Fryderyk Ovcaric is the founder and CEO of Instapray, a mobile app that helps people connect through prayer. After creating a profile, people can share prayers they’ve written, request support, or pray for others. Unlike anonymous apps and websites that enable gossip, bullying, and criticism, Instapray has strict guidelines that only allow positive, encouraging commentary. Instapray raised initial capital from Founders Fund and has so far hosted 33 million prayers, contributed by people from all over the world. Ovcaric was born in Poland and raised in Germany. He earned bachelor’s degrees in literature and film from Université Sorbonne Nouvelle in Paris and graduated from Stanford Graduate School of Business in 2012. Before founding Instapray, Ovcaric produced music videos, commercials, and feature films in France and the Middle East, as well as worked on Google’s creative content team in New York and launched an online fitness program with WWE Champion John Cena out of Los Angeles.
In 10 words or fewer, what is the big idea behind your business?
A mobile platform that connects people around the world in prayer, love, and support.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
At Stanford I learned about the emphatic design process. Don’t only listen to your customers but understand the emotions behind their problems and build products that meet their actual needs.
What was the most difficult lesson you have learned on the job?
The most difficult lesson for me has been the loneliness of being an entrepreneur. It can be like solitary confinement. I am a sole founder and my entire team sits in Poland, which is a nine-hour time difference. It is very isolating and can be psychologically and emotionally draining, especially on those bad days. It can be hard to deal on an emotional and psychological level. Sometimes you get paranoid. It takes a lot of self-motivation and control. I am recently married and don’t want to bring negativity into my life at home. In the future I will look for a cofounder and build a team in walking distance.
What advice would you give other entrepreneurs on how to build a great business?
Be 100% certain you are excited about what you are doing and then do it with your whole heart. In good periods it will make the experience so much more fun. In the difficult moments, your passion and heart are the only things that will keep you afloat.
If there was one thing that has enabled you to be successful as an entrepreneur, what would it be?
My team. Internally? Stubbornness and resilience.
What inspires you?
Passionate people inspire me. At Instapray, watching our team coming together around an idea, taking ownership of it and turning it into reality is what inspires me the most. I love to watch ideas grow and reach their destinations.
What is your greatest achievement?
Entrepreneurship is like living in the future but your family life at home is life in the present. Successfully balancing my family life in these two “time zones” with my highly volatile, emotional startup life is quite an achievement.
What do you consider your biggest failure?
In the beginning it took me some time to really acknowledge how talented and passionate my team was. As a result, I had a hard time delegating some key product responsibilities. Too much control will substantially decrease productivity, passion, and creativity, and eventually exhaust the team.
What values are important to you in business?
The same things I value in a relationship: honesty with no games.
What impact would you like to have on the world?
It is not the differences that divide us, but rather our inability to recognize and celebrate them. I would love to build a technology that helps mankind come together. I have traveled the world and seen all kinds of places and people and they are all beautiful. There are a lot of common denominators. We laugh, we cry, we are human. This is what Instapray is about.
Why are you an entrepreneur?
It’s not a choice you make. It is the way that I am. It is about going where I want to go. Entrepreneurship is about storytelling — the stories you tell yourself and you end up believing. Then they become reality.
What was your first paying job?
When I was 8 or 9 I started a car wash. There were a lot of people driving back and forth to the western countries. When they came back I gave them a free car wash as long as I was able to keep whatever money I found in the car. Foreign currency was worth quite a lot back then in Poland!
What is the best business book you have read?
Ted Turner’s life story. He was stubborn and had unconventional ways of doing things. When everyone is telling you that you are crazy you need something to hold onto. As a kid I read adventure books. That was part of telling myself that everything is possible. I take a lot of pleasure out of the fact that I don’t know what the future holds.
What businessperson do you most admire?
I admire Elon Musk and Peter Thiel for their bold, unconventional thinking and visions that truly impact the world and beyond.
What is the most valuable thing you took away from your time at Stanford?
Values. Moral compass. I used to be very fluent in gray. After school I stick only to the white. Decision-making is very easy when you run it through the filter of a moral compass.
What do you think is the greatest innovation in the past decade?
I love the innovation that is happening in visual storytelling. The Oculus Rift is just the beginning of visual immersion of content.