An Interview with Lusi Chien: Telling the Greatest Story Ever Told
Lusi Chien is a Stanford MBA and a dual degree MPA at the Harvard Kennedy School. She is the founder and CEO of 4Soils, a mobile an edu-tainment company that is connecting the mobile first generation with their faith through interactive content and engaging community. You can find out more by visiting 4Soils’ website and Facebook page.
1. Briefly tell me about 4Soils and the inspiration behind the genesis of 4 Soils.
4Soils is a start-up company that produces biblically-centered and enriching digital experiences for kids that aim to “tell the greatest story ever told.” This story is about the gospel of Jesus where He came to earth to save us from our sins. We believe that the whole Bible points to Jesus as savior, so we want to provide Biblically accurate, interactive, and fun content for children. When we first started this, it wasn’t something that we had been thinking about a lot. It was more through an inspiration.
The inspiration came from a dinner with our friends and their son. Since then, we’ve observed more and more of how children were engaging with the mobile device, and we’ve asked parents, who have iPhones and iPads, whether they have found good Biblical contents, but the resounding answer was no. That really was our inspiration to do something about it. I’ve never imagined myself making iPad apps, but I think when God opens doors and shows you inspiration, you follow through on them. We actually joked around. My husband and I actually met at a life-size replica of Noah’s Ark in Hong Kong (Ma-Wan Park), and we were there for Christian mission’s conference for people who were doing lay ministries in China. As we reflect back when we released our first app, which was about Noah’s Ark, we just see God’s hands shaping our lives in ways that was very different than the trajectory that I was working on before.
2. Tell me about one of your greatest leadership lesson as a founder of a start-up company?
First and foremost, I learned what it really means to rely on God. Going through my life, I’ve been taught that God’s in charge and not to worry. Through college, I’ve understood that to a small extent, but I don’t think I’ve ever been on the verge of not knowing where my next meal would come from until now. While I was in college, I attended this church in the neighborhood in South End of Boston. It was church catering to a relatively poor community, and I grew a lot in my faith in my fellowship with these people who potentially could be evicted tomorrow from their apartments. But I never had to experience that first hand myself. So as I started running the organization, I was able to get this type of experience more. Currently, I’m not getting paid for my work at 4Soils but I plan to pursue this full-time. It’s a bigger leap of faith for me to do this. Also my husband and I have invested a lot of our savings to create this start-up and hired a team of passionate believers in Christ. Now, it’s not just an issue of myself getting paid for this, but also it is about being responsible for other people who are part of the team.
3. What is it like to be a Christian in Stanford and Silicon Valley?
The average person in the U.S profess they are 40% evangelicals and 20% Catholics. In the Silicon Valley, I don’t know the exact numbers, but it’s much lower. So, when I stand up in front of a room of people, I naturally assume that most of them do not identify as Christians. There are times where the atmosphere is hostile against faith and religion. So, it’s an interesting climate I’m in. This reminds me what it means to do ministry in the workplace because God created some people to be the pastors and teachers whose job is to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:12). I believe the saints are the people in the churches themselves, who may have jobs like doctors, lawyers, construction workers, etc. That’s how you relate to people by having a context.
In the beginning when I was business school before I founded my start-up, faith didn’t necessarily come up as often in my normal, everyday conversations. But, now that as I have my start-up, I find a lot of my peers asking me about my start-up which makes it easier for me to say things like “Bible,” “Faith,” and “Christian” in a way that is not as offensive to people. In fact, many times people would find this interesting and they share something about themselves. This became an opening for me to connect with people and share the reason for my hope (1 Peter 3:15). That’s how I learned that many of my classmates were brought up in Christian families (e.g. they attended Sunday school and church). Yet many of them found the faith to be not relevant for them. This just gave me even more urgency to reach the next generation (a mobile first generation) with technology, to make the love of Christ relevant to them.
4. How has your sense of calling played in your life?
The word calling has meant different things to me in different points in my life. After college, I went into consulting because I felt that my gift and talent was in the area of business and that’s why I also am in the business school. Before I went to business school, I spent a couple of years abroad working in international development work and I felt that my calling was to use the skills and talents God has given me to figure out ways to improve the lives of the poor. I got that influence partly from the Christian fellowship in college which had a strong emphasis on social justice and caring for the poor. Also being in places like Rwanda, India and China I saw a lot of need. Now, I think that shifted a bit because I was reminded that it’s not enough just to feed people, give them water, or give them a job if I don’t share the love of Christ with them.
When I first met my husband, I was working in China at that time in rural banking, opening up credit for small medium sizes of enterprises. He asked me “How many times have you shared Christ with the people you were helping?” I realized that it wasn’t that often. As I studied the Bible and looked into the life of Jesus, He didn’t just cure the sick and poor for the sake of their well-being but he always followed up with gospel message of the eternal well-being. I think my calling is simply not necessarily a job. I trust God in leading me whether that is 4Soils or something else. I see my calling as E-squared. Evangelism and edification. Evangelism is for non-Christians and edification is for believers. So how can I use my life to do those two things whatever form that might come from.
5. Where are you right now with your progress with 4Soils, and what goals would you like to achieve a year from now?
Currently we have 19 apps in the app store. Noah our first app was released of May 1st of 2012. We had no idea what type of traction we’d have then. Now, a year from that first release, we’re trying to look back more and appreciate our progress. As a start-up we’re always looking ahead thinking about what we can do next. The individual apps were a beachhead for us to show different ministry partners what we could do and also learn first-hand from parents and children what they like and don’t like on designs and different elements. We’re building a platform where we will bring partner content into the digital playground which is a centralized place where parents will want their children to exposed to related to the Bible and Christian faith. Ministries can offer content to children as well through books on the mobile platform. We’d like to help ministries harvest a lot of the IP they’ve already created throughout to years to be relevant for the mobile first generation. This doesn’t mean just creating a PDF of it and putting it up as an app, but really require great attention to design, interactivity, and hooks for retention to gain mindshare for the children of this mobile first generation. We can provide that for the ministry partners. If there are partners who are interested in reaching out to us to discuss what this means, they can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org
6. How has Stanford helped you in creating your start-up?
When I see things in the larger context, I believe God has placed me here in the eco-system of Stanford and Silicon Valley to notice this trend of the rise of mobile and how children are interacting with the mobile platform very intuitively. On a specific level, I benefited a lot from the Design School, Education School, as well as the Business School.
From the Design school we’ve learned about the process of building a start-up, how to build user-centered design, and how to conduct play testing observing what users want, especially when your users are children. We are using an iterative process for testing new hypothesis. This has become part of our DNA to be a hypothesis driven company.
Second, the Business school helped how we create a business, the culture and values, leadership and management styles, and how to hire, retain, and when necessary, fire an individual. I also benefited a lot from our mentors and advisors through Venture Studios, a co-working community that we applied to and are a part of through Stanford.
The third pillar is from the Education school. There are two aspects to this. The first is an early childhood development course that puts rigor into some of the things we’re designing. It’s been helpful learning about the development stages of a child and how they can not only learn about the Bible but also other aspects – from practical skills such as reading, to emotional and social skills that are so rich in the Bible stories. The second aspect is the learning and design and technology curriculum which helps create different designs and technology on how children to learn.
7. What is some advice you’d like to give some Christian entrepreneurs to make kingdom-impact?
I think being an entrepreneur requires you to rely on God more which is a good thing. When I was working with a large company trying to decide between a job A or job B, I felt at the end of the day, the stakes weren’t very high. But I think being an entrepreneur is helpful for me personally and my team to learn what it means to rely on God and to pray “Give us this day our daily bread.”
Secondly, I don’t think it matters whether you’re doing something directly related to the Bible like we are, or if you’re an entrepreneur who personally is a Christian, I think people are always watching you in terms of the way you act and how you represent Christ in everything you do and your business decisions. For example as a start-up, often times we are resource constrained, so there are temptations to cut corners because you are small and nobody knows. For example, I remember having one of my team members mocking up images for our app and he asked if he should use some copyrighted photos from the internet. We’re such a small start-up that using some of the copyright images probably no one would catch on for a really long time. But I told him as the leadership of the company, I don’t think that’s the right thing to do. So, I think a lot of times in those little things, people are watching. You can live to either reinforce your values or mock them.
Lusi is a Stanford MBA and a dual degree MPA at the Harvard Kennedy School. She is the founder and CEO of 4Soils, a mobile an edu-tainment company that is connecting the mobile first generation with their faith through interactive content and engaging community. Previously to 4Soils, Lusi had been involved in international development work, including work with HSBC Rural Banking in China, Acumen Fund in India, and TechnoServe in Rwanda. Before that she worked for Bain & Company in Boston where she served both in the general practice as well as the private equity group. Lusi graduated with honors in economics from Harvard college. You can find out more about 4Soils by visiting www.4soils.com or Facebook Page