For Bryan Enriquez, growing up Catholic didn’t have much impact on his life. That was, until recently.
“It was the most vanilla, normal experience,” he says. “We’d go to mass every Sunday or so, and that was it.”
When Enriquez was 2 years old, his family moved from Puerto Rico to Mississippi, where he graduated from high school. He went on to study economics and political science at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, and after a stint working as a consultant in the public sector, found his way back to Catholicism. Intrigued by entrepreneurship, Enriquez joined his friends as a founding team member and head of customer success at Hallow Inc., creator of the Catholic prayer and meditation app Hallow.
With guided meditation sessions, featuring Catholic prayers and readings, as well as challenges, Hallow is designed to help both Catholics and non-Catholics alike advance in their spiritual lives and find peace through prayer and meditation. A government worker turned entrepreneur, Enriquez is now pursuing his MBA as a Consortium fellow in the class of 2021 at Yale School of Management with an eye on building his business know-how.
He recently opened up about his experience with Hallow, his vision for the app and how he’s helping grow its reach — as well as how it has affected him on a personal level.
In college, you studied economics and political science, so how did you end up where you are?
I thought I was going to be a lawyer, but thankfully, I saw the light. I went to work for the government in D.C. after I graduated and got a variety of different experiences, primarily as a management consultant for the government. From there, I, along with my friends, began kicking around the idea of starting something. We landed on Hallow, which we started in 2018, so I quit my job and worked on that until I started at Yale in August of 2019.
How did Hallow come about exactly, and was your decision to pursue an MBA tied to your involvement with the company?
Absolutely. We had some idea; we had been on the phone on the weekends saying, “Hey, if we were to start something, what would it be?” And then, we landed on Hallow. Alex, the CEO, called me and was like, “Hey, have you ever meditated, have you ever prayed, have you ever done anything like that?” At the time, I was working on a project in the government; it was a mental health and wellness project, and I got to see the benefits of meditation. They had sort of the scientific backing for the benefits of mindfulness, so that got me excited. But I realized that even though I was a consultant, there were a lot of things I didn’t really understand about starting a business. Marketing, growth, pricing — none of those really apply when you’re the government because you don’t really have a market; you’re typically a monopoly, and you’re usually not selling anything.
So, the business school opportunity was exciting. The network was critical for me because I feel like I learn best from others, so I wanted to be surrounded by people who either had an interest in starting a business or had built something before, whether they’d succeeded or failed. The second piece was getting some formal knowledge on marketing, growth, retention, pricing, competitive strategy — those kinds of things.
What do you do in your role as head of customer success for Hallow?
I think the primary piece is understanding what the customer needs and helping them achieve that. One aspect of that is doing surveys, focus groups — understanding customer needs and bringing that to the team. I also run our support and publish our Spanish content, translating some of that.
I am leading our new initiative called Hallow Heralds. We have the app, but to really take it to the next level, we want it to also be a place that brings people together. You can’t just build that into an app; you actually have to go out, meet the users and form communities. Right now, my primary responsibility is creating that program, designing it and scaling it up so that we have a meaningful community that’s centered around the brand so people feel like they are part of the journey. The idea is, you use the app, now let’s take it to the next level and see how we can engage.
There seems to be a growing interest in and market for meditation. Obviously, Hallow is unique in its focus on Catholicism and prayer. So did you and your team just see an opportunity and decide to seize it?
The original impetus was that Alex had kind of gone through a path of being agnostic. He was raised Catholic but then kind of fell away from his faith, but it was really strengthened through conversations in college with us as his roommates. He took classes, he read books, he had his own conversations and his own journey, and that led him to sort of rediscover his faith, particularly the power of prayer.
That kind of launched this huge venture. From there, we started building on the idea. But early on, there was this discussion about whether or not we should be a meditation app or a prayer app and if we should be a Christian prayer app or a Catholic prayer app. At the time, I had been visiting different business schools and attending lectures, and one of the things I took away from that was the power of differentiation, which is a key theme you learn in marketing. The more similar you are to your competitors, the harder it becomes to make the case that your offering is better. You’re in this competition that’s basically just about price, and it’s hard to create value from that. So early on, I said, “I think we need to be as specific as possible. We need to find a niche.” A niche that’s quite big but that was not being addressed was a Catholic meditation app. I said, “If we just become another meditation app, it becomes harder to stick out from the crowd. But if we become a Catholic meditation app, there’s no one in that space, and I think we can really carve out a niche for ourselves that’s meaningful.” We ran with that strategy, and I think that’s worked well for us.
How has your focus on Catholicism helped you? Has it inhibited you at all?
We decided that if we were going to be successful, we needed to be upfront and say, “This is who we are. This is what we’re going to base our application on.” But we want to be welcoming to all people of all faiths. I know there are some pretty big differences between being Catholic and, say, being Muslim, but I’ve been surprised by the number of users who have reached out to us who’ve self-identified with a variety of different religious backgrounds — Muslim, agnostic and even atheist — and say they find it helpful.
I think that’s a testament to the fact that meditation, just stopping and trying to collect your thoughts, is universally beneficial. We do our best to guide people and ask questions but not be “preachy.” It’s not an app where we’re teaching Catholic doctrine. It’s much more about how you feel, what comes to mind and your own experience — prompts that I think really help people have their own unique experience.
How has the app been received? Are you growing?
We’ve been completely blown away. I receive messages a few times a week saying something to the effect of, “This has really changed my life,” or “This has helped me meditate or pray in a way that I had never thought of before.” It’s those messages that really get us excited.
We’re rapidly approaching 400,000 cumulative downloads, which we’re really excited about. In the app store, the last time I checked, we had 4.9 out of 5 stars. We have users in about 150 countries. It’s primarily in English, but we have four sessions that we just launched in Spanish.
We’re really excited about the growth we’ve seen, and what we’re looking for is to make the app as user-friendly and as effective as possible. Our goal is to basically get a million people every single day to engage with the app, to meditate or to pray with it. That’s the vision. If we’ve done that, we’ve succeeded. We’re definitely a ways away from that, but I think one way of achieving that is by expanding to other languages, so having more Spanish content, Portuguese, Latin, Filipino, Polish — just trying to expand how accessible it is.
Has using the app led you to become more religiously or spiritually engaged?
What I’ve realized using the app is that there’s so much more to Catholicism. There’s so much more depth you can find, and there’s so much more peace you can draw out of it. It’s really an amazing way to grow deeper in your relationships to the people around you, and I feel like I’m much stronger in managing stress and anxiety, for example.
I think, where faith and technology intersect — what I call faith tech — is going to be a huge area of focus over the next 20 or 30 years. It’s an exciting space, and I think there’s going to be a lot of innovation.
Is there anything you would like to add?
Just some Consortium love. One thing I did not expect was the benefit and the strength of The Consortium family. Some of my closest friends are in The Consortium group here at Yale, so I’ve been really lucky and blessed to have that.
To learn more about the app, visit hallow.com.