Death isn't a topic most of us like to talk about. The fear, the grief, the loss—none of it makes for easy conversation. Despite this aversion, or perhaps because of it, funeral services has become a massive industry. As of 2013, the funeral market alone was estimated to be a $20.7 billion.
As large as the industry is, however, the technology and process behind it haven't changed much.
“There hasn’t been a lot of change in the past 100 years of funeral service,” Rob Goff, executive director of the Washington State Funeral Directors Association (WSFDA) told the Seattle Times. And typical funeral services—standard burials or cremations—are expensive and environmentally damaging.
Each year, U.S. cemeteries bury more than 827,000 gallons of formaldehyde-containing embalming fluid, over 100,000 tons of metal, and millions of tons of concrete and hardwood. Cremating a single body requires enough fuel to fill two SUV fuel tanks.
Thanks to startups and legislative overhauls, funeral services may soon be one of the next big industries where startups can place their focus.
On May 21, Bill 5001 passed the Washington state Senate, allowing for the composting of human corpses, which the bill refers to as “natural organic reduction.” The bill also allows for alkaline hydrolysis, otherwise known as “liquid cremation,” a processed legalized in 19 other states.
Recompose, the company that helped craft Bill 5001, offers a service which, in its own words, “gently converts human remains into soil so that we can nourish new life after we die.” It's not the only business advancing funeral practices, either. Green funeral startup Coeio made headlines this year when it was revealed that Luke Perry, the former Beverley Hills 90210 actor, was buried in a Coeio Infinity Suit, a burial suit that decomposes the body using mushrooms and other microorganisms.
And across the U.S., “green burials,” in which bodies are buried in simple wood caskets without embalming fluids or other forms of preservation, are rising in popularity. There seems to be growing consumer interest in taking a more conscientious approach to how their bodies will be handled, post-death.
Death may make many of us uncomfortable, but for the startups moving into the funeral space, it represents a chance to make a massive impact on both underserved consumers and the environment.
Distributed teams, extreme transparency, & buying out your investors
In this episode of Product Hunt Radio, Ryan Hoover is joined by Joel Gascoigne, CEO of Buffer, a simple tool that helps you manage all of your social media accounts. In under an hour, these two cover a lot of ground, including:
Joel’s journey from the UK to the U.S. via Hong Kong and Israel
Joel started Buffer with his cofounder in the UK. They lived 30 minutes away from one another but worked remotely most of the time, preferring Skype calls and chats. After moving to the Bay Area, the duo ended up having to leave the U.S. because they weren’t able to get visas. Joal, on how they decided where to go next, says:
“I remember the three of us in an apartment in San Francisco looking at Google Maps, thinking ‘where should we go?’ We ended up going to Hong Kong for six months and then to Israel for three months.”
What it’s like to manage an 85-person, completely distributed team
“David Cancel, who’s at Drift now, gave me really good advice. He said either go fully remote or have an office with everyone in the same place. He said it’s hard to make it work when you’re in between those two scenarios.”
Joel talks about the advantages of a distributed team, including why distributed workers tend to have more loyalty and retention with a company than Bay Area employees. He also has advice on how to set up and successfully run a distributed team:
“We actually went out of our way to hire the next few people outside the Bay Area just to makes sure we were really distributed and not ending up with people who felt like second-class citizens.”