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Sunday, Oct 1, 2023

VCs Trust Pray.com With $14M

The web’s largest social media sites share similar metrics for user engagement. Facebook Inc. has “likes,” as does its subsidiary Instagram. Users of Snap Inc.’s Snapchat app track “views,” or how many times others have looked at the content they’ve posted or sent. But Pray.com – a social networking platform for churches and other faith-based communities – has an additional metric for measuring its value: prayers. “Our most active (community) leaders share messages and prayers in the form of text, audio, photo or video every day,” Chief Executive Steve Gatena explained over email. Church members can respond back with prayers of their own or post other content in their communities’ forum. More than 3 million prayers have been facilitated on its platform so far, Gatena added. Pray.com grew out of the startup incubator and resource center Hub101 at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks and recently relocated to Santa Monica. On March 14, it closed a $14 million Series A financing round led by TPG Growth, the middle-market investment subsidiary of Texas-based private equity firm TPG Capital, with additional funding from previous investors Science Inc. and Greylock Partners. “The platform … enables members to be more personally connected and provide and receive support to better their personal lives, unite as a community and be inspired to give back,” Michael Jones, co-founder and chief executive of Science Inc., said in a statement. More than 20,000 faith-based communities across 185 countries have set up groups on the app, the company said. Although members are not asked to self-identify with any particular set of beliefs, Pray.com has gained traction with U.S. Christian churches, Gatena said. “(That) matches U.S. demographics,” he added. The app shares insights from analytics on user data with the leaders of the communities on the platform. That enables them to engage with their community more effectively by understanding what kind of content best resonates with their followers and what days of the week they are most active, Gatena explained. “Leaders have been able to learn more about the people in their communities, like people who may not speak up in person, but display confidence and share consistent support in the app community,” Gatena said. Pray.com is free for users, but unlike other social media platforms, it doesn’t sell advertising. As it grows, its revenue sources will include fees from mobile donations to churches and causes as well as the sale of books, videos and music from its store. “We are working to become the lowest cost platform for mobile giving for (nonprofit) organizations,” Gatena said. Users currently can donate to causes within their communities for free. The $14 million will be used to hire more engineers who can add features like live video and audio streaming to the platform, Gatena said. Users already post videos of services and music to the app. “Live streaming takes away that delay, allowing this content to be shared in real time,” Gatena said. – Helen Floersh

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