Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Why I'm launching a "death care" internet startup

Whenever I tell people what it is that I do, I'm usually met with a smirk and a bit of disbelief.

"Wait, you're serious?  You run a company that deals with death and funerals?"

It's true.  We're soon launching eFuneral (into our first Beta markets) as an online portal that helps Funeral Directors connect with undecided families -- while providing those families with actionable information to make more informed funeral planning decisions.

Soon after I explain that, the natural next question is..."Why??"

Most times, I tell people about the story of my cousin, who unexpectedly passed away about a year ago:

My family didn't really know where to start in terms of planning his funeral service.  It's not that we didn't know where there were funeral homes.  There were about 10-12 within 2 miles of where he lived -- and we were familiar with several of them.  We were more interested in understanding why we were to choose one over the other.  Our budget was a big concern -- but just as important was our desire to have a respectful service for someone who we cared about.

Being the digital native in the family, I was asked if the internet might be able to help us make a decision.  I assumed that there had to be good info online that would be helpful to us in making an informed decision.  I quickly learned that it just wasn't the case.  Sure, there were online directories -- and Google -- which was good at giving me a list of funeral homes.  But opening up a phone book (remember those things?) could have given me the same information.  We weren't interested in finding a simple list of funeral homes.  We were interested in understanding which would work best with our budget, and which would offer the best service quality.


So for us, we just sort of picked one.   The Funeral Home we selected was one that we were familiar with, but we really had no idea if the costs we were incurring was actually resulting in a better service than any others we picked.  And in the end, the service they performed was an admirable one.

But afterwards, it really bothered me.  It bothered me that for as important as a life decision as planning a funeral is -- and for the money we spent (likely around $10K) -- we just sort of picked one.

I started talking about this experience with my (now) partner, Bryan -- and we both agreed that this was a huge problem that people currently have to deal with.  We weren't sure what the solution was quite yet -- but knew that we had to do everything we could to solve this problem.

This passion only grew after we started to have conversations with Funeral Directors and learned that for as much money that was spent on marketing and advertising (close to a billion dollars a year), there really weren't any great ways for them to track whether their spend was actually bringing new families in their doors.  Generally, these Funeral Directors were very proud of the relationships they held with families (and rightfully so) -- but when it came to attracting new families, most Funeral Directors we spoke with were uncertain whether their efforts were resulting in new business.

This is when it clicked.  If we could provide a service that actually helps families by providing actionable information that they can use to not only find funeral homes, but make an informed decision -- and if we can actually help Funeral Directors market their Funeral Homes more effectively -- we could be onto something.

And that is why we decided to quit our full-time jobs last June, pour (very) long nights, weekends, sweat, tears, and everything else we could find into building eFuneral.

Here's to hoping it does what we intended, and can actually soon help people...