Ron DeHaas is the founder and CEO of Covenant Eyes, an internet accountability software. For 16 years, Covenant Eyes has helped generate over 100,000,000 reports. Ron has two degrees from Ohio State University and is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Michigan.
Ray: Well, hey everyone, this is Ray Hilbert. I am your host here at Bottom Line Faith and we’d love to welcome you back for another episode of the program where we really get the opportunity to travel around the country and talk with some of America’s greatest Christ followers who are in business and in leadership in the marketplace, sports enterprise, entertainment, government, leadership and so forth. And I am really, really excited about the conversation that we’re going to have today. It’s a powerful story and I am at the world headquarters for Covenant Eyes and I am with the founder, Ron DeHass. Welcome to Covenant Eyes. Welcome to Bottom Line Faith.
Ron: Thank you.
Ray: So Ron, I’m just, I have been looking forward to this. You and I had a chance a few months ago to have breakfast together and get to know one another. And I’ve got to tell you, you’ve really been on my heart since then because, just your enthusiasm, your passion, you’re an entrepreneur, but you’ve got an amazing story. That wasn’t always a happy story, but God has allowed that to launch something great. So first before we get into that, why don’t you just tell us a little bit about Covenant Eyes?
Ron: Covenant Eyes is a, provides accountability on the internet. Although we, this year we are working very diligently to expand that to a person’s complete computer usage, not just the internet. But the idea is that people struggle with pornography specifically on their computer. This problem of pornography is certainly one of, if not the greatest problem facing the church today, apart from sin itself, it is devastating families. It’s devastating people’s relationships with one another, with their families at work, with God, even with their inner man. And so this issue of pornography is something that we want to deal with. We would love to be able to say 20 years from now we’ve eradicated pornography. Probably not going to happen, but we do want to eradicate it for some people. And so those people, we provide a software program as well as educational resources that provide accountability on their computer usage.
Ray: And so if you’re my accountability partner, let’s say whatever I’m looking at, you get a record of what I’m looking at and that’s like what? Sent to me in an email or what’s that look like?
Ron: Sent to you in an email or you can get it online at any time. And I receive it too, in a sense. The behavioral change aspect of it has to work on me. I mean, it’s not going to work unless I want it to work and unless I allow it to work. And so I get the report as well. And sometimes just knowing that someone’s looking over my shoulder. It’s amazing the difference it makes.
Ray: Yeah, no question about that. And so, national, regional, what’s the scope of wide?
Ron: We have members in 150 countries. We’re approaching 300,000 members in 150 countries around the world.
Ray: And I don’t want to get too far in the weeds on this, but is it like a, is it a software I download onto my computer, or is it more like something that’s in the cloud? What’s a little bit of the framework behind it?
Ron: You go online to CovenantEyes.com and sign up. There’s a charge of between $12 and $15 for the entire family. And you download the program onto your computing device. And from that point on, that computing device monitors your usage of the device.
Ray: Does it do it for mobile devices as well?
Ron: It does, yeah. We have the platforms on iPhone, Android, Windows and Mac.
Ray: Okay. Yep. Fantastic. So normally there’s a story behind somebody starting a company, particularly a company like this. Walk us through how it came about. What was the vision behind it? What led to, you know, I really want to hear this.
Ron: Well, this is the part that you were talking about, born out of tragedy, really. This is, we’re recording this in August. In August of 21st happens to be the day that I lost my family in a car accident. My wife and two kids were stopped on the highway for another accident. August 21st of 1992. So we’re talking 26 years ago now. They were stopped and a tanker truck came up behind them at highway speed, never slowed down and they were all killed instantly. So that was quite a time for me. I had been in business really all my life. I’m a geologist by trade and education. And I have started many companies in the oil business particularly. But at that time, my wife and two kids being on the highway, after that happened, I just couldn’t work anymore.
Ray: So take us back to, you know, I notice some passage of time, but I’m sure even time doesn’t heal all wounds fully, right?
Ray: Take us back then. You’re 44 years old. You’re an entrepreneur, you’ve got things going on. Did it just at that time feel like life was over or what was that like?
Ron: My wife, when I met my wife, Pat, was her name who died in the accident. When I met her, I was not a Christian and she led me to the Lord. And we had been married for 10 years by the time the accident happened. And by then I really had a strong faith that was definitely, and am today, a devoted Christian, a complete faith in a sovereign God. And because of that recognition of the sovereignty of God, I have to say, God treated me very unusually. During that time, I light job, as it says in Job 1:20, he fell to the floor and I fell to the floor when I heard my pastor actually was the one who told me came to the office that I was working at and he told me, and I literally fell to the floor and I was there for about 45 minutes before I could get up. But that verse doesn’t end there. It says he fell to the floor and worshiped, and it’s the Hebrew word Shaha, the same word that’s used elsewhere. When David learns of his son’s death, he tears his clothes and Shaha Abraham was taking his son, Isaac up the mountain to Shaha.
And that is the deepest, profound sense of worship that a person can have. That’s how that word is used in the Old Testament. And at the time, I probably wouldn’t have called it worship, but I can look back and see this was genuine, genuine worship. So well, what good came out of that? Well, I’m out of my family’s accident. That is, I know that there were people who were led to the Lord because of my testimony and you know, my family is in heaven. I know that, you know, and if one person is saved because of that tragedy, then it makes it all worthwhile. Just as one person listening right now makes all this worthwhile. I look at that at Covenant Eyes. If we can save one marriage, we get people who call us. And say they’re about to commit suicide.
We get a couple of those a year here at Covenant Eyes because of pornography. And so if we can save one person, that makes everything worthwhile. And so just, you know, it’s a struggle. Life is a struggle, but there always is good at the end. There always is. And that is what God assures us.
Ray: You worked through that tragedy. There’s an insurance settlement as I understand it, that now you had some resources and God touched you to do some things with these. And I believe that’s kind of how Covenant Eyes got started, right?
Ron: Yes. So, oh, let me go back. A year before my family’s accident, my pastor abandoned his family, left them, basically penniless, left them for a young girl in the congregation.
Ron: And he married that girl, divorced his wife. Then a year later, my family’s accident happened. My wife and two kids died in this car accident. And that tragedy had such a deep impact. One of the things that I share with people is when I found out about the accident, I literally hit the floor just like Job. Well I literally hit the floor and people asked me how did I survive? And for four weeks and even months afterward, God drew himself so close to me. He was closer than he ever had been before. And really ever since there’s a tie, there’s a sense in which I look back at that time and almost with jealousy thinking, God was so close to me at that time. He drew himself so close to me, that, I almost longed for that closeness again. I can’t make that happen.
So a year later there was a wedding in my church of a mutual friend. And so the pastor’s ex wife came to my hometown in Marshall, Michigan. We went out to dinner and six weeks later we were married. And so that was a–
Ray: Hang on a second. I got to make sure I got this, cause this is news to me. I didn’t know about this part of your story. So your pastor had an affair with a young woman in the church and left his wife and children to go be with her. They get divorced, he remarries and your family is then killed in this tragic car crash or accident.
Ron: And then a year after that Jeanie comes to a wedding. We go out to dinner and six weeks later we’re married.
Ray: Six weeks later, the two of you are married.
Ron: And I wouldn’t advise this for everybody, that’s for sure. But my wife Pat and Jeanie, my new wife, were very good friends. They both homeschool. They were both stay at home moms and all. And so they knew each other very well. Pat my wife who died, and I had actually taught her kids in Sunday school, so I knew her kids. In fact, I have pictures of her kids playing with my kids who died in the accident. And so, we knew each other. We knew a lot about each other even though we didn’t know each other very well. We knew a lot about each other. And then one year later, she had three children and one year later we had our fourth child, Abigail. So this happened 26 years ago now. And Abigail is now 24. So she’s kind of the Apple of our eye and she’s the youngest.
Ray: It’s an amazing story and I appreciate that cause I didn’t know that part of your story and your journey. So all kinds of tragedy, both sides for you and Jeanie, but God brought both of those amazingly difficult stories together and a new story to be crafted. And so then how did the company get started? How did that all happen?
Ron: It’s such a commonly known verse that God makes all things work together for good, but he makes all things work together for good, for those who love him and are called according to his purpose. And when I went through that tragedy, as I said, God drew himself so close to me. I can look back at that time as the time that I was closest to God ever in my life. And you’d have to say that the time that you’re closest to God must be the best time of your life. Right?
Ray: You would think.
Ron: And so there really is a sense in which that time was the best time of my life. So, you know, I look back at that time and then God redeemed it. That’s the thing is God redeemed it by bringing me together with Jeanie. Now our kids are grown up, but she had two sons and in the year 2000, I got the internet in December of 1999. And I learned how to email and I learned what the internet had and I found the dangers of the internet, particularly with pornography. Even back then when dial up, you know, things have changed since then.
The internet wasn’t what it is today, but even then, there was a lot of pornography available, very easily available. And so my two teenage sons are there and we’re homeschooling and I can’t keep them off the internet. That’s not fair. In this day and age, you know, you have to use the internet, right? And so what am I going to do? There were filters and the filters didn’t work, to begin with. And if anything, they can actually create a challenge to a teenage boy to try to get around it. And then once they get around it, there’s this sense of shame where it actually draws you apart from your parents, not together. I wanted something better than that. I wanted something that could give me the training in disciplined use of the internet. I wanted a report. What are you doing on the internet? I want her to report.
And so in March of 2000, a young man and I started Covenant Eyes, I learned that it was possible to monitor where we go on the internet. And he made it happen. This young man, he got the program up and running and in June of 2000, we were selling Covenant Eyes version 1.0, which is internet accountability. So that was in June of 2000.
Ray: So now the company has been birthed. You’ve got an idea that’s now got life to it. It’s got momentum to it, but it hasn’t been all smooth sailing in the business.
Ron: Right. It got difficult before it got easier. It’s always difficult. It’s always difficult. There are hurdles every step of the way. And, you know, I could share many stories of those hurdles, one of which was, the cost of doing it. By July of 2000 I was out of money and I had a great settlement from the trucking company. I had two and a half million dollars in liquid assets. And that two and a half million dollars by July of 2000 was gone.
Ron: I’ve been in business all my life and I could see it was turning around and we were going to make it, but I really got to the point where I didn’t stop at McDonald’s for a cup of coffee. Fortunately, this young man also helped me start an ISP and we started providing internet services to the community of Owasso. And that became profitable very quickly. It wasn’t until 2006, that Covenant Eyes actually became profitable.
Ray: Wow. So for those of your listeners who are in business trying to get into business, you have to have perseverance, that’s for sure. That’s amazing. Well, it’s also an encouragement though because, you know, it’s not easy, but your faith continued to get you through. And what role did your faith play? I’m the business side of things. Obviously it got you through these personal tragedies, but how did you apply your faith in some of the difficult seasons in business?
Ron: All my life, I have tried– not all my life, all my Christian life. I became a Christian when I was 30 years old. My wife Pat led me to the Lord, the one who died in a car accident. And one of the verses that she gave me was Proverbs 16:3, when I first became a Christian. And that is commit your works to the Lord and your plans will be established. I really have found that verse to be my life verse because, and one of the things about that verse is, when I first read it, I thought, oh, I’ll commit my job. You know my life work, but what I learned was it applies to the very next thing that we’re doing. Like sitting here talking to you. Yes, but commit this to the Lord and your plans will be established. And that commitment then when you commit, that is Lord, I’m doing this simple thing sitting here talking to you. I want to commit that to the Lord and so who knows what God is going to do? I don’t always know what’s going to happen. Sometimes they do.
And I’ll tell you a story, but there might be a listener out there who just needs to know, commit your works to the Lord and your plans will be established. That applies to business. That is one of the Cardinal rules of my business is commit my works to the Lord. I’ll give you an example. Commit your works to the Lord. Walking from the post office to my car and I said, I’m going to commit this to you Lord. This walk between the post office in my car. And along comes this little old lady looking me in the eye and I struck up a conversation with her and God just led me to talk to her. And I stopped. I asked her, do you know for sure whether you’re going to heaven or not? And she said, well, I know no one can know that for sure. And I said, I’d like to show you how. I don’t have time right now, but could I come over? She lived in an assisted care and I said, can I come over? And so the next day I brought one of the elders from our church over and he and I led her to the Lord, through the Romans road.
And when I was done, I said, do you, do you understand? Now you can know whether you’re going to heaven. And I remember very clearly, she said, well, yes I do. I know I can. And you know, that was really interesting because that was God answering my prayer. Lord, I’m committing this work. The simple walk from the car, from the post office to the car, I’m committing this to you. That was on a Thursday and on Saturday I read in the newspaper in the obituaries that she was dead two days later, two days later. And so I know now that simple walk to the car and this has business application here. And you know, that’s the point here. That simple walk to the car. The result of that was that, and it wasn’t my doing. It’s all God, I’m not taking any credit for this. But that simple walk to the car led to her instead of going from life into death, she went from death into life.
Ray: Wow. And so if I’m tracking what you’re telling me is that even as a business person and for those who are listening to this conversation is this thing that I’m doing, this activity, this project, this conversation. If I commit it to the Lord, he’s got something special, especially in wanting to do with it. Is that what you’re telling me?
Ron: Yes, indeed. Yes. And so exactly what I’m saying.
Ray: Yeah, I love it.
Ron: And so we don’t have to be looking always way out there and got to go do this big project overseas, or I’ve got to go change the world doing this, that, or the other. But this thing that I’m doing right here right now has kingdom impact. And it’s so easy to forget that I don’t do it. You know, I, I try to do it all the time, but of course I fail. And then the other thing is, when you’re done with that work, remember to look and see did God do it? But that’s also very easy to forget very often. I look back and, you know, hours later I say, Oh, I forgot. Oh yeah, God really did something during that time.
Ray: What a powerful story though. That is amazing. And so, let’s jump back in to the story. So we’re a few years into the Covenant Eyes business model and it’s growing. And let’s talk about maybe your culture here. I had a chance to review your annual report. There’s some really cool things that you guys do inside your company. Could you maybe just share one or two really unique things that you try to do to love your employees, to model Christ in the company?
Ron: Sure, I’d be glad to. For one thing, it is very important to hire for culture. I’ve heard you say that you hire for culture if you hire for culture rather than, of course the person needs the qualifications to do the job. But the culture of Covenant Eyes is critically important. And so one of the things we have what we call core behavioral values from Patrick Lencioni’s book, The Advantage, which I recommend to everybody listening, it’s phenomenal. Advantage by Patrick Lencioni. It’s a must read. The core behavioral values of Covenant Eyes include the concept of honoring God. That’s number one. Another one is optimism. Another one is a passion for excellence. And the fourth is a commitment to service to others. And so that culture, you know, if someone can’t follow that, and of course, by honoring God, I don’t mean everybody here has to be– we can’t discriminate. It doesn’t mean everybody has to be a Christian, but there are certain biblical principles that we have to abide by.
Love, joy, peace, and so on. Those things. If that doesn’t characterize who you are, then it’s probably not the place for you. You’re not going to be comfortable here and it just isn’t the place for you. And so we practice taking care of our people. We have helped people out financially. Some of our employees, we give good benefits. We just had one of our, we’ve actually had a few, who have had babies recently and we give both the men and the women six weeks off. Paternity leave for six weeks. That’s an unusual thing. We help people out with that. We pay pay six weeks off, paid six weeks off.
Ron: In addition to their normal PTO.
Ray: Yeah. Right.
Ron: So, you know, and in extraordinary cases, we’ve had a couple of people whose spouses have died and we have given them extra, just administrative leave. I know what that’s like and it takes time to get over that and you just have to give grace. You do something special on birthdays when you get your day off. Or if you stay and decide to work on your birthday, take it off on another day.
Ray: Yeah. Okay. Yeah.
Ron: You can combine it with like a weekend in the same month or something like that.
Ray: I don’t know exactly what the rules are but get, and then I read something that, like 10%. It’s like a tithe of the workweek is just on personal development that just for reading books or doing something for personal enrichment. Where did that idea come from?
Ron: That was the vice president of, our technical vice president actually experienced that at one of his jobs and he liked it so much that we implemented it here. That’s hard to do for our customer service people because they take hundreds of calls a day and, we have a policy that we want a person to answer the phone within a minute. So 90% of our calls get answered within a minute. Which is above standard for our customer service. Our customer service is fantastic. They will stay on the phone as long as you need them. We have had three hour calls because people just need to talk. And so we get suicide calls. We’ve had a couple, we get a couple of suicide calls every year. And I have to say if, and I’ve heard you say something similar if one person, and so like if one person driving right now is listening to this and something they hear helps them get over grief or do something that they hadn’t thought of or whatever, that makes all that makes it all worthwhile. And that’s how we feel about Covenant Eyes. If we can save one life saved, one marriage, turn one person away from pornography, it’s all worth it.
Ray: And that was really part of what helped get you through those really hard times when the business was not going to make it. You kept, you could have shut the doors.
Ron: Oh, we could have. There were times when I was about to shut the doors and God pushed me through a different door.
Ray: The last section of my interviews I like to talk about like lessons learned, advice and so forth. And one of the questions that I’d like to ask is, what’s maybe a mistake that you made or a regret that you’ve had a failure or whatever, but what’s your biggest mistake? What did you learn from it?
Ron: I knew you were going to ask that. And I’ve actually thought about what is my biggest mistake. And one of our core behavioral values is optimism. And I am an optimist, but that is beyond just my nature. That also is my theology. I believe God makes all things work together for good.
Ron: And I don’t look at things as mistakes. I looked at them as learning and as an opportunity. The greatest problems also become the greatest opportunities. And that’s, so when you ask, you know, what’s my greatest mistake or greatest failure? You know, I could talk about a lot of things throughout my life that didn’t come out the way I thought they would, but then God turns around and does something else. And so I don’t look at them as learning opportunities.
Ray: Doesn’t mean you’re perfect. It’s just, that’s your perspective on when something doesn’t turn out or you were imperfect, that there’s an opportunity for growth here.
Ray: And you had shared with me earlier that this is actually kind of something that’s going on in the business right now, but could you talk a little bit about that, that new opportunity?
Ron: So when we started in 2000, the internet was very simple to analyze. Everything was in text. There was a source code behind every website. And those source codes were all in flat files. You know, it was all very simple. As the years have gone on, it’s gotten more and more complex. And so the way we do it now, right now we are, we download over a billion URLs every day at Covenant Eyes. If you have Covenant Eyes installed on your computer, every URL you go to get sent to our servers and we download them to analyze them. And the way we do that, the way we have done it is through text, the text that’s contained, either the domain name, the URL or whatever.
That house is on fire. And it’s burning pretty quickly because more and more it’s getting more and more difficult to analyze things because they’re encrypted and they come through other apps and whatever, but they’re becoming almost impossible. And so this looked like it was going to put not only us, but every filter, everyone who does anything like this out of business. And so instead of that, it becomes an opportunity. Okay, what can we do? What business do we have to be in order to put ourselves out of business? That’s what I wanted to know. And so I realized that we could, if we could analyze what’s on the screen as an image rather than worrying about text, just like the human mind looks at a screen and says, that’s pornography. Can a computer do that? Can a computer look at the image? It took about six months to answer that question, but the answer is yes.
And we’re doing it and we’re in the process right now of converting Covenant Eyes completely over to an image based recognition system. Where we, and the beauty of it is, it doesn’t even have to come from the internet anymore. It can be your camera or another app or whatever. Whatever’s on the screen. And that’s what we’re–
Ray: Wow. That’s phenomenal. And I love that statement, and I think that is such an important statement for us as leaders and business leaders; what business do we need to become to put ourselves out of business? And that’s our next stage in evolution in business, right?
Ray: That’s the next opportunity. That’s the next solution of a problem to be solved. Every business man or a woman asks himself or herself that question, what do we have to do to put ourselves out of business? That’ll tell you what you need to do. So at 69 years old, I’d like you to look back to the 20 year old Ron and I would like you to give advice. And what advice would you give to the 20 year old Ron?
Ron: I wish I could do that because I really would have a message for myself because at 20 years old I underestimated what my abilities were and I underestimated, I wasn’t even a Christian then. And I mean, that might be one piece of advice I’d give myself back then. And I’d say, you’re going to become a Christian. Why not do it now? And you know, but apart from that, from a business standpoint, I would say, Ron, you’re keeping your blinders on. You’re keeping your vision low. Lift your, elevate your vision. Elevate your vision beyond just the next week or the next year. Even elevate your vision to what the future can be. And as I’ve gone on in business just the last few years, that has really struck me with the advent of, well, let me back up. The Gutenberg press was considered to be, is pretty universally considered to be the most significant invention of the entire millennium, the last millennium.
Today we have the, the internet. We have wireless technology, we have an amazing computer ability. The computing ability just keeps multiplying. And in addition to that, what’s coming with artificial intelligence that is going to dominate our world 20 years from now, you put those together. And I really believe that 4,000 years from now, people are going to look back at this time, at your lifetime as the most significant time in all of human history, apart from divine intervention, of course. But the most significant time in all of history, never a timeline with all those things going on right now in your lifetime. And so what I would say to the 20 year old Ron is you have the opportunity to influence history. You have the opportunity to change history. The little things you do now have a multiplying effect over the generations.
I’m a geologist by trade. And in geology, we always say if a rock formation slopes at one degree, that adds up to 40 feet per mile. And so a rock formation that might be 4,000 feet deep here in Awaso is 10,000 feet deep, just a couple of few hundred miles North. It has that multiplying effect.
Ron: And so what I would say to that 20 year old Ron is elevate your vision. Think in terms of what this is doing to history. And that’ll make you use your time more valuably to begin with. But it also affects what you do in the time that you do use.
Ray: That is just extraordinary. And that is powerful cause it’s so easy to just not see a bigger picture.
Ron: Right. Think of the apprentice for Gutenberg. You know, he had no idea that his invention was what he was doing was going to have the impact that it did on civilization. Getting up every day doing the same thing. But he had no way he could’ve known the vision to have seen that. So that’s really where we’re at right now. Yeah. That’s where we are at right now.
Ray: That is really great. The last question that I like to ask in every one of my Bottom Line Faith interviews is what I call my Proverbs 4:23 question where Solomon writes these words, he says above all else, guard your heart for from it flows all of life. So Ron, what I’d like you to do now is look forward. Let’s imagine you’re towards the tail end, this side of eternity, and you have a chance to gather your family, your friends, your loved ones, and you’re going to pass along the single most important piece of advice that you could pass along. And that’s what I’d like you to do is our last question here. What’s the single most important advice above all else? What advice would you have for our audience today?
Ron: Pray to begin with. I pray daily for over 150 people and I have a list and I can actually carry that list to meetings with me. And sometimes I’m in a meeting with someone who I’m praying for. I can’t pray for all of them at one sitting, or not usually anyway. And so that actually enables me to be praying throughout the day. And as part of that prayer to follow that Proverbs 16:3, commit your works to the Lord. That’s, that’s prayer. Commit your works to the Lord and your plans will be established. And then as you’re praying also, and so that kind of, this continual prayer as it says in first Thessalonians to pray without ceasing, and part of that is also, to abide in Him and have Him abide in you, John 15:7. If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it shall be done for you. But the key is abiding in him. And the key to that is prayer. And I really believe that prayer is the one thing going forward. Prayer is key.
Ray: I love it. I love it. Ron DeHass, thank you for being our guest on Bottom Line Faith.
Ron: You’re welcome.
Ray: Well folks, I think you now know why at the beginning of the program I said this is a guest and a friend that you wanted to get to know. If you’re a Christ follower and you’re in business, you’re a leader, an owner, a high capacity executive in a company, and if you would be interested in gathering in community with your peers on a regular basis to challenge and encourage one another as Christ followers in business, check out a Truth At Work round table. You can go to truthatwork.org click on the round table tab, get in touch with us. We’d love to talk with you about our round table programs across the country. Thanks so much for joining us here on this episode of Bottom Line Faith where I am your host Ray Hilbert, encouraging you to live out your faith each and every day in the marketplace until next time.