Bloomberg Businessweek

W.W.J.D.* *What Would Jesus Disrupt?

Entrepreneurs from Crossroads Church try to scale their startups without selling their souls.

For two days, the crowd sits in darkness in plush theater seats, watching the church stage. There are smoke machines and LED screens, harnessed climbers scaling a scaffold “mountain” and raising their arms in symbolic victory over the startup world’s arduous climb. There’s talk of destiny-defining “exits.” Of Jesus and his disciples: “The most successful startup in history!” Of the parable of the talents, in which two servants are lauded by their master for turning a profit with money he staked them: “The first recorded instance of venture capital and investment banking in history!” Of ancient business elites: “A church is the oldest marketplace in the history of the world.” Of the promised land of angel investing, where divinely inspired entrepreneurs dwell: “Because God creates things, too!” Mark Burnett, the producer of The Apprentice and Shark Tank, shows up to remind everyone that “the Bible is full of merchants and people doing work.”

At last, near the end of Unpolished 2015, a faith and entrepreneurship conference hosted by Crossroads, an evangelical church in Cincinnati, the marquee event begins: the final round of a pitch contest. Organizers have selected three prospective company founders out of more than 100 entrants, each of whom submitted a minute-long video pitch deck. One of the finalists, Lyden Foust, a 25-year-old ethnographer, presents his entry on the LED screens flanking the church stage. With his chiseled jawline, tightly trimmed beard, and three-button henley, he looks like an L.L. Bean model, save perhaps for his rectangular glasses. In a voice-over, he describes his vision to divide the world’s cities by “vibe,” calling his idea “Google Maps wearing a mood ring.” The cityscape of Nashville rolls past, overlaid in swaths of color: blue for blue-collar neighborhoods, brown for yuppie ones, green for hipster, purple for commercial, teal for family, yellow for artsy.

Every successful pitch deck, like every successful religion, includes an origin story, and Foust’s is no different. He recounts booking a place in Nashville through Airbnb Inc., only to find the house situated between a strip club and a manufacturing plant. While retrieving something from his car, he turned to see a man pointing a gun at his face. “I just handed him my wallet,” Foust says. The robbery led to an epiphany: Why not mine social data to tell people what a neighborhood is really like?

The idea isn’t entirely new: An app that launched in 2014 with a similar aim

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from Bloomberg Businessweek

Bloomberg Businessweek5 min read
The Art World Is In Crisis
Most art world squabbles never make it past the echoes of white-walled galleries, but a recent series of scandals and protests have spilled into the mainstream, plunging some of the world’s greatest museums into a crisis that hasn’t been seen since t
Bloomberg Businessweek3 min read
In Brief
• The U.S. fiscal deficit grew to almost $867b for the first 10 months of the fiscal year, exceeding the figure for all of last year. Republican tax cuts, increased federal spending, and an aging population have contributed to the strain. • Argentin
Bloomberg Businessweek3 min read
Squeezing Off The Weight
A soothing massage procedure has become a hit among the Instagram set for its rapid, slimming side effect