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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