Published on: November 4, 2016by Kevin Coupe
The New York Times reports on how a number of new firms, including some technology companies, have decided to compete in the "death and dying" business, often focusing on price and convenience in a realm that often is not friendly to such discussions.
Because many people "would rather not ponder critical decisions about feeding tubes, funeral homes and other end-of-life issues until the need is thrust upon them," the $18 billion funeral industry has largely been able to avoid the kind of disruption that has affected other business categories; it is considered revolutionary when Costco starts selling caskets, but that hardly gets at the core of the opportunity.
"But with nearly 2.6 million people dying annually in the United States," the Times writes, "entrepreneurs see an opportunity to innovate."
The story notes that many of these startups "are founded by millennials, who have grown up online and expect to shop for — and curate — everything there."
One example: "Parting, founded about a year ago in Los Angeles, an online directory of funeral homes searchable by ZIP code, which allows users to compare prices and services, and view the homes’ locations.
"A team of people posing as shoppers seeks out pricing and services information from funeral homes that are unaware the information is for the site. An increasing number of funeral directors, however, are voluntarily working with Parting to put their information in the database, which now has more than 15,000 funeral homes.
"It is backed by an angel investor and is increasing about 27 percent a month in searches and visitors..."
Another example: "Cake, a start-up in Boston created at M.I.T.’s Hacking Medicine conference’s Grand Hack in 2015, helps users decide end-of-life preferences, like the extent of life support or what to do with their Facebook page. It then stores the choices in the cloud and shares them with those who are designated ... The platform asks users a series of questions to help them determine their preferences. Their answers are used to populate their Cake profile, to which they can add notes and instructions to family members or friends. An environmentalist, for instance, could learn that others sharing his green values donated their bodies to science. Or the person could arrange for a biodegradable burial."
We've had some experience with this lately, dealing with seemingly incompetent lawyers, funeral home directors who appear locked in their own dimension, and a health care system where doctors seem more focused on their golf games than promises made. (To be fair, with a different relative, the experience has been vastly different and far better.)
But in so many ways, the death-and-dying experience is almost designed to be hard to navigate for consumers - I can't shake the feeling that what on the surface looks like compassion often masks a kind of arrogance and condescension. The industry is ripe for disruption ... and I'm glad to see that there are some entrepreneurs out there taking aim at it.
The results should be Eye-Opening.
- KC's View: