make it accessible. But we're not inventing anything new. So it's not like we're writing new meditations or new scripture passages. We're just using what the church has had for the last couple. A thousand years and trying to make it accessible. 

Shikher Bhandary [00:17:50] From your initial product, first version of the app, were you constantly getting like users of the app, your consumers, your family, friends, to actually read for certain sessions to you for certain priests and bishops? How do you create that first knowledge base? 

Alex Jones [00:18:09] Yeah, the I mean, our team, even the theology folks we have on our team are phenomenal. And so if we sat down for two hours or an hour and came up with a bunch of ideas, we I have the backlog I can show you, but we have about two hundred and fifty ideas that we haven't gotten to yet. And then even more, if we if we ask our advisors who is what are the resources we should use or refer to to start creating new content, another one hundred ideas. But you're right that the thing that probably informs us the most is our users do message us pretty much every day still and say, hey, we got to do fifty four day novena or hey, we got to do the St. Joseph prayers. These meditations on this type of topic. We're super helpful. Right. 

Jed Tabernero [00:18:51] A couple of things that that shocked me. I kind of observed it over the, over the years, but I didn't know that Catholicism is is one of the religions that kind of like loses a lot of followers throughout the years. Right. Largest transfer of faith is happening within Catholicism, partly because it's probably one of the largest religions out there. Right. And in the United States specifically, like I was looking into the same probably the same research paper you're looking at. But the Pew Research paper and we are trying to understand, like, what's the appetite for people coming into this? And it's funny that you mentioned that there are people leaving the faith, not really identifying as agnostic, but identifying as spiritual. Right. And it's hard to find a way to to tap into that spiritual space and also be also improve their relationship with God, I guess. Do you see this app as kind of like at least providing a space for those people who have not found it? And I guess this is a way for them to go into Catholicism. The easier with do you see this as kind of a way to address that market? That's that's, I guess, been untapped and give away for these people who still have spirituality, but not really trying to stick to the old ways of Catholicism, maybe just creating a new medium for people to consume the benefits of Catholicism. 

Alex Jones [00:20:19] Yeah, I think you hit on a handful of points, which are absolutely true. One that I might push on. But the Catholic world, the fallen away Catholics, I mean, globally, it's a totally different story. So globally, actually, the Catholic churches is doing pretty well. It's in in South America, it's taken off like wildfire in Africa. Across the world, it's actually doing pretty well in Europe, in the in the western world. It's not it's a very bad story in the United States. And the largest I think this is true, but don't quote me on it. But the largest, I think religion in the US has fallen away Catholics. So it's a big it's a big chunk of folks. But for us, I think and you hit on something else, which is. This is like talking Silicon Valley language or whatever, but onboarding is a relatively hard thing for the church because you really have two options and the two kind of leading options are unless you want to get into a program or something. Hey, why don't you come with me to this meeting where we all sit around and worship a piece of bread, or why don't you come and talk to this man who you don't know and tell him all the bad things you've done in your life and in the dark room. And those are pretty high bars to get somebody to do something. Both of those the thing that I would push on is I think both of those are have changed my life and the masses. The summit of prayer. I believe that body is God himself. And sharing your and going through the sacrament of confession has changed my life dramatically. The but I think there's an easier way to introduce the faith to people and to kind of bring them back to the faith in that way, I think has to be, especially when you're talking about millennials or younger folks, is letting them build their own relationship with God and letting God bring them back to the church now. You obviously have to have community and the truth and theology and all the awesome YouTube channels that people have come out with and books and all that jazz. But I think the first primary thing, and it's just such an easier thing to lead with, which is, look, you just your own experience, like download an app and spend five minutes in silence is a really easy pitch for folks and see what happens now when you really dove into your spirituality and you take it seriously. I don't think what will happen is you'll say, OK, well, yeah, maybe I'm Catholic, but I won't go to church. It's not going to replace mass and confession. It's going to amplify them. I think it's an easier onboarding for folks, but by no means. And there's a handful of apps out there in the religious world who are trying to replace church. But a no means are we trying to do that. We're just trying to be a tool for church, for for priests and for pastors to use to amplify your own faith experience, which needs a community, which needs a church, which you need to do service. You need to celebrate the sacraments, but you also need a personal prayer life. And I think that's the foundation to everything else that leads you into everything else. And so that's what we're trying to that's what we're trying to lead with. 

Jed Tabernero [00:23:04] That's great. Yeah, it's, um. I mean, yeah, similar to what my mom is trying to do now because because of covid, people have been trying to be more creative about how to consume content essentially. And my mom's tried like YouTube channels and whatnot. And I guess one thing that I wanted to figure out is kind of demographics who are downloading your apps. Like I think right now I read a stat in which like only 17 percent of maybe this was in twenty eighteen. Seventy percent of the Catholic faith in the United States, for example, are people from ages 18 to to twenty nine or something. Right. Millennials people have access to apps, people who use these apps to do certain things. I'm sure that's not the only target market. But I want to kind of get the idea of who the demographic is right now. The following year. Thirteen thousand followers. You're doing fifty thousand downloads and not like. Do you have any idea of who's downloading the apps? 

Alex Jones [00:23:59] Yeah, we don't. We can get little kind of views of of demographics of folks, but we don't track like age and gender and all that on a person by person level. So I can't speak with a hundred percent confidence, but I can't speak with these in confidence. So we started the app thinking I personally think I'm just gonna build this for myself. And then we brought in a handful of people, all of which you are kind of in that young professional stage in their career. And so we kind of built it for ourselves and we expected that to be the largest group of people who use the app. And that has stayed true. So people twenty five to thirty five are our largest decile or that largest ten years age bracket. The biggest spike is twenty five to thirty five folks. The interesting thing though is if you look younger than thirty five, thirty five to fifty five and fifty five plus those three brackets, the breakdown is thirty five percent. Thirty five percent. Thirty percent. And so it's relatively flat across ages. And the interesting thing is, but there's not really one demographic for faith which is the great part. It's also the hard part of building an app. But there's not really one group. There's the people who are our age who want who are looking for head space, are calm, but want to try to see what it would be like to incorporate their faith or maybe take their faith decently seriously. And so want to try this meditation thing and work on their stress or whatever it is. There's people who can't fall asleep, who need help falling asleep and want to fall asleep to something that isn't just a random Netflix show or something, but something that might actually lead them into scripture will hopefully lead to better dreams. But and that's across all age ranges. And there's young parents who are stressed out with having a kid. There's older parents who are stressed out that their kids are going to grow up to be atheists. And so how do we help our family grow in prayer? And then there's if you go to any retreat in the US that's Catholic or Christian or anything, the average age typically is early to late retirees. So folks who are trying to grow in their faith as it gets more important towards the end of their life. And, you know, for us, we actually see spikes across all of those age ranges, which is which is fascinating, it skews a little bit more female as you get older. So a little bit older women and then it a little bit male, actually, as you get younger, which we didn't, which was surprising. But the I mean, the great part about it is all the pitch really is I mean, for people who are starting or who have fallen away, it's like here's an easier way to try to reconnect with your faith or try to explore your faith for people. But for the vast majority of people and probably our core user, it's like, hey, you've tried praying probably or you are actively praying, but you want to grow deeper. And the beautiful part about that is you always want to grow deeper. If you're praying, you always want to try to pray better and deeper and build a better relationship with God. Even your mom, I would have to imagine, is not, quote unquote satisfied with her life. It's always how do I continue to build a deeper and better relationship with God and through my family? And it's the same thing with anything in the in the faith world. You're never going to see somebody who does a lot of great service or Mother Teresa never feels like she's doing enough. How can I help more people? How can you never like. Yeah, I've actually I've filled my quota for helping people. You're not like, yeah, I'd probably check that box and the same thing for prayer. It's you know, even when you're really deep in prayer, you're still trying to grow and explore and deepen your faith. And for us, it's building a habit of prayer is really hard. You have to do it every day and it's when you want to and when you don't want to. And our lives are busy. And so trying to carve out five, ten minutes every morning to set aside for prayer is a hard thing. And so our app, the idea is even for people who are doing a rosary for 30 minutes every day or who are doing a holy hour trying to help them grow deeper in their faith, but also the people who are just starting out or just want to do a minute or somebody who a kid who's just fallen away from their faith and wants to maybe try to re exploit or somebody who's stressed. And so I think the the hard part of what we're trying to do is there's a ton of content and it's not it's not a new problem. Netflix runs into the same problem. There's a ton of content. You get documentaries, movies, everything for different needs and different things that people want to engage in. But how do we kind of try to meet everybody where they are, both people who are super deep in their faith, in people who are just starting out and help them to to explore it and dove deeper into it? 

Adrian Grobelny [00:28:12] So. The one thing about that's really interesting about religion is that it's very consistent and constant. So you have these teachings, you have these stories that have been written for thousands of years and they're set in the same way. You know, it's all written in the book and it's you know, you repeat it, but you say it and everything is set and defined. And the rosary, all these prayers, it's everything is constant. But you guys are introducing this new a new vente, a new vehicle to really say these teachings. So I I'm really curious to know what's been the feedback from bishops, priests, people of faith that are kind of have more influence in the religion. What's been the feedback from them? And have they been really open to this new app and this new way of going through about your day with prayer? Or has there been been a little bit of a push back where it's like, hey, hey, slow down now we're all for change, but this is a little bit too, too intense of a change. Like we want to stick to the roots, the traditions that we've had. 

Alex Jones [00:29:20] The short answer to there's a short answer is no longer the short answer to your thing is it depends on who you're talking to. There's people the the Catholic Church is as diverse as the world is diverse and the Christian world even more so. And so, you know, there's people who love technology, use Facebook every day, and there's people who hate technology, who think the phone is is evil and. I think generally the reaction to the to the app has been very positive from even folks within the church, the. First thing is, for the last probably 50 years of the church, there's been this focus on how do you go and meet people where they are and not have to be for a while. The church could rely on, hey, we're just going to open the church doors and people are going to come in and it can't now, at least in the Western world. And so it's going to be how do we go out and meet people where they are and bring them the faith and show them the faith and be an example and all this stuff. And whether we like it or not, where people are is their phones. That's where they are spending the majority of their time. So just like you go back a couple hundred years or whatever, before the iPhone, you would walk around a city and it'd be busy and stressful and you have all this stuff and all this stuff that you'd have to do and then you'd walk into a church and it's kind of this place of peace and those things kind of disappear. And not really I mean, they're still there, but you kind of enter into this new space. And the same thing is what we're trying to build kind of with Hala, but into your phone. And so you have this phone that has a sauna and slack and emails and text messages and all this stuff you have to do and all the stuff you have to worry about likes and your what your latest Instagram photo look like or who tagged you and what. And it's a very stressful place, actually. And our goal with is you click this little purple thing and it takes over your phone. And that whole space then is dedicated to God trying to bring back a small little vehicle. For him to enter into your life through that device is what we're trying to do. And so meeting people where they are, I think that the other thing is, frankly, our app is kind of like the anti technology technology, which is I really actually struggle with a lot of these text based religious apps because you open up the text, especially if you're older and you have to make the text bigger. It looks like it looks terrible. It's design terrible, it's all clunky. It all kind of blurs together. And then you've got to try to pray while looking at a computer screen or at a phone screen. And that's just really hard. There's something about a digital screen that I'll give to all these priests and monks and is really hard to enter into prayer. And it's so distracting. But there is something our idea is, look, we're going to try to build the simplest possible thing. You're going to click to maybe three things and they're all pretty pictures and you click it and then you choose a length five, 10, 15 minutes. You plug in your headphones and you close your eyes so you don't have plug in your headphones. You just play it from your phone speaker, but you close your eyes and then the experience is has almost nothing to do with the technology other than it's the medium by which it's playing the audio, just like a CD or a stereo or a radio or whatever. But it's there's something about the audio experience for us that's different from video and it's different from text because you don't have to engage with the screen. You're able to just close your eyes and kind of disconnect from it. So even folks who hate apps have tried hello and used hello and have found it useful to be both a place for them to kind of dedicate their phone to God, but also a place for them to kind of disconnect from technology while using technology. But the last thing the last thing that I would say is it is very important for us to stay true to church tradition, into church teaching. There has there's nothing in church tradition or church teaching that says that a phone is evil and there didn't used to be printed Bibles. So that was a huge revolution. The Bibles didn't used to be printed or people didn't used to be able to have them in their phone. And then they were printed and it brought a huge wave of the same questions of like, should this is this the right way for people to grow in their faith? But it's just better and other ways of engaging with the same truth in the same relationship. So it's not changing anything. It's just trying to introduce a new medium, just like a YouTube homily is will always encourage people to go to mass on Sunday, will always encourage them to go to confession, will always encourage a deeper understanding of the truths. And I don't think anybody really within the church is doing things new. They're just trying to engage with people in a different way with the same underlying truth. 

Shikher Bhandary [00:33:42] Alex, I think this is a good idea just how you can just rally to hold Christian 

Alex Jones [00:33:51] and give it to us. Let's hear it both 

Shikher Bhandary [00:33:53] back and protect. I think you need to create your own Halo phone and make sure all the hardware software stack, no Facebook, no Google 

Alex Jones [00:34:04] want to be. Yeah. So the next idea is a smart speaker, a little hollow ball that follows you around. And when you actually have a good chunk of users who just, you know, they have an old phone or something. And actually I got this idea from one of our users who does it, but they have their regular phone and then they have their old phone and the only app on their old phone is hello. And they put the they can bring Halo into and out of their bedroom. They can't bring their actual phone with all their emails and calls and stuff. So it's just an and it could just be an iPod, right. It's all you need is Wi-Fi. So just bringing something that can play or pause audio into into your bedroom. So, yeah, there's a lot of there's a lot of opportunities right now where the phone is working great. So we'll try to stick and build the best version of that that we can. But but a lot of stuff still to do. 

Shikher Bhandary [00:34:50] Just a couple of those that you've really gone all in with the company. I mean, staggering numbers. Three fifty thousand downloads already. So maybe if you can just outline the early days how you were trying to build that community. We did notice this Kickstarter venture. And I mean, like there are a lot of apps on the App Store. How do you even set yourself up? But I mean, there might already be like a million Christian apps, right. So how did you actually create a community that actually followed through, gave you constant feedback and built that out? 

Alex Jones [00:35:31] We launched the first app and I talked to maybe five or 10 friends about it who I needed their help building it. They did the vast majority of the work and pretty much made up the early team of Hadlow. And so we worked on it and launched kind of the first nine sessions or whatever, and we ended up sending out a survey to each of us, sent it out to everybody we knew, and it was just asking them about their faith, life and what they used and how they felt, how close to God they felt and their needs and all that jazz and then whether or not they would be interested in beta testing this idea. So that kind of gave us an initial beta testing group of like one hundred launched the first beta test, had one hundred people using it and called them all and asked them about it. And then we. Came out with the second version, launched another beta test, and then we launched the Kickstarter, which was really mostly a and we spent a little bit of our savings that, well, we didn't have a lot of savings, so pretty much all of our savings. But we spent we spend our money to try to advertise it a little bit. But we sent the Kickstarter out and that was mostly to get like an initial group of users onto the app and to test whether people would actually pay for this or not and whether it could actually be something that would be self-sustaining or that we could do with our careers. And so we launched that we're super lucky, had had a ton of great support, raise like twenty five thousand dollars or something through the Kickstarter and then got like four hundred beta users and onto the app. And then we launched. And so we had like four hundred or so subscribers when we launched, there really was nobody else. And still to this day is really nobody else doing this type of thing in the Catholic world. And so there is a decent chunk of people searching for Catholic meditation or whatever, and there's really no other choices. And so we were kind of the first there are a handful of other Christian meditation stuff, but focused specifically in the Catholic world, there's really nobody else. And so we got a steady growth of people from that, but not huge. And then we got pretty lucky with one or two articles that came out that drove a thousand downloads or something with each of them. And then the first big thing was. So we did a we did a big test for Lent that year. So we launched in December of twenty eighteen. And then in March of the following year, which is when we kicked off Lent, we launched kind of a 40 day prayer challenge and that actually did really well. And so we got a lot of a lot of subscribers through that of folks who had heard about the app but haven't tried it, and then folks sharing it with people so that and then from there, it's kind of just figuring out for us, it's figuring out two things. One, how do you build an app community that can grow itself? And so you have people who are introducing it, who love it, to introduce it to their friends and family. So how do you organically grow? And then the second is, how can you find different distribution channels to either pay for advertising or whatever that works financially to get people into the app in a way that doesn't just lose all money, that that actually is profitable in some way and self-sustaining in some way. And so that is figuring out the right Facebook ads or the right YouTube shows to sponsor whatever it is. And so sharing the sharing the app with people those ways. And we're still super early on in the testing of those different channels. But that's been pretty much the growth strategy is how do you figure out how to retain users and get them to share so kind of keep this little fire growing even on its own? And then how can you use different types of advertising or go to market techniques to try to share the app with folks? So that's that's kind of been how we've how we've tried to keep it going a little bit by a little bit each month. 

Shikher Bhandary [00:39:00] Gotcha, and was there lack of focus on getting I mean, there are so many Christian communities, right? And I mean, they have huge strengths in those communities. So has that been a focus on your own to to reach out to those and kind of show what product you you guys actually have, which is incredible? 

Alex Jones [00:39:20] Yeah, definitely. We've we've we've gotten pretty lucky with a handful of folks reaching out to us. But an example is we launched and the first email that there was that we went to Notre Dame for undergrad and they have a daily email that goes out to all alumni. That is a daily gospel reflection. And so I wrote the Daily Gospel reflection the day that we launched. And so we're super lucky to be able to partner with them. And I kind of introduce the idea of the app that was probably our first big spike. We had one of our advisors who helped us with a bunch of the content, who was a reporter who wrote something in like a Catholic news thing. And then we worked with a handful of bishops and priests to spread the word throughout their churches. But the biggest thing by far, the biggest thing is. Creating something that users will continue to use and share and so that that is by far the most important thing, because these different spikes in an article or whatever will come up. But it's vastly more important thing is that the line in between those spikes is not going down. You're not just slowly dying. And so figuring out how to build a product that had the content that people would keep coming back to and keep using and was built in a way that was easy to use and high retention to help people grow in that habit was was by far the biggest thing that we focused on. 

Jed Tabernero [00:40:40] So, I mean, before we leave that topic and go into kind of your personal life real quick, I just wanted to get an idea of, like, how the venture towards creating the Spanish version of the app is going. Something that I had read recently was that 40 percent of all Catholics in the world are in Latin America and not necessarily they all speak Spanish. But to some extent, we can assume that there's a lot of people in the world of Catholicism that speak Spanish. I think Hollo would be I mean, that would be a great opportunity to just be able to deliver that message as well in Spanish. I mean, even in the United States, the Latino community takes up a large part of the church. It was funny also I wanted to mention earlier you were saying how diverse the Catholic community is. It's pretty dope because the same statistics that I was checking out, it was pretty similar across the board, like it was a pretty diverse religion across the board in the world. 

Alex Jones [00:41:41] Yeah, it's a great question. Super important question for us and actually pretty hard. So the because the Spanish world, the Spanish speaking world is so diverse, both in terms of spirituality and language and dialect. And our app is obviously all audio. And so we've got to find the right guy in the right voice. And so we spent a lot of time, we launched the English version. We knew that the Spanish version would be important for us to to focus on soon after. We do really want to focus on making sure that we can get the English version right, the content that people are looking for and searching for and most importantly, the app experience. So the actual functionality of the app in a way that, as I was saying, that little fire continues to grow and then and we're probably decently close to that, which is why we've started venturing into the Spanish world. But then it's just about starting hopefully as many little fires as we can across the world in different languages. Spanish being by far the most important one for us to do next, probably Portuguese after that, but. So, yeah, we spent a lot of time and the one I don't know if any of you have heard the story or not, but we heard this kind of horror story of the Noriko's Netflix film about all the. 

Shikher Bhandary [00:42:56] It is the most watched television show on Jets' Netflix. 

Alex Jones [00:43:00] I can show you what I had heard. And I have no idea of verifying this. But what I had heard is it's hilarious to watch it because they're all supposed to be Colombian, but they all have different accents. So like Mexican or Puerto Rican or whatever accents. And so it'd be like us all watching the show or me watching a show that's supposed to be a bunch of people from the south. And you have a British accent and an Australian accent and a Midwestern accent in New York accent or whatever. And they're all and then, hey, everybody, how you doing? And it's like you're supposed to have all these different accents or you're not supposed to have any different accents, but you do. And so for us, it was like, OK, we got to figure out the accents and the dialects that work best for folks. If we're trying to think about first, actually, the Hispanic community in the United States Catholic Church is huge. So I think it's 30 percent. Thirty five percent of the US Catholic churches is Spanish speaking first. And so even within the US, it's a huge opportunity for us. And so we focused a lot, got a lot of great advice and decided to start with what we heard was probably the two most universal accents, at least for the US is Mexican and Colombian. And so we are hopefully going to start with both of those. We launched the first we have a guy, Francisco, who is a phenomenal, phenomenal guy who launched the first four chapters of sessions from our most popular content in Spanish. So he's he's got a he's born and raised in Mexico his whole life. And so he's phenomenal. And so it's super important for us to both get the voice right in the guide. Right. So that people can engage with their faith in a way that isn't distracting. And the content in the content is, you know, there's different spiritualities and in each country, but definitely outside of the US. And so we've started to expand the types of content we have in Our Lady of Guadalupe meditation in the Spanish version, which is not in the English version, which is a huge deal in Latin America. And so making sure that we build that content. Right. Is is is is is huge. And then the last thing is just figuring out how to get into those those countries and help spread the word and go to market, if you will. And so that's those things are all very hard things to do. Our first focus still is I think our English version is pretty great by getting it from, you know, maybe 70 percent to nine to eighty five percent of the way there where we feel pretty confident in it, which is pretty much there, and then starting to really focus to make sure that we do the Spanish version. Well, the hard part the hardest part for me is and it's and it's something, I guess, that you just kind of learn to let go of. But it's really easy for me to sit in a recording studio or wherever we're recording and listen to the English version and be like, that's going to change lives. That's amazing. That's beautiful. Hey, let's let's put a little bit of a tone differently here than here and. Oh, my gosh, that's amazing. That's super holy. It's going to be awesome. It's really hard for me to do it in the language that I don't. And I've tried to I like a very little bit of Spanish, but it's really hard for me to do that same type of thing and in Spanish. And so making sure that we have the right team built up around that is is going to be important to to make sure that we deliver something is as high quality as possible. Yeah. I mean, it's huge. There's like I think there's one hundred million English speaking Catholics in the world and eight hundred million Spanish speaking or something crazy like that. So it's, it's a larger opportunity which is which is enormous. 

Jed Tabernero [00:46:18] Yeah. It's it's funny that you mention that because when I first came here it it there were times I lived in L.A. first when I moved to the United States and my schedule didn't allow for me to go to the English speaking church. So I had to go to the Spanish version, which actually it wasn't completely different from how we experience it in the Philippines. We had Spanish pastors and priests, but yeah, it was pretty easy for me to understand. But I guess on that note, it's it's pretty much going to be for Latin America. It's going to be those large film producing countries which are Mexico and Colombia. So those countries produce a lot of film that the rest of Latin America consumes. So I would feel like that would be a good first step into getting into what, like really dining down what actual accent to use. But yeah, that will be an interesting thing to do. 

Alex Jones [00:47:10] And Brazil's another huge Catholic country, so we've got to get into Portuguese eventually, too. And then Poland with all that and all of Europe is going to be a fun one. And then Africa actually is a huge Catholic. Asia is it is expanding pretty quickly. So hopefully an exciting future, but no. 

Jed Tabernero [00:47:27] Absolutely, absolutely. I mean, in Asia, it's going to be the Philippines, if you will, but we're like 90 percent Catholic. 

Alex Jones [00:47:34] But if you started expanding into the Philippines because English really decently, decently, commonly spoken there and so. So it's probably our third or fourth largest. 

Jed Tabernero [00:47:46] Gotcha. OK, OK, now we can dove into the personal stuff. 

Shikher Bhandary [00:47:50] Yeah, I would love to get your thoughts about your whole consulting experience. And you can see for a bit now at Stanford and Bixby just wanted to kind of get an understanding as to how that consulting experience was. 

Alex Jones [00:48:06] I started as a mechanical engineer, did a couple of internships that were mechanical engineering, focused design, engineering, the type of stuff worked with scales for a little bit, which is not the sexiest industry in the world. But actually, it was a great company. The but then I had the same type of thing, kind of wanted a broader exposure to different types of problems because I kind of had no idea what I wanted to do. And that's pretty much why most consultants go into consulting. And so I found this strategy consulting thing pretty fascinating. And it was all about what are the choices that you can make as an organization to focus on different things, to build different products, or to try to target different consumer bases that will help you grow and be efficient. And so I worked at McKinsey in Chicago for three years, probably, and I loved it. I did a bunch of strategy work and mostly insurance. And the reason I did insurance work, I did a good chunk of digital work to so texts and apps. But the reason I did insurance is because I didn't like traveling. And so I wanted to stay in Chicago and we had a pretty big Chicago insurance set of folks that we were working with. So I stayed and I loved it. I thought you get to work with amazing people who are incredibly intelligent. You get to solve really, really big problems that no twenty four year olds should be solving. What is the strategy of this Fortune 500 company for the next five years and how do you get to a billion dollars in revenue or whatever it is? So these really big problems, which are really intricate and hard and you learn just a ton about what what works from businesses and actually more so how to take. The biggest thing that I learned from McKinsey is actually pretty similar from the biggest thing I learned from mechanical engineering, which is how to take a problem that's really ambiguous and really hard and really big and break it down into pieces that aren't as hard and then go try to solve those pieces. So what's our strategy for the next five years is like, OK, well, there's like a probably a revenue side of that in the cost of that. So let's figure out both of those sides. And then on the revenue, there's these three product lines we've got to figure out one for each of those. And so just figuring it, taking something that's really hard and trying to break it down into its pieces, I was also super lucky to be able to be I was I was able to lead a team for for six to 12 months there. And that was awesome, because you kind of get that it's a great leadership training ground. They teach you kind of how to how to run a team effectively. And I learned a ton from some awesome folks. They're the only real thing that when I was sitting and this was kind of it all kind of happens around the same time. But as I was sitting thinking about my career, I really did love McKinsey and I thought it would be an awesome as long as you can manage the travel thing, it's a it's an amazing opportunity. And continuing to grow within the organization, within the company would have been phenomenal. But the only thing is I the two things. One, I'd always kind of been interested in entrepreneurship. And the second was as I started getting into this Faithing, you know, it wasn't. It wasn't like I would wake up every day and be like, I think God is asking me to go figure out the strategy for this Midwest retail banking client. And sure, I don't I don't think so. So I wouldn't pray about the strategic decisions. And it's just hollow is just a it's a is honestly, probably if I were to pick a job that was not Halal is probably my favorite job. And so I would definitely do it the again, the but I was just it's just a different experience. It's just a different level of experience to be able to. I mean, we had somebody write us two weeks ago that said, hey, I have been struggling with my faith for decades and have been struggling with stress, anxiety for decades. And I just wanted to let you know that the quote was, this is the. First place where my weary soul is finding peace is hello, and I just want to and I'm in tears writing this to you and I was just like, that's not I don't deserve to be a part of a team that does that and is just so phenomenal to be able to wake up every day to those types of notes and to be able to do something that you feel like is is your calling. And so Hallow is just awesome to get to work on. But Mackenzie was a phenomenal kind of training ground in place to start off professionally. So so I did it. I also just the I'm no longer at the Stanford thing. That was by the grace of God graduated. And then last year or so that was just just note like I bet the bank in the Midwest must have been thanking you the same way you saved myself. Because I doubt it. I doubt it.