“Several years ago they observed that, in most areas of their lives, digital tools helped them stay connected throughout the week with their work, their families, their friends, and their sports teams, but they’d show up at church Sunday morning, be handed a paper bulletin, and after the service walk out the door and not be connected with the active work of the church until a week later. From their experience with technology, they knew there could be a better solution.”
Here’s my profile of Aware 3 from the August 2015 issue of MinistryTech magazine.
Over the past several months, we’ve discussed what it means to be a startup (in business or ministry) and defined a startup this way: a new venture working to solve a problem where the solution is not obvious and success is not guaranteed. We’ve also discussed what it means to be an entrepreneur, and specifically a Christian entrepreneur, which we defined as: a person, driven to glorify God in all he does, and ruled by the Word of God, who starts a new venture and is willing to risk a loss in order to achieve the success of the venture.
Last month I started introducing you to specific Christian startups and entrepreneurs. Some of these ventures and people may be ones that can help your church, ministry, or business, but my main intent is to encourage, inspire, and educate you as I hope you too will be growing as a Christian entrepreneur.
This month I’d like to introduce you to Aware3 and their Co-Founder and CEO Tony Caudill.
According to their website, “Aware3 exists to help your church connect with your people.”. They build mobile apps which “help ministries drive greater generosity, build strong community and enhance connection well beyond Sunday morning.” And that helps explain why Aware3 came to be. Tony and his co-founder, Joe Terry, are busy people. Several years ago they observed that, in most areas of their lives, digital tools helped them stay connected throughout the week with their work, their families, their friends, and their sports teams, but they’d show up at church Sunday morning, be handed a paper bulletin, and after the service walk out the door and not be connected with the active work of the church until a week later. From their experience with technology, they knew there could be a better solution.
So Tony and Joe built an app for the church. Everyone loved it and they saw the opportunity to help many more churches. Of course that initial app was a mere shadow of the branded mobile apps they build today. In Lean startup terminology, that first app was a “Minimal Viable Product” used to prove the concept and to get a reaction from potential customers and users. It provided the starting point for continuing to iterate and improve both the front-end that the user sees and the back-end that links everyone together, builds the community, and provides the digital console that their church customers use to provide live content and manage the community.
Tony and Joe funded the startup themselves, working on it nights and weekends while continuing with their full-time (paying) jobs. At first, as the business was growing, they took on a variety of clients, especially if the project would help build the capabilities they needed for achieving their vision of helping churches connect with their people.
A few months ago, I mentioned that one of the big changes I noticed when I returned to the startup world after about a decade in corporate jobs was how much more community-based entrepreneurship has become. That certainly has been part of Aware3’s success story. The company applied for and was accepted into Digital Sandbox KC, (according to their website, Digital Sandbox KC is a “partnership among private companies, universities, entrepreneurial support organizations and government agencies across the Kansas City region designed to spur the creation of high growth companies.”) Tony was also selected as a Pipeline Fellow. According to their website “Pipeline is an elite organization of the Midwest’s most successful, high-performance entrepreneurs. Our Members work as one to face business challenges, funnel opportunities to their peers, and build market-leading technology and life-sciences business together. Each year 10-12 new entrepreneurs are invited to join Pipeline as Fellows. After an extensive selection process, new Fellows participate in a unique and rigorous year-long business leadership development program that blends workshop modules, advice from national experts, and a deepening of the relationships among new and current Pipeline Members.”
Of course, even if the startup community has become a tremendous resource in the past few years, old-fashioned networking has always been a key to business success. One of Aware3’s big non-church customer wins came through the company’s relationship with VML, a global digital marketing agency. VML needed help building an event-related mobile app for Southwest Airlines. Although not their target market, the project helped Aware3 build credibility and provided capabilities that the company has been able to leverage for church events.
Another partnership that is clearly aligned with Aware3’s vision is their work with Church Community Builder. As CCB says on their website “we can’t (and shouldn’t) do everything! We know what we are good at, and we know when we should collaborate with others to help you do ministry even better.” For a startup with limited resources, this mindset is critical. The partnership with CCB has made it easier for Aware3 to reach churches around the world and makes it even easier to implement powerful solutions for CCB churches.
After a couple of years of building Aware3 into a profitable business as a moonlight enterprise, Tony quit his job as an Accenture consultant and went full-time as CEO of Aware3. This month marks the two-year anniversary of that commitment.
I asked Tony if he considers himself a Christian entrepreneur. He shared details around some of the difficult decisions he has made – quitting the salaried job weeks after his son was born, taking on major non-core projects like Southwest Airlines, and becoming a Pipeline Fellow – he said each of those decisions required lots of prayer, counsel from close mentors, and looking for the Lord’s confirmation. Sounds like a Christian entrepreneur to me!
I, for one, am excited for Aware3 as they continue to help many to do as Hebrews 10:24-25 commands us: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”