“For most organizations, tools like WordPress and Weebly provide very high functionality at a very low cost. You can go a long ways without spending much money at all, but at some point, your needs exceed their capabilities, and to take that next step you go from spending hundreds of dollars to spending tens of thousands of dollars for custom software development.”
In the December 2016 issue of MinistryTech magazine, I introduced Stephen Key and his company, Basedeploy, which is working to bridge the “software chasm.”
Before launching Basedeploy, Stephen Key tried to start an online matching site called Giver. From his short-term missions work with orphanages in Central America and his work with foster care organizations in the U.S., Stephen knew that these kids have needs for things throughout the year, and not just at Christmas time. His vision was for an online marketplace where individual needs could be met by individual givers. But after several months of trying to get Giver off the ground, Stephen realized that, at every turn, God was closing the doors on Giver and opening the doors for a different opportunity.
This reminds me of Paul’s experience on his second missionary journey: “And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.” (Acts 16:6-10 ESV)
It All Started At Church
Stephen didn’t have a master plan for his life. He just took each step, making the best decision for him and his family at the time. But God has a plan for Stephen. He grew up in the church. He went to the high school associated with his church, Victory Christian in Tulsa, Oklahoma. After graduating he literally moved across the street to Oral Roberts University. Stephen knew he’d be an entrepreneur. His dad was an entrepreneur and all four of his older siblings had gone on to start their own businesses. He knew, from watching his brothers, that he would eventually need to promote whatever business he started, so he majored in Public Relations and Advertising. One summer Stephen participated in a Computer Science Boot Camp at ORU and loved it. From that moment, he knew that software would be at the center of his career.
Shortly after graduating from Oral Roberts, Stephen landed an exciting job. He was hired as web developer for Victory Christian, the large ministry that included his home church, his high school alma mater, and a wide variety of global ministries. The pay wasn’t as high as he could’ve gotten in secular work, but he loved being part of an organization making an impact for the Gospel, and with so many different ministries, there were always interesting projects to work on. One of the projects that stuck with him was creating a templating tool to make it easy for small Victory Christian ministries around the world to easily create an internal web page.
The High Tech Startup World Calls
After three years, Stephen had the opportunity to join a New York-based high tech startup. The company helps match patients to healthcare providers. It was really hard to leave Victory Christian, but Stephen wanted to learn about building software platforms at a scale much larger than even a global ministry required, and this startup provided that opportunity. Since they had a Tulsa office, Stephen was able to be part of a fast-moving startup without leaving Tulsa, which was critical since his wife was finishing her education there.
Although, in many ways, working for a startup was dramatically different from working for a Christian ministry, one of Stephen’s first projects was very similar to what he’d done at Victory. The platform needed to create micro-sites for thousands of physicians. Stephen automated the process, integrating the data that already existed into an attractive and effective profile for patients to review. His time at the startup also validated for Stephen that his ideas and his work were valuable, generating significant revenue for the company.
Crossing the Software Chasm
After two years, his wife finished her education and they moved to Oklahoma City to begin her career. Stephen left the New York startup behind and started taking on work for clients. At first it was a fun and exciting change, but he started to notice that his clients were asking for many of the same features, but in slightly different combinations. He realized that these clients had fallen into what he now refers to as the “software chasm.”
“For most organizations, tools like WordPress and Weebly provide very high functionality at a very low cost. You can go a long ways without spending much money at all,” he explains, “but at some point, your needs exceed their capabilities, and to take that next step you go from spending hundreds of dollars to spending tens of thousands of dollars for custom software development.”
Some of those needs include user registration, the creation of an API and persistent user data, and integration with multiple other services on the web. Stephen has created Basedeploy to bridge this chasm. Starting at $39 a month, users point and click and the code and api are dynamically generated behind the scenes. Basedeploy provides a growing library of building blocks, and independent developers can also provide building blocks for specific functionality or external integrations. Stephen says that he felt guilty in his custom web business, like he was taking advantage of clients, charging them lots of money to do relatively simple things that they should be able to do themselves. With Basedeploy, they can do it themselves, and Stephen can focus on building new capabilities as those needs emerge.
God Opened the Door
Early in 2016 Stephen had started fleshing out the Basedeploy vision. He had a Minimally Viable Product (MVP) which was a nice front end, but with him doing lots of work connecting the pieces manually behind the scenes. Then someone posted Basedeploy on Product Hunt, and suddenly the doors were flung open and hundreds of new customers started flowing in. Stephen had to implement a private invitation-only beta to keep it manageable. Since then, he’s been able to automate the flow to better handle that initial rush of customers and is considering when to open the floodgates to all comers.
Stephen and his wife still feel a call on their lives to help orphans around the world. They love working with kids in need, and because of their love for the orphans, their hearts ache over their unmet needs. But they know they must wait on God’s timing and His plan, and for now, Stephen is excited to see how God will use Basedeploy.
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:27 ESV)
In this article series, we’ve defined a Christian entrepreneur as: a person, driven to glorify God in all he or she 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. Each month I’ve been introducing you to specific Christian startups and entrepreneurs, some of which may be helpful to your church, ministry, business, or family, but my main intent is to encourage and inspire you to be entrepreneurial in your ministry and career. Are there Christian startups I should know about? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org