Pray.com is the world’s number one prayer app, and just a few years after being ideated at Cal Lutheran, it has become one of the top grossing apps in the Apple App Store. Pray.com’s mission is to grow faith and cultivate community. The intention of the app is to help keep your prayer habit strong through a series of daily and nightly prayers. While the founders of Pray.com come from a Judeo-Christian background, the app was created for all people who pray. Developing an app to serve as a global community for people of all faiths had never been done before, and, in fact, no one could have predicted success as the outcome.
As with all other startups, launching a new product is hit or miss. With Pray.com, it turned out to be a major hit. To be more specific, it turned out to be a “50 million prayers and 16 million dollars in total funding” hit, according to Crunchbase. What’s most exciting is that it all started at Hub101 – part of California Lutheran University’s Center for Entrepreneurship, in Westlake Village.
The mega-hit was founded by Steve and Jessica Gatena, with the help of co-founders Matthew Potter, Michael Lynn and Ryan Beck. The Gatena’s, who are local residents, popped into Hub101 shortly after a Spring Semester networking event in 2016. Steve said, “I am grateful for the space Hub101 has provided for local entrepreneurs, the encouragement their team offers, and the connections the Cal Lutheran staff has made.” Hub101 proved to be a convenient gathering location for the entrepreneurs. “Our four founders came together at Hub101, three of us are from Westlake,” Potter said. The Hub101 team has enjoyed watching the app grow to the success it is today.
One day, Gatena walked into Hub101 and announced that he had just negotiated a fair deal for the domain name, Pray.com. Gatena explained how he intended to bring this to life as the Digital Destination for Faith. Hub101 is blessed that Gatena was able to launch Pray.com out of Hub101, connect with the right team, and get advice on how to grow the business. Pray.com is now the number one prayer app in the world.
Features of the app include daily prayer plans, meditative prayers, and bedtime Bible stories. The app helps individuals “find faith at their fingertips through powerful prayer communities and inspirational audio prayers,” according to Pray.com. Because of key partners like Twilio and Stripe, Pray.com has expanded to more than 183 countries and is used across more than 50,000 communities worldwide. Many Pray.com users invite their families and friends join groups within the app, including groups dedicated to mission trips, youth sports, addiction recovery, cancer treatment, and mental health issues, amongst other topics.
When Gatena first came to Hub101, he wasn’t working on anything specific as he had just left his previous project and was in a transition. He had an idea for a digital destination for faith but was still thinking it through, researching, and sifting through reports and data. In between, Gatena mentored other Hub101 members and Cal Lutheran students and helped inspire people in the space.
Part of why Pray.com has been so successful is because, even though faith and religion remain important to people regardless of time and place, society is changing. These changes demand new technology, and Pray.com identified an unmet need to modernize faith and prayer before anyone else. Executive Director at Hub101 Michael Panesis said he is impressed with how well the app is doing and how fast it has grown.
“The app is fantastic. It’s really well designed, and it’s a great way to get in touch with people of your faith,” Panesis said. “The guys are incredible. They’re a great example of the type of people we want at the center of a startup community. We want entrepreneurs to lead the community, and they are leaders in every sense of the word. Several of their first employees also came from the space. It’s nice to see Hub101 helping entrepreneurs in the local area and creating jobs. It proves the model we have built out.”
Panesis is not the only one of this opinion. Hub101 member Ivan Martinez said he has tried the app, and understands why it has become as popular as it is today. “They have an awesome social media presence, I love their app design and the look and feel of their website,” Martinez said. “I think it transforms how religion is seen throughout society. It’s giving it an update, changing how people pray all over the world.”
Despite the great success Pray.com has had, Panesis said the entrepreneurs have not completely moved out of Hub101 just yet. Panesis said even though Pray.com has their main office in Santa Monica now, they are still familiar faces at the Center for Entrepreneurship. “Steve, Ryan & Matt especially, because they live nearby, they still come by Hub101 from time to time,” Panesis said.
Panesis uses Pray.com as an example of what amazing businesses can come to life from a motivating and creative environment if you just believe in your ideas and give it everything you have. “Where else can you go and find guys who took an idea, raised venture capital and now have one of the most popular apps in the world just sitting at a hot desk? And you can just walk up to them and talk to them?” Panesis said.
Gatena said, “I am grateful for the opportunities Hub101 creates. My office is in the city, my home is in Westlake…Hub101 is my home office. I get to share it with my cofounders Matt, Mike, & Ryan and I get to share it with my community.” Gatena credits Hub101 with being one the reasons why Pray.com is the app it is today. “If it wasn’t for Hub101 being there and being so welcoming, the four of us could have never gotten together,” Gatena said.