Tech start-up of the week: Aftering

11 Jan 2015

(From left) Ger Sweeney, Eleanor Melinn, Valerie Vetter and Mark Stewart

Our tech start-up of the week is Aftering, an online destination designed to guide people through the difficult process of planning for a funeral.

“People can come to the platform and create their own unique order of service, thank you and memorial cards,” explained the co-founder and CEO of Aftering, Valerie Vetter.

“There are guides and supports available, as well as cost comparisons for funeral home services.

“More and more people want to have control over the process of planning for death. Key concerns of many are the costs involved and personalising the experience for themselves and loved ones.”

The market

The funeral industry in the United States alone is worth US$20bn annually. Death particularly affects the American ‘Baby Boomer’ generation most acutely, because every single day 5,000 of their parents die.

“Each of those funerals costs upwards of US$8,000,” Vetter pointed out. “The ‘Baby Boomer’ wants value for what they spend and they want to be in control of the process. We will be there to serve them.”

Aftering is addressing a realistic need most people would prefer to put out of their mind. At some point, the majority of people will have to organise a funeral.

“The traditional ways of doing things are changing at a rapid pace. People want greater personalisation and to learn about green options,” Vetter said.

“Technology has really lagged behind in this area. All of our other big life events are mirrored online in a comprehensive way apart from one of the most difficult to deal with, death.”

The founders

Vetter has more than 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, having worked for three national newspapers in Ireland. She was also a founder/director of a small successful publishing company.

“In addition to our ‘day’ jobs, myself and co-founder Ger Sweeney previously had a start-up selling upcycled accessories in the pop-up Powerscourt Market and the Science Gallery Museum shop.

“Ger brings a wealth of experience in operations management and event planning. Having had start-up experience previously, we both decided that we would love to build a company that had personal meaning for us both.

“On our team, Eleanor Melinn has managed operations and logistics in both MTV’s emerging markets division and Universal Pictures in London. Mark Stewart is a hugely experienced project manager and award-winning architect and now works in digital media.”

The technology

Aftering is a platform that will give users the information they need to create a funeral. This then leads to a drag-and-drop interface that will enable people to create their own thank you card, memorial card and create a unique order of service.

They can then download a pdf for no charge or get the booklet or card printed for a fee.

“We also operate a revenue share on a range of products from artisanal suppliers,” Vetter said.

“These include items such as bio-urns and memorial jewelry. In addition, there are geo-targeted listings of service providers who have the opportunity to pay for an enhanced presence on the platform.

“The ultimate goal is to be a trusted service to people at a time of difficulty, grief and stress. Aftering’s purpose is to empower people everywhere to deal with all the complicated decisions that need to be made when faced with the loss of a loved one.”

Focus on traction in the US market

Aftering recently successfully completed the “rewarding and intensive” NDRC Launchpad programme in Dublin.

“Its fast-track approach and excellent team of mentors helped us to build the business and the platform and begin testing two beta versions, one in Florida and one in Northern California. We have been received useful feedback from users.

“Fortunately, we also have a physical base in Mountain View, California, at the heart of Silicon Valley. That is helping us with traction in the US market and the ability to talk to people on the ground there.

“We seek further investment to enable us to provide further functionality to the platform and reach out to those who require our service.”

Raise your gaze

Vetter said the challenges that Aftering has had to overcome have been interesting.

“Learning about the American funeral experience has been eye-opening. The Irish are more at ease in dealing with death, which is providing us with valuable experience for constructing our business.

“I had no idea it was such a developed and innovative ecosystem. It is an exciting time to be building a company. I am grateful for all the support now available to help young businesses succeed that never existed before.”

Her advice to other start-ups and founders is to think internationally about their product or service.

“Raise your gaze. Don’t be afraid to think about creating a business that trades outside Ireland.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years