Please enjoy this transcript of this episode with Bobby Gruenewald. It was transcribed and therefore might contain a few typos. For ways to connect with Bobby, check out our show notes.
Bobby Gruenewald: 00:00 Where your leadership has a resource and if you’re not working and figuring out how to grow it, if you’re not figuring out how to expand it, if you’re not taking risk with it, if you’re not applying it in a way that is purposeful and has meaning and direction to it, then you maybe squandering a resource that God’s entrusted you to steward.
Doug Smith: 00:20 This is the L3 Leadership podcast, episode number 220.
Doug Smith: 00:36 What’s up everyone and welcome to another episode of the L3 Leadership podcast. My name is Doug Smith and I am your host. I hope you’re doing well. And today’s episode you’ll hear my interview with Bobby Grunwald. If you’re unfamiliar with Bobby, he serves as the pastor and Innovation Leader at Life.Church and he is also the founder of the Youversion Bible App, which has been installed on more than 365 million devices, which is just incredible as one of the leading voices in the church on innovation in the use of technology. Bobby’s been featured in the New York Times tech crunch, CNN, and more. And prior to joining the Life.Church team in 2001, he started and sold two technology companies as well as served in an advisory capacities for various startups and venture capital funds. In the interview, you’ll hear us talk about entrepreneurship. We’ll talk about building on failure, and he actually shares the story of the Youversion Bible App and how it was actually a failure when it started.
Doug Smith: 01:26 And what they did with that and what they learned. A, it’s such a good story. You need to hear it. As a leader, we talk about creating empowering cultures. Bobby served under that pastor Craig Rochelle for years now, and he talks about the empowering culture that Craig has created and he gives us advice on how leaders can do the same. And we talk about so much more. You’re going to love this interview, but before we dive into the interview, just a few announcements. First, I just want to say thank you so much for listening to the podcast and if this podcast has added value to your life, it would mean the world to me if you would subscribe to the podcast and share it with another leader that you think it would add value to. Part of our goal here at L3 Leadership is to add as much value as we can to leaders and so one way we do that is through this podcast and so when you share it with other leaders that helps us fulfill our mission.
Doug Smith: 02:11 So thank you in advance for sharing this with another leader who needs it. And I also want to thank our sponsor Alex Tulandin. Alex is a full-time realtor with Keller Williams Realty and if you’re looking to buy or sell a house in the Pittsburgh market, Alex is your guy, he’s a member and a supporter of L3 Leadership and he would love to have an opportunity to connect with you. You can learn more about alex at Pittsburghpropertyshowcase.com. With that being said, let’s dive right into the interview with Bobby and I’ll be back at the end with a few announcements. Let’s dive right, Bobby, thank you so much for being willing to do this interview. And can you just start us off with just a 30 second brief introduction of who you are and what you do?
Bobby Gruenewald: 02:48 Sure. My name’s Bobby Grunwald and I’m the pastor and innovation leader at Life Church. We’re based in Oklahoma City. My background is in business. I was an entrepreneur before I came on staff, several years ago at the church and I’m also known as the founder of Youversion Bible App.
Doug Smith: 03:06 That’s amazing. By the time you were 22-years-old, you actually, I had grown and sold a web company and that is not too typical for a 22-year-old. And so I’m actually curious about your upbringing. You know, we live in a world where everyone wants to be an entrepreneur. So I think one question I have about your upbringing, do you think entrepreneurs, something you’re born with and it’s a gifting or is it something you can actually learn, grow and develop?
Bobby Gruenewald: 03:29 Well, you know, it’s interesting. I do think that there are attributes that entrepreneurs have that are probably things that they’re born with. I don’t know if there are things that I’m sure he could try to teach them. I don’t know if they would have the same instincts. However, the second part of question I think is also true that I do think you can grow and develop them. You know, over time, meaning you might be born in some basic instincts and attributes, but like anything else, there’s learning and development and a process I think really helps to hone and make it better. As far as my upbringing, I grew up in a middle to lower class, middle family and it was a really an environment that I think I was able to thrive in. My parents were amazing. They had me pretty well grounded and connected in the church.
Bobby Gruenewald: 04:19 But I didn’t become a follower of Jesus until between my eighth and ninth grade year. That’s when I really understood and developed a faith of my own, not just something that kinda heard at church, but something that really became real and really transformative. What’s interesting about the entrepreneurial spirit or even creative spirit in that, is I actually cannot remember a single time before I became a follower of Jesus that I was innovative or that I was applying that kind of creativity to solve problems or it’s really interesting. I can remember have memories before that, but I just don’t have any that are specific to that. So I don’t know for sure, but it could be that God kind of ignited those gifts inside of me at the moment that I became a follower of Jesus, or at least it seems like they got they woke up if they were there before, because the very first thing that I felt like I needed to do is figure out how to tell my friends about Jesus.
Bobby Gruenewald: 05:20 And in doing that, I wanted to, I had to think creatively about it. You know, I started thinking about what am I friends into, how can I communicate in a way they’d understand? And they all listened to rap music. So I just thought, well, maybe I should write a rap song, you know, and talk about what’s happened. So I had no idea how to write a rap song, but I actually went on and not just wrote a rap song, but I ended up having a Christian rap ministry for five years. And, my parents, you know, were amazing in that, you know, they would allow this creativity and some of that to be something they encouraged. You know, we didn’t a lot of resources, but they did, you know, they were willing to invest a little bit and kind of helping me have some of the tools I needed for that music and to kind of do that.
Bobby Gruenewald: 06:06 I had to save up some of course, but, but they were just helpful in that effort or at least encouraging. And, then because we had this, rap group and this rap ministry, we would travel, in the summers. And, it really, even though he’s a minister, it really was a business. I mean, I had 15 people that I was leading that were traveling with us. We had, we had to make products and find things that people are interested in purchasing, you know, because that’s how we would survive as far as the revenue to kind of go from place to place. And, so looking back on it, it was this environment that was rich with development and learning in an entrepreneurial sense. I didn’t know that at the time. I wouldn’t even label it that at the time. But looking back on it, it was real foundational. I think some of the entrepreneurial thinking and, and skills that I honed and developed, they all happen during those high school years for me.
Doug Smith: 06:58 Do you have have any raps you can share with us?
Bobby Gruenewald: 07:00 You know, I, think I’ll have to save that for another time. You know, I haven’t done any pounds. I haven’t done any podcasts reps before, but you could maybe bring me out of retirement at an event or a conference, but I, I sometimes, I don’t know if this would be the right environment. I’d probably have too many people are tuning out of your show right now. So we want to keep going to keep them engaged.
Doug Smith: 07:22 A question I’d love to ask leaders is, you know, you’ve certainly accomplished a lot, but what do you wish people knew about your journey before we get into Bible App that they may not know?
Bobby Gruenewald: 07:33 I think, there, there are some people that, presumed that I had kind of all this experience in technology that I’m sort of trained in that level because the Bible App and things like that, I think lead people to believe that then I’ve, really skilled, you know, in that area. I’ve always viewed my journey as being this process of discernment. I’m just trying to be aware of where God’s leading me and most of the, in fact, all of the significant things that I’ve seen happen in my life that God’s done, have happened whenever I’ve simply been able to recognize his voice and, pivot from the direction I was heading to one that was clearly someplace that he was leading. And, so it’s always been kind of these what seems like, relatively small steps of faith that we’re, we’re listening to his voice that turned into the bigger things that people may or may be aware of today. And so I think it’s just kind of yeah, just helping people understand that there were kind of small beginnings to all of these things and, that and that it was just about being obedient and stepping into it. Is it really my journey? It’s a really simple equation. Unfortunately. I don’t always get it right, but the times that I have, God’s done incredible things.
Doug Smith: 08:57 Yeah. You mentioned that you didn’t code in and don’t have as much technical, and I’ve actually heard you talk about that, you know, a lot of people assume that you coded the Bible App and you didn’t, however you did find people to carry out that vision. Can you talk to leaders about that? Cause I think it’s so important. Can you talk about finding the right who I think too often we think we have to have all the answers or be able to, execute the vision ourselves? But clearly, that hasn’t been the case for you.
Bobby Gruenewald: 09:19 Yeah, I think it’s a real inhibitor for a lot of leaders, especially ones that have ideas and vision is that they, they oftentimes fall in this trap of feeling like they have to be the ones to do everything. And in some cases, leaders actually feel like they have to be the ones that have the ideas. And that’s not necessarily the case either. I mean there are some people that are, would be great at leading something, but, but bad at coming up with the idea, that there are others that they could benefit from having around them that maybe are gifted, are skilled in that area. So I think probably first is just self self-awareness, recognizing what you’re good at and what you’re not good at and then realizing that, you know, we have others that we can, that can bring those skill sets and God always provides.
Bobby Gruenewald: 10:01 I’ve found he’s always provided his resources to his vision. So if I’m pursuing what he wants me to do, then I have to be too concerned about him putting the right people in my path at the right time to do it. My role has always been, you know, taking an idea, one that we’ve, you know, a vision that we’ve kind of honed or really believe that God’s leading in and then casting vision for it to others. And so when I’m trying to find the right people, I’m, casting vision to the Uber driver. I mean, I’m trying to figure out, you know, is this, somebody’s got to put in my path that might catch this, you know, might have something to contribute, you know, to it. And that’s a lot of times how it’s happened, you know, it’s not always, I don’t even always know who the person is going to be, or who the people might be that God would use.
Bobby Gruenewald: 10:46 They come in my path and I’m just, I’m just there kind of conveying a message of vision of what it takes. Some cases asking them to do this at early on with Youversion and I was asking people to do it, essentially for no pay or just like an extra thing, you know, is that they were going to do on top of what they’re already doing. And I think, I just encourage leaders to not get so hung up on the I don’t have this, I don’t have that. I don’t have a team that does this. I mean, nearly every single example of significant things that God’s done in and through my life have all been examples that started with not having those things. And, I think in some ways, it allows God to be seen in the story as opposed to just simply making sense because, you know, it’s like, well, of course, that makes sense. If you had that kind of money or you had that kind of team, then you could build that kind of thing. And I think God is like, no, no, no. I want you to understand that I do that when you don’t have all those things. That’s kind of me showing up. And that’s how, you know, it’s me.
Doug Smith: 11:44 I love that. I do want to talk about the Youversion Bible App. And so a lot of people probably know the APP. It seems like it’s been a huge success, but you said that initially failed. And so can you share that story and what you learned about failure through that?
Bobby Gruenewald: 11:58 Yeah. So we, the original idea for your virgin came in the O’Hara airport in Chicago in October of 2006. It was a long security line that I was in. And I was just processing that day. I wonder if there’s a way that we could use technology in a way that can help me engage in scripture. I, I’ve wanted to be more engaged in the Bible than I was and I just had this disconnect with the format and the way it was. So I thought in the security line that they, I thought of this idea that became Youversion and the original idea was for a website and without describing all the details of how the website worked, we thought it was like a novel idea for how people could connect media to scripture on this website. And we, we labored over the course of, a year or part of a year in 2007 to build it.
Bobby Gruenewald: 12:52 I mean there are, I won’t do it justice to kind of describe it so succinctly, but basically there was enormous amount of work that went into getting the rights to the Bible text that went into, not, you know, having a lot of resources are really almost no resource to work with, but just, you know, trying to move as fast as we could to get this website launched. And so when the website launched, we were just thrilled to be able to have it out there. And that was September 2007, but by December, just a few months later, it became apparent that even though we managed to get people to it, we couldn’t keep people coming to it. And in fact, we could even keep ourselves coming to it. We were only using it because we built it and it became apparent to me, and you know, that we, that this didn’t work, that this idea, um, the website technically worked, but the idea of it, how it was going to help us engage with scripture just wasn’t working.
Bobby Gruenewald: 13:43 And as a leader, you know, it’s really easy to, it’s really easy to let your pride and ego and all of these things kind of get wrapped up into something that you spent all this energy creating and you’ve got what your team is thinking about you and what others that you’ve proclaimed this big vision to are going to think about your, you know, thinking about you the next time you come with a big vision, for example. Like how are they going to feel? And so it’s real easy to kind of have all the emotion around that involved. And that definitely was the case for me then. I mean, I was feeling all of those things, but we had already built into our culture even before that, that we have a willingness to fail. And I was grateful for that because of that kind of being built into our culture.
Bobby Gruenewald: 14:29 it put us in a position where it wasn’t a question about whether or not we were going to pretend that we weren’t. We knew that we had that this idea didn’t work and because we were willing to fail, we were willing to shut it down, which we were planning to do in January and we wanted to process and learn everything we could learn about why we think it failed. Because if we’re going to fail, we want to learn from it. We want to get what we can, get the education out of it that we could, and it was through that process that we realized that we thought one of the key elements was that this experience needed to be on our blackberries, on our mobile devices at the time. And it was, it seemed very simple and very basic, but it fundamentally changed how we engaged in scripture where it wasn’t just on our nightstand.
Bobby Gruenewald: 15:14 We had to go to a certain place to connect to scripture, but it was with us everywhere we went. And that one little shift that we made in early 2008 positioned us to be ready when Steve Jobs announced just a few weeks later that they were going to make it possible develop apps for the iPhone and create this thing called an app store. So because we were in that position, that kind of ready position learning what we had learned, we moved really quickly, we built an APP for the iPhone, had no idea of apple would approve it, but they did in July of 2008 on the day that the APP store launched, the Bible App was in the first 200 free apps that day. And the short version of the story is it went from 83,000 people that first weekend installing the APP to now over, you know, 300 and 60 million, you know, devices that have installed the APP over the last 10 and a half years and to growing by, you know, by over 5 million a month right now.
Bobby Gruenewald: 16:09 So the pace does even picking up, but it’s been this God story of something that he’s done, but it was actually built on top of a failure. And I like to help people understand that had we not been willing to fail, we would have not been positioned to move when Steve Jobs made that announcement, we would have been trying to figure out how to get to keep this website running, how to, you know, keep people coming to it, how to advertise it more, how to do something. We hadn’t been working on the website and not been positioned to move had we not been willing to fail. So it’s really a great example of how a willingness to fail can really help propel you.
Doug Smith: 16:48 Yeah. That’s amazing. Congrats on the success of the APP. I do want to talk a little bit about, you talked about leaders who, as a leader, you don’t necessarily have to have the idea to, to launch the idea. And one thing I think is interesting is you launched this under Life Church, right? You probably could have built and scaled this on your own, but you did it through the church and under Craig Rochelle’s leadership. And I’m just curious. So when I listened to your interview with Craig at the very end, you thanked him about and told him how grateful you were, that he is an empowering leader and created an environment that allows you to thrive in. And can you just talk about what that environment is and what is so attractive to someone like you that was able to not only attract you, but is now, you know, you’ve been in that environment forever. What is it about the so compelling?
Bobby Gruenewald: 17:31 Yeah, so I mean, Pastor Craig’s, is an incredible leader. He was also an incredible friend. He didn’t start off as a friend of mine, you know, he was my pastor and the friendship developed over years. But, his leadership attributes are, are unique, at least in the way that I’ve seen it. I used to be the point person and that I had a couple of technology companies and I started the companies. I was the president or the CEO of those companies and I was used to being the person that you know, called the shots that was kind of fit my personality and that’s how I was wired. What drew me to Life Church initially, wasn’t a leadership environment or structure. What drew me there was really the mission. I fell in love with the mission of the church.
Bobby Gruenewald: 18:16 I knew clearly that God was leading me to it and calling me to it. And when I understood that it didn’t really matter positionally, you know, where I sat in the organization or what I did because I knew I was pursuing God’s direction. So that was initially how I got in. However, what has allowed me to sustain in that environment or even thrive in that environment has really been a culture of leadership that that Pastor Craig created. And that is one that’s very empowering. He delegates authority, not just responsibility, which is a little bit unique for a CEO, a for a leader of an organization. We don’t call them a CEO, but he functioned very much like a CEO, you know, would. And that he says, look, I’m not asking you to do this the way that I would do it. I actually believe in the way that you would do it.
Bobby Gruenewald: 19:06 And I want you to feel equipped to use your brain, your mind, your experiences, your talents, you know, to bring that to bear on this set of responsibilities. And you have basically the authority to kind of operate within that. What that does is that actually causes me as a leader to actually want to engage him more. You know, not out of necessity but be just out of relationship, and I want his input. And He, and I really believe that he’s for my development and for my growth. And, it’s really, I say it’s unique in that I know a lot of leaders and I know a lot of their insecurities and I have some of the same challenges and insecurities. And I think for a lot of top and point leaders, it’s difficult for them to kind of release essentially release authority, you know, to not just say, here’s the list of task or here’s a bunch of things that you need to do and here’s the way I would do it.
Bobby Gruenewald: 20:00 I just need you to do it the way I would do it and teach people to do that. You basically create followers instead of leaders if you’re not careful when you do that. And so he’s created that environment. And a lot of times it comes in the form of throwing you in the deep end and a and just letting you figure it out. And that’s sometimes what it’s looked like. But I’ve grown as a leader from, I think I would have been 25 years old or 24 years old when I came on staff, and I’ve grown tremendously, over these years and a, and I’m just very, very grateful for the environment that I’m in.
Doug Smith: 20:35 And do you have any encouragement or advice to leaders maybe to overcome those insecurities and start creating? An empowering culture?
Bobby Gruenewald: 20:43 I just, I think my encouragement is that, you know, leaders can easily become the lid and often can kind of become the lid to their organizations and, they may not realize that at first, you know, but when you’re frustrated about the fact that you’re not growing or frustrated about the fact that you can’t seem to get momentum or that you can’t grow at a pace that seems to be what it should be, oftentimes a lot of times it comes back to you, you know, as the leader. And I think if your motivation is to grow and your motivation is to try to figure out how to be the best at what you’re at, whatever industry or you know, place that you’re in, that, you kind of have to be self-aware, you know, and recognize where some of those insecurities and things may be holding you back.
Bobby Gruenewald: 21:27 So it has to first start with just the awareness, if you’re not aware of it, if you’re kind of blind to it, if the people around you see it but you don’t see it’s gonna be hard for you to make any changes because you’re just not going to appreciate the fact that the problem even exists, you know, to begin with. So I just say a real sense of reflection, of feedback from others would be helpful. At least understanding what some of those things are and then not being afraid to kind of, you know, to identify it or talk about it. Then as far as the action steps from there, just kind of depends on, on the leader. It depends on the person as far as what the right next steps are. But you’re going to have to take risks on people.
Bobby Gruenewald: 22:05 That’s the only way I see it happening. You’re going to have to sometimes, you know, except someone that may not be able to do it as well as you’re doing it currently and that’s okay. But in order for you to grow, in order for them to grow, in order for the organization to grow, you’re going to have to take some risks in that regard. Over time, you’ll find that those risks actually have payoffs and the downsides to them are real, but the upsides to them are hopefully even better, and that you’ll see people thrive, grow and accomplish more than you ever thought was possible. And that just comes through a process of releasing and, and taking some risks on people. And so just a, that’d be my encouragement, but I, I’ve seen it modeled really well and I think, I know for sure that it can be done.
Doug Smith: 22:50 As we wrap up today, Is there anything else that you would want to leave leaders with while they listen to this?
Bobby Gruenewald: 22:55 You know, I think that you know, I think it’s important for leaders to realize that, that they’re stewarding, something that, that God’s entrusted them with. It’s like a resource. You know, they may not always think of their leadership that way, but it’s definitely a way that I would frame it. And if God’s given you financial resources, you know, you’re a steward of those financial resources, the decisions that you make and how you invest those matter, I’m doing nothing with them or squandering them is one of the most unacceptable things possible. Taking some risks and making some mistakes, that’s okay. That’s an all in an effort to try to make an investment that makes sense. But I think in the same way your leadership as a resource and if you’re not working and figuring out how to grow it, if you’re not figuring out how to expand it, if you’re not taking risk with it, if you’re not applying it in a way that is purposeful and has meaning and direction to it, then you’re maybe squandering a resource that God’s entrusted you to steward.
Bobby Gruenewald: 23:57 So my encouragement is just to step into that, you know, to, to not miss kind of that moment, and realize too that in the same way that God gave it to you, he could, he could give it to someone else instead. And, I don’t want to be the person with one talent, you know, that, that buried it and that they got it taken away from me and given to someone else that was going to steward it better and not to base it out of fear, but just out of just a perspective that we’re trusted with something when we’re a leader and that we have this responsibility to steward that influence, steward the people that were were I’m leading and just, and just steward that gift that we have.
Doug Smith: 24:34 Well, thank you so much Bobby, this was such a great pleasure and honor to spend a few minutes with you today. Thank you for investing in me and leaders and we just appreciate you and thanks for everything you’re doing for the kingdom and the body.
Bobby Gruenewald: Thank you Doug,
Bobby Gruenewald: 24:44 for the opportunity to really appreciate it.
Doug Smith: 24:48 Well, hey everyone, thank you so much for listening to our interview with Bobby Grunewald. I hope that you enjoyed it as much as I did. You can find ways to connect with Bobby, our key takeaways and links to everything that we discussed in the show notes at L3leadership.org/220 I want to thank our sponsor, Henne Jewelers. They’re jeweler owned by my friend and mentor, John Henne, my wife Laura and I got our engagement and wedding rings through Henne Jewelers and we just think they’re an incredible organization. Not only do they have great jewelry, but they also invest in people. In fact, they give every engaged couple of book to help them prepare for their marriage and we just love that. So if you’re in need of a good jeweler, check out Hennejewelers.com as always, I want to encourage you to sign up for our email list at L3 Leadership.
Doug Smith: 25:27 It’s the best way that you can stay up to date with everything that we’re doing here at L3 and when you sign up, you’ll get a free copy of my ebook Making the Most of Mentoring, which is my step by step process for getting in, cultivating relationships with mentors and with leaders. And I think it’ll add a ton of value to your life. So make sure you sign up for that today. And as always, I like to end with a quote. And since we interviewed Bobby, I thought had quote Craig Rochelle, and if you don’t listen to Craig’s podcasts, I can’t encourage you enough to look up the Craig Groeschel leadership podcast, it’s incredible. But Craig Groeschel always says this at the end of his podcast, and I love it. He said, “Leaders, be yourself. Be yourself, because people would rather follow a leader that is always real than a leader. That is always right.” Absolutely love that. Thank you so much for listening and being a part of L3 Leadership. Laura and I appreciate you so much and we will talk to you next episode.