Disrupting the Market for Souls

Nov 19, 2014

By David Cowan

Last night at dinner with a group of officers from Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, Oxford Professor and legendary evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins asked me to explain why I signed up to be a Trustee of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. Later I was asked to share those comments, so here they are:

From inside Silicon Valley, it may seem somehow unnecessary or obsolete to promote science. But it’s easy to forget how fortunate and enlightened we are here. The scientific method is ingrained in everything we do. Instead of A/B testing your apps to improve your conversion funnel, would you ever rely instead on prayer, ritual and miracles?

But in the world at large, and even our country, most people still do not value the proven theories of scientists, either because they themselves do not understand science, or because there is too much social and emotional pressure upon them to value faith over evidence-based beliefs.

Still, so what? Why invest my limited time and capital in a startup foundation that promotes science and secularism?

As I would for any startup investment opportunity, I naturally start my assessment by looking at the incumbents in the vibrant market for people’s souls, to see how vulnerable they are to disruption. And as I deconstruct the businesses of religion, here’s what I see:

  • The largest possible market — 7 billion customers!
  • Awesome value proposition – immortality – that addresses the most basic human desire.
  • A recurring revenue business model.
  • A Net Promoter Score higher than Apple’s, where their customers go door to door on their behalf and build schools to sell their product.
  • An impressively large and distributed field sales organization staffed by product evangelists (literally) who work for low wages.
  • Enormous government subsidies in the form of 100% tax relief, and similar government subsidies for all their customers!
  • Enormously high switching costs – customers who churn can lose their jobs, friends, even family, and in some countries their head.

The only drawback is product quality. Not only is immortality difficult to deliver, but the entire industry agrees that only one of the thousands of products on the market actually works. The good news is that customers pay prior to shipment, and there is no mechanism for rating product satisfaction.


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7 comments on “Disrupting the Market for Souls

  • @OP – The only drawback is product quality. Not only is immortality difficult to deliver, but the entire industry agrees that only one of the thousands of products on the market actually works. The good news is that customers pay prior to shipment, and there is no mechanism for rating product satisfaction.

    . . . . and a no returns and no refunds policy !!



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  • Remember the parachute in Dad’s Army when the German parachutes were an unbleached dirty grey (Capt Mainwaring – “which is as I suppose you’ld expect”), whereas the British ones were pure white. The Unit eventually established that the suspect parachute was British, as Pte Walker had found the item in a woodland and had it made into ladies’ nickers to sell on his market stall, and Sgt Wilson’s ever-loving was wearing a pair.



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  • and the leaders of rligious organisations are often fraudulent and corrupt. …more so than politicians and business people. Their organisations sometimes hide paedophiles and perverts very effectively…preach one thing and do the opposite!



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  • Terrific analysis, David! Any educated marketer knows the best way to sell anything is to appeal to prospects’ primal emotions, regardless the quality of product. Religion, taking this concept to the extreme, has been a long lasting and profitable franchise peddling empty promises. It achieved exemption from not only taxes, but all product safety, false advertising, liability and contract laws. To be fair, it does offer some psychological comfort and people are willing to pay almost anything for that, as the genius entrepreneur who made millions selling the Pet Rock would attest. But religion goes one further, requiring not even a pebble – buy our non-existent product and it can be anything you want it to be!



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  • 7
    IanBurns says:

    We should be taking a leaf out of how http://www.avaaz.org goes about effecting change in government and corporate policy/action. Why don’t we establish an online social change operation where we can send massive petitions to, for a start, the most egregious examples of religious bigotry – such as the anti-gay laws in Uganda, or the USA attempts to have creationism taught as science? Point out the flaws, highlight the absurdity of praying for the parents of children massacred by deranged people – why didn’t God prevent the atrocity? After all, He knows everything, is all powerful, and loves everybody!



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