Venture capital firms in Silicon Valley don’t just pour cash into hot startups — they also enjoy incubating promising endeavors and building long-term relationships. With that in mind, Lightspeed Venture Partners announced that it is bringing on marketing and spiritual guru Tara-Nicholle Nelson as an entrepreneur in residence (EIR) to work on her next big project: a startup that brings spirituality into the digital sphere. Nelson gave VentureBeat exclusive details about her new role and work in progress.
According to the pug-loving entrepreneur, there is an epidemic of aimlessness, depression, fear, and anxiety in today’s world that has been exacerbated by social media. “Bad news is happening all the time, everywhere,” she told me. “There is a desire to be awake and involved, compassionate and connected, but it’s almost like people don’t give themselves permission to opt out of that overwhelming information.” She names Facebook as an example. “It’s a wonderful servant but a terrible master,” she notes. “How many times have I heard ‘Facebook is ruining my life’?”
And this is why Nelson has set a mission for herself: to create a new generation of content and broadcast media that soothes the soul rather than agitating it. She didn’t go into much detail at this stage but suggested it would be like a “Netflix for spiritual content.” With a digital overflow of apps, YouTube channels, and podcasts in the religious, spiritual, and meditation spaces (think Calm, Headspace, and YouVersion), centralizing this content onto one platform is a place to start.
Nelson did confirm that her startup would operate in the consumer space, which is not surprising, as it was Jeremy Liew who approached her. Liew, who is a partner at Lightspeed, invests primarily in consumer-facing companies in the mobile and online space, with a particular interest in video, social media, commerce, and financial services. His investments include Snapchat, Cheddar, Giphy, and Mic.
“When we first met, Tara described herself as a marketing maestro and black church lady,” wrote Liew, in an email to VentureBeat. “When we started talking about the opportunity to bring spirituality and religion to millennials, the Christian Left, her energy, and enthusiasm were infectious. It seemed like the natural culmination of her life’s journey. We couldn’t not get on board.”
And Nelson reiterates this point. Although she has been very active in the marketing space — she has created growth, media, and content strategies for brands like HGTV, Trulia, Eventbrite, and MyFitnessPal — she sees herself as more of a spiritual guide. Her first step as an EIR at Lightspeed is to centralize the research she is gathering from her SoulTour across the country. Through one-on-one conversations with musicians, ministers, and yoga instructors, and visits to zen centers and spiritual communities, Nelson is trying to understand what works for people.
She is not interested in being labeled as a post-televangelist, however. “I have a very devout face, but it’s personalized,” she said. She believes there is a representation problem in spiritual content. While some people may respond to a white, male minister, others are looking for another embodiment of spirituality — and Nelson plans on promoting that diversity.