New technology meets ancient scripture
Logos Software leads the Bible software market
by John Kinmonth
In the beginning, there was MS-DOS based Bible software. Then, Microsoft Corp. employees Bob Pritchett and Kiernon Reiniger created a Bible software product in their spare time based on a fledgling operating system known as Microsoft Windows. After extensive testing and bringing on Pritchett’s father, Dale, to handle strategy and pursue text licenses, Logos Bible Software for Microsoft Windows v1.0 was completed within eight months of its inception. And then there were sales.
Approximately $350,000 in the first year, according to President/CEO Bob Pritchett. Both Pritchett and Reiniger quit their day jobs at Microsoft nearly a month after shipping the first version. They incorporated into Logos Research Systems, Inc. with a sales and marketing office near Dale’s home in New Jersey and a research and development office in Kirkland.
Nearly 15 years later, the privately-held Bellingham company is up to $8.9 million in sales for 2004, and Pritchett was recently named a winner of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award in the Pacific Northwest for the “Realizing Business Potential” category. As a worldwide leader in Bible-related software, Logos has customers in 144 countries and text licenses on a constantly expanding list of approximately 5,000 texts.
An engine for growth
“We grew at almost 100 percent or more for the first four years,” Pritchett said. “I think we were at the right place at the right time.”
During that time, Logos consolidated its two offices and moved to Oak Harbor on Whidbey Island.
“After a year, we decided we wanted to have the operations in one place,” Pritchett said. “The employees out east wanted to live somewhere nice and Whidbey Island was their choice. The goal was to get out of the suburbs and the traffic.”
In March 2002, citing the need to be in a larger space and have access to Western Washington University graduates, Logos moved to 1313 Commercial St. in downtown Bellingham. They have since grown to 100 employees, and are planning to expand into a neighboring building formerly occupied by Giuseppe’s Italian Restaurant. Logos also has an office in Johannesburg, South Africa with several employees.
While Pritchett saw a growth market for Logos’ unique product, developing the product itself has proven a challenge all its own.
In an industry where staying on the cutting edge means finding new ways to analyze the past, Logos offers access to a wide variety of digital Biblical texts with an assortment of search functions.
“The Bible translates to English 40 or 50 times and we have all of them,” Pritchett said. The English translations only scratch the surface of the sheer volume of digital texts available through Logos’ software packages. Working with more than 20 academic scholars, Logos has developed new analysis methods to aid both the academic and religious communities in studying the Bible.
“In the beginning we used to joke it’s a fast way to flip pages, now we do things that you can’t do on paper,” Pritchett said. In his office, he demonstrated a new search function that allows users to analyze texts by syntax – the way in which specific words relate to each other in a sentence.
This polarized combination of cutting edge technology and intricate religious texts has presented unique challenges to Logos’ team of programmers.
“Some of the books have as many as 30 languages in one book,” Pritchett said.
Four years after the first version of Logos Bible Software was released, Pritchett and his team finished version two in 1995, which was built on brand new technology called the Logos Library System. As the first of its kind for Bible software, the LLS was designed to support hundreds of electronic books delivered, or unlocked within the program, as separate products.
As the limits of the program were pushed, Pritchett said the company’s growth leveled off from 1997 until 2001, when they released a completely new version of their already successful software engine. The Libronix Digital Library System came out with the capability to handle over 10,000 electronic books in user-friendly format, and was followed two years later with a language supplement, boosting Logos into a position as a worldwide leader in multilingual electronic publishing and the largest developer of software for the Christian market.
Marketing to the pulpit
“We sell mostly to individuals – 40 percent are pastors, 40 percent are students studying to become pastors, and 20 percent are interested individuals,” Pritchett said. “Our customer’s a serious Bible student.”
Utilizing Bible conferences and seminars, Pritchett said the product sells itself if given the chance to demonstrate its extensive capabilities. He’s found that they’re biggest competition isn’t from other software companies.
“In a lot of places we’re competing against paper,” he said. “It’s not saying our software’s better than somebody else’s software, it’s saying you need to switch to electronic study tools rather than paper study tools.”
Like many other software and tech companies, Pritchett said the key is tailoring the technology to the customer.
“There is a lot of great technology and ideas, but you build around the customer not the technology,” he said. “I think that’s what happened with the whole dot-com phase – their failing point wasn’t their product, it was not having a customer.”
With the goal of becoming an essential source for people doing serious Bible study, Pritchett said that Logos’ market is fairly stable.
“The shifting tides of world religions doesn’t really affect us,” he said. “The Bible is the best-selling book of all time.”
“By focusing on the pastors, we’re focusing on a long-term investment not the guy who decides if he’s going to church or not every week,” he added. “We want to build tools that improve the quality of their teaching. Nobody has time to sift through 250 books in preparation for a sermon each week.”
The passion for the product
“There’s not much disconnect between my personal passions and what I do,” Pritchett said. As a Christian himself, Pritchett grew up attending Christian schools, all the while nurturing his interest in computer programming. After taking two separate internships with Microsoft during his college years at Drexel University, he left school to become one of the software giant’s youngest programmers ever.
Any regrets on leaving Microsoft so soon to pursue his passion of Bible software?
“I left behind some nice stock options,” he said with a smile.
© 2005 by Northwest Business Monthly. Used by permission.
Nearly 15 years after leaving Microsoft Corp., Logos Software President and CEO Bob Pritchett was recently named a Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award winner for the “Realizing Business Potential” category.
A son and father operation: Dale Pritchett, senior vice president for sales and marketing, and Bob Pritchett, president and CEO, both have a penchant for computers, Bibles and business.
Customer service representative Naomi Borries helps answer questions about Logos’ extensive Bible software.
Logos Bible Software is currently planning an expansion into a neighboring downtown Bellingham building formerly occupied by Giusseppe’s Italian Restaurant.