Q&A With YouVersion Founder Bobby Gruenewald – Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast

Q&A With YouVersion Founder Bobby Gruenewald – Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast


(uplifting music) – [Narrator] This is the Craig
Groeschel Leadership Podcast. (upbeat music) – Well, welcome back to another episode of the Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast where we’re very, very
passionate about helping you become the leader that
other people love to follow. If you’re regular with us you may say, “wait a minute, it’s
not the first Thursday “of the month.” And, the reason is because
this is a bonus episode. In fact, in this episode
this will be the first time we’ve ever done an interview. And, I’m incredibly honored and excited to interview one of my closest friends, and one of the most
innovative leaders that I know anywhere in the world, Bobby Gruenewald. – Hey, thank you, Craig
it’s an honor to be here. – It’s great to have you on. I could tell ’em a
little bit about some of the impressive stuff that you’ve done. You’ve been featured
in the New York Times, and CNN, ABC, Harvard Review. You were named by Fast Company,
this is one of my favorites, by Fast Company one of
the most 100 innovative and creative business leaders
in America, very impressive. We could go through all
those kind of things, many of the businesses
you’ve built and sold. But, to me what is very
impressive is your maximum bench press weight, which is how much? Can you tell us? – You’re gonna seriously as me that? – I’m gonna 100% ask you. We’re starting with bench
press, what’s your max? – 345.
– 345, that is impressive. Forget the 100 most top
creative, innovative people in America. – I don’t know if I could
ever do it again, though. I think that was a one
and done thing for me. – That’s pretty impressive. But so, on a more serious
note, in our last episode we talked about the theme of innovation and you’ve been named and called by people all over the world as truly one of the most innovative minds. Before we talk about
innovation can you tell me just a little bit about your background. – Sure, I was an entrepreneur first. I actually was in school studying finance and I started two different
technology companies. The first was back in 1996. It was a web hosting company. I sold it in 1998, had
some success with that and then went on and
started another company where we had an online content
poral, an online community and sold that in 1999 to a
company that Goldman Sachs took public in early 2000. So, I started as an entrepreneur
before I then eventually moved into a role at the church. – So, people might not
be able to track with you on the dates, but so you were
in college starting businesses and would have barely been out of college before you sold your second tech company. – That’s correct, I was
between the ages 19 and 23, I think is how old I was back then. – Yeah, most people are just
trying to get out of bed and you were building
and selling companies. So, along this way, I
mean, that’s innovative just to come up with idea to
execute, to build a company, to make it attractive
enough so someone else wants to buy it, that’s impressive. In the last episode we talked about the four essential qualities
of innovative leaders and I’d like to recap those and then talk through them with you. We talked about every innovative leader needs a problem to solve. A problem is actually just an opportunity if we kind of reframe it. We need limited resources,
most people think they need more, but it’s
actually fewer resources that spark and drive innovation. The third thing is they
need a willingness to fail when many people aren’t. They’re playing it safe. And then finally, you need a crazy idea. I can’t remember exactly
how many years ago, I think it’s a little over
10, that you came to me with a crazy idea that
has now impacted millions and millions of lives. Our church was honored to
create the YouVersion Bible App, which we’re celebrating an anniversary you can tell us about. It’s now on 330 million devices
all from a local church. It was all your idea. Tell me about the story
behind this crazy idea. – Sure well, the original idea was actually birthed in the
Chicago airport in 2006. I was in a long TSA
security line at the airport and I’m not sure why God used that moment but in that security line
that day I was thinking about this question of, “I
wonder if there’s a way “that we could leverage
technology to help people “engage with the Bible.” Particularly, I was thinking about me because I had struggled to
consistently read the Bible even though I desired to, I wanted to. I just couldn’t quite
find the interface with it that fit with kind of the
busyness and the travel and the way that my life was at the time. So, there in the airport that day this idea came for YouVersion. The original idea was
actually for a website and so that was kind of
where the idea was birthed. And then, of course, I
came and talked to you and others on the team
about that after I got back from the airport that day. – Right, so essentially you
just said thought number one is there was a problem to
solve and that is you wanted to engage consistently in scripture and you weren’t doing so. And so, this problem became
an idea of creating a website. Talk to me a little bit
about limited resources because everyone has limited resources. We only have so much time in the day. We only have so much access
to capital, to money. We’ve only got some many
people we’re working with. If you go all the way back to 2006 we were much more limited as
a church with resources then. Many people say that’s
a problem, but it wasn’t a problem to you. – Yeah, no I think I found
that limited resources are oftentimes the things
that drive innovative ideas. And, we certainly were faced
with limited resources. We didn’t have a team that
was ready to build a website. We pretty quickly realized
that we actually didn’t even have the right relationships at the time because we didn’t realize
we needed to license the Bible text to be able
to build this website. So, I began to try to think
creatively about people that I knew that I
thought might have access to the people that could make
those types of decisions. There’s a person here in our
community named Mark Green who had a group of Christian book stores. I thought Mark might know some people and I didn’t really know
Mark, so trying to work to get in touch with him
so we could figure out how to overcome that obstacle. So, each step along the
way at the beginning we found that we really had very little, but my role was to cast vision for this, to really kind of find those
people and find the resources that God could use to do it. But, if we had started
saying, “Hey, we need to have “all this in place before we could begin,” we would never have started
because we had so little at the time and so much that we needed. – So Bobby, you said
that we were gonna create a website, which is true. You have to be willing to
fail in order to innovative because sometimes the great idea, the breakthrough idea
isn’t the first idea. Sometimes you have to fail along the way. Talk to me about the willingness to fail. And, did our first
attempt, was it a home run or what happened? – Yeah, so we started with that idea for the website in 2007. Launched the website in September of 2007 and just a few months in, really
even a couple of months in we realized that it didn’t work. I mean, it technically
worked, but it didn’t change how I read the Bible. In fact, I went to the website to use it only because we created it,
not because it naturally was something that worked. And, you mentioned that fear of failure, a lot of times I’ve heard
that used to reference the fear of starting something new because you’re afraid you might
fail so you don’t start it. I’ve actually found that
there’s a lot of people that don’t have any
trouble starting something, but they have trouble
acknowledging when it fails, to actually admit that it was a failure. And so, that’s something that
we’re not afraid of doing. So, just a few months
in after we had invested all this time and all this
energy trying to build the relationships and
put everything together to build this website we
knew it wasn’t working and so we said it failed. And, we were willing to shut it down, planned to shut it down. This was early 2008. But, that willingness to
say it failed caused us to evaluate why it failed. And, in the process of
evaluating why it failed we discovered that one
of the things we noticed was we were using our
BlackBerry’s all the time, our smartphones back in 2008. We were actually using
our computer very little, naturally, during the day. And so we thought, “What if
we redesigned the website “so that it could be
visible on a BlackBerry, “on a smartphone?” And, that failure and
the willingness to admit that it failed is actually
what led us to the idea that today people know as YouVersion. – So, I think that’s brilliant. I wanna stay there for a
minute because, I think, a lot of times we do have an idea and we get emotionally attached to it and we’re unwilling to call
it what it is, a failure. And, if we hang onto it
too long it may rob us from leveraging whatever
we learn from that which could be the next idea. So, it failed. In fact, some of the
things that we do today that are most innovative,
many of the things were born on the other side of a failure. You came in and you said,
“We should pull the plug “on this thing.” And, we were literally just
weeks away from doing it and you came up with the
crazy idea of what if. – Sure, sure and that
was, so that failure led to the idea of making it work on a phone. And, we did that, it’s very
simple, but it actually changed how I was engaging with the Bible. You could see the result
of it and almost instantly. I was reading the Bible
in places I hadn’t before ’cause I had my BlackBerry with me. And Apple announced that they
were gonna make it possible to develop apps for this
new phone called the iPhone and they’re gonna create
something called an App Store. And so, we thought with what
we see happening already on the BlackBerry, what if
we could develop an app. So, we moved very quickly. We found a 19 year old on
our team who loved Apple. And we said, “Could you
help us build an app?” And, nobody knew how to build apps. – So, limited resources. We’re not going to Silicon
Valley and finding an expert. We’re going downstairs and
talking to a 19 year old kid. – Who loved Apple. – Who loved Apple. – That was about the
only two requirements. – Can you build an app? – Exactly, and so, nothing
about this really makes sense, in many ways when you think
about kind of logically what you think it would take to do it. But, we were just willing to take a risk and try something. And, because we felt like
there was an opportunity we could seize, we just
thought if the Bible could be among the first group
of apps in the App Store that that might be something
that God could use. There might be a lot more
people interested in reading it. And so, we had no idea if Apple was going to approve the app. We had no idea if we could
successfully build it. We submitted the app to Apple in June. And then, on July 10th,
2008 the App Store launched. And, to our surprise
the Bible app was among the very first 200 free
apps that were available among the store that day. It was a Thursday in 2008. And, the day that this
podcast is being released, I believe, is the 10th
anniversary of that day. – Uh-huh, and so part time 19
year old kid releases the app. The first weekend what did we see? – So, between Thursday
night and Sunday morning we saw 83,000 people
download and install this on their iPhone. What was even more
incredible was that they were actually opening
it multiple times a day. We could see from our
data and our analytics that people were actually using it, which was huge for us. And that blew our mind. We had absolutely no idea
that that was going to happen. And so, what was kind of a side project for that 19 year old
on Friday when he left we made that his full time job on Monday when he came back in. – Congratulations, you now have a full time job.
– Exactly. – So, fast forward 10
years later tell me about, before you tell me what
comes next tell me about the organization now. What does the team look like? And then, I’m gonna try
to track back and see how do we get from here to there? – Sure, so one of the
things about YouVersion is that we’ve designed
it to be non-commercial. It’s completely free. It’s supported by our
church and by outside donors that give to make it possible. And so, the team is built
with about 35 full time people that are on staff. The scope of it, of course,
has grown very significantly over the years. But, we have over 1,000
volunteers on top of that that are involved in
helping to make it work. So, when you see the scale and scope of it no one would rationally think
you could have 35 people that would lead that. But, we do it because we
have so many volunteers and so many people that have stepped up to make that possible. I think that might be a word
of encouragement to some people as well ’cause I mean this
is a major organization and yet there’s 1,000 people
around the world volunteering. That’s an innovative idea
in itself just to look for new ways to leverage
people, ideas, wisdom, time, and capacity. So, with that in mind what do you see coming in the future? You’ve built one of the
strongest apps in the world. It’s on hundreds of millions
of devices, what’s next? Well, for us we have several new features that we’d love to add to the app. And, we’ve been adding
and improving over time and we’re basically trying
very hard to make it the best experience possible
in whatever language, or whatever country that it’s in. We just are announcing that
we have a brand new app that we’re launching. It’s really pretty amazing technology that the team came up with. And, it basically allows you
to take a photo of anything and it will recognize the
objects that are in the photo. And then, it will find the
best and the most appropriate verses based on the objects
that are in the photo. We did this because we saw
so many people taking verses and adding images to them and
posting them on social media. We have about half a million
people every day that do that. And so, we saw the momentum
of that and we thought, “What if we create a
tool that makes it easier “for them to see how the Bible connects “to their everyday life,
to help them rediscover “those moments that they
have in their life.” So, we actually make it
possible to go backwards through your camera roll
to and to take photos that you’ve already
taken and find the best and most appropriate verses
and then create beautiful renderings of those verses
on top of the photos and make it possible to share. So, we think this’ll really
help people see connection to scripture all around
them and give almost a different lens of
how they see the world. And, that’s why the name of
the app is called Bible Lens. – So, if someone takes
a picture of their hand and they’re wearing a wedding
ring a verse might pop up? – Exactly, it would
recognize the wedding ring, recognize they’re married. It would pull from a verse
that would talk about marriage or talk about loving your
wife ’cause it would recognize if it’s a man’s hand or a woman’s had. It’s really amazing how
the technology works. – That is amazing, and so
there’s around a half a million or so scripture verses
posted today through the YouVersion Bible app
and this could be explosive what happens after this. – Yeah, we believe that
we’ll see that number go into the millions everyday
with a tool like this. But again, we had no idea what to expect when we did the Bible app originally. And similarly, we have what we think this could be incredible
in how God will use it, but at the same time we have
no idea what it’s gonna do. – So, talk to some listeners
right now that are stuck. They’re facing a problem, they
don’t have a lot of money. Their staff is limited and they don’t know how to get from an idea in a security line to an organization with
staff members and volunteers. What would you tell them that
might inspire them off center. – Yeah, well for us each step
along the way was a step. If I had known kind of
what would become today when we were getting started I
probably would have messed it all up if I would have tried,
I would have tried to take the shortcut to the end
and say, “I need to build “a team of 32 people. “I need to have 1,000 volunteers.” Instead, we kind of took
each step one step at a time, looked at the resources that we did have, which wasn’t much and
figured out the best way we could leverage them. A lot of times we relied on
partners, on relationships. But, my role was really
to cast vision for this to essentially sell people on the idea to get great feedback
from others to improve it. I’ve not written a single line
of code for the Bible app. I’m not a developer. Most people presume that
I am and that I wrote the original app, and I didn’t. I just found the 19 year old. I found the resources that I could find and cast vision for it. And, I think a lot of
time people feel like they need to have all
those things in place before they can begin. We just kind of stepped
into it step by step. And, each time we’re
evaluating, like I said, whether it was working or
not and making adjustments if we needed to. And, I think as long as you’re
kind of taking those steps each time, being willing
to hold it very loosely and say, “If this works it
works, if it doesn’t it doesn’t,” and make those changes I
think that’s what I would just encourage people to kind
of take the next step and not sort of be focused,
necessarily, on the ending. – I think that’s really, really wise. And, sometimes the ending is overwhelming, but if you can take the
next step then with each progressive step you
have the better ability to attract the right
people and the resources start following success
if you just get the ball moving a little bit. – Absolutely, you know I had
a question I get asked a lot is if I went back and time
and told the 20 year old version of me, had some advice
or wanted to say something to the 20 year old version
of me what would I say if I went back in time and did that. I thought about it a lot and I thought, “I’d say absolutely nothing,”
because I’m pretty certain that if I had known kind of
what the destination would be I would have messed it
all up a long time ago. And instead, it’s more
about being in the moment of recognizing what step
God wants you take today and making sure that you’re
just stepping into it each step along the way. – Mm-hmm, it’s amazing what
little steps of faithfulness, sacrifice, trust along the
way over a 10 year period can become amazing.
– Absolutely. – So, I wanna just tell
you congratulations on the 10 year anniversary. It was really fun to me
is that I get to be a part of the organization that
gives this Bible app away, it wasn’t my idea. And, to the leaders out
there you don’t have to have every great idea, you
have people around you that have great ideas. What’s really fun, I think the Bible Lens is going to be explosive,
that wasn’t your idea. That was someone on your team’s idea. And so, as a leader we
don’t have to come up with every great idea, we
just have to have the wisdom to recognize it and the
courage to act on it. With that in mind I’d
love to let our listeners know how they can find out more about you. You may not tell them, but
we can find you in the gym trying to go for 345
pounds on the bench press, but what are other ways
they can find out more? – I’ve been telling this
story about what God’s doing through our church and through YouVersion and through technology,
through social media and so people can find me and follow me. I’m @bobbygwald on pretty much
every social media platform, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook. And so, I’d encourage people
if they wanna kinda track what’s going on they can
certainly find me there. – And, they can see you at
the gym, 345 is the goal. Congratulations on the 10 years and thanks for all you’ve done. – Craig, I just wanna say
one more thing about you, actually though because I know you, you wouldn’t say this but I certainly can. You’re, as a leader, a
very empowering leader and you talked about
the fact that this idea didn’t come from you. And yet, God used our church to do it. And, you created an
environment where people like myself can actually
thrive and that’s remarkable as a leader. I used to run companies
when I started them and ran them and I’m more than honored to work under your leadership and it’s because you’re
a very empowering leader. And, I know that you
wouldn’t talk about yourself in this way on the podcast,
but since I have a microphone I wanted to say that about you. So, thank you for your leadership. The YouVersion Bible app,
Bible Lens all those things happen because of the
environment that you built and so thank you for
being such a great leader. – Well thank you, that
sincerely means a lot. And, I thought you were gonna tell them how much I can bench press, but you didn’t so we’re good to go. (laughs) So, it’s @BobbyGWald and
I’d love you to follow him and I’m grateful for all that you’ve done. In the next episode we’re gonna talk about how to inspire people toward action. Great leaders inspire, but
we don’t just inspire people we inspire them toward action. So, if this is helpful please share it. Thank you for sharing on social media. Invite others to do this with you. Rate this and subscribe
to the podcast if you can that way it’ll come to
you every single month. What do you need to do? Be yourself as a leader,
don’t try to be somebody else. Be yourself because
people would rather follow a leader who’s always real
than one who’s always right. – Thank you for joining us at the Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast. If you’re enjoying learning
from Craig on this podcast you can show your support
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insights from every episode with your team. Until next time thanks for joining us at the Craig Groeschel leadership podcast. (upbeat music)

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