How startups and religions start and spread

I find religions fascinating. There is a small list of things on the planet that make a human being do amazing deeds of kindness or kill other human beings. Religion is certainly high up on that list.

I was in Macau recently, climbing the stairs up to the ruins of the Cathedral of St Paul’s facade when I became curious about its history.

St Paul's Ruins Facade, Macau Image

Reading through I discovered the way religion was introduced to Macau, and Asia more generally. It occurred to me that the birth and spread of different religions is not necessarily very different to that of startups.

If you think of it, individual religions were largely created as solutions to problems. These problems were generally different in nature at different points in time. Also these problems perhaps correlated to a different kind of need – of spirituality, morality and purpose. Relative to those startup needs may seem a little inconsequential and narrow-minded.

However, in effect religions have always been products that drive passion. They are generally well defined in relation to boundaries.

Something I think that startups can learn from is how religions focus on principles. In the process of discovery of a product or service, a startup may change direction and tactical details over time. However, as long as it sticks to the principles it started with it should see some success.

I also tried looking into the failure rate of religions. I did not discover as much on the Internet but what I did notice was the importance of the charismatic founders and preachers in the success of a religion. Stark and Bainbridge – two scholars, noted in a paper that founders of religions are like entrepreneurs. They take ideas from existing religions and then over time create their own, like developing new products based on what works and what doesn’t.

Of course all of this is at a very high level and it wouldn’t be hard to connect startups and religions to other subjects. But the relationship is still fascinating to me.