In this series, Karen Guzman talks to student and alumni entrepreneurs about how they are making an impact with their startups.
Venture: Hallow, a Catholic meditation and prayer app for iPhone and Android smartphones.
Founders: Bryan Enriquez ’21, founding team member; Abby Fredrickson and Joe Fredrickson, founding team members; Alex Jones, CEO and co-founder; Alessandro DiSanto, co-founder; Erich Kerekes, co-founder
What was the moment when you had the idea for this startup?
It came up during a phone call with Alex back in 2018. We were roommates in college and had remained friends. Alex was raised Catholic but had left the faith and became an atheist. I had never left the church, but I was lukewarm in how I practiced my faith. I wasn’t very familiar with the traditions and the history and was content with doing the basics. That all changed after we began catching up on the weekends trying to figure out how to manage our own stress being young adults. A co-worker recommended Alex take up mindfulness meditation that focused on finding peace through silence. After using a mindfulness app for several months, he realized the silence was pushing him to respond and talk to God, but he didn’t know how. He reached out to our former dorm rector, Father Pete McCormick, who recommended some books on meditative prayer. Alex learned these ancient techniques and inspired me to do the same. He came back to the church and had a newfound sense of peace and purpose in his life. His transformation inspired me to learn more about the traditions of the Catholic faith. He called me and said, “Why isn’t there an app for meditative prayer? It’s changed our lives so we should build an app that teaches people how to do this stuff.” I agreed, and the idea for Hallow was born.
What’s the problem you’re trying to solve or the gap that you’re trying to fill?
We were trying to solve a problem in our own lives: We were stressed out and interested in meditating but wanted to meditate in a way that was in line with our faith traditions. A lot of these prayer techniques have been around for hundreds of years but are not known to many Christians. For example, Lectio Divina is a powerful way of meditating alongside scripture. It can be somewhat difficult to do on your own, but with Hallow you can tap play and someone will guide you through the entire process. Additionally, there are certain prayers, like the Rosary, that are commonly done in a group or with someone else. Having another voice pray alongside you helps you feel like you aren’t alone.
What was the most important resource Yale SOM contributed to your startup?
My co-founders all had business backgrounds from their time in consulting and banking. I had previously worked on the internal advisory group at the Department of Justice and so was missing some critical areas of startup knowledge—namely, marketing, product, and competitive strategy concepts. Being at SOM gave me the foundation I needed to be a value add to the team.
Classes taught by Kyle Jensen, Jennifer McFadden, Alex Burnap, Rodrigo Canales, and Florian Ederer were especially helpful. I felt much more comfortable in a startup setting because I spent time at the “SOM bunker” [the Honest Tea Entrepreneurial Suite at Evans Hall] alongside other startup founders who were trying to solve interesting problems.
What’s the biggest milestone your startup has hit since graduation?
Numbers gets people excited. Currently, the app has been downloaded 9,240,000 times, has 149,000 App Store reviews, and briefly hit #3 app across all apps in the U.S. Apple App Store. But I think the thing we are most proud of is being able to make a difference in the lives of our users.
A few months ago, a user named Therese shared her story with us. Therese suffered from alcoholism and an addiction to stimulants and had been involved in a lengthy affair. Her husband found out, kicked her out of the house, and she was at rock bottom. She missed her three daughters and her husband and was lost on how to move forward. She said she found the Hallow app and started using it to try and pray and reconnect with her faith. In her words, “The app literally saved my life.” She began praying regularly and developed an authentic connection to God. She turned away from her substance addiction, made amends with her husband, and became involved in her local church. She now shares her story with others as a testament to the power of faith and prayer. For us, that’s what matters. Being able to walk with our users through our content and helping them grow in peace is the most gratifying measure of success we could ask for.