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a fee to maintain a Mylestone after a certain period of time has passed since a loved one’s death (a year, say), and perhaps charging people if their post about the deceased exceeds a certain length.
Still, choosing the right business model for a startup is difficult, and it’s an even more delicate decision in deathtech, given that customers are experiencing some of the most trying and emotional moments of their lives.
“We do believe strongly that things around death and memories, we’d prefer to put as few hurdles in place as possible to let people have the experience in the time of grief,” Balter says. “The last thing you want is [to say], ‘Hey, would you like to say some wonderful things to this person as a gift to the family? Slide your credit card here.’”
The public conversation around death does seem to be changing. Some signs Balter points to: “death cafes,” which are gatherings held around the globe where people (often strangers) eat cake, drink tea, and discuss death; and a “death positive” movement started by The Order of the Good Death, a group of funeral industry professionals, academics, and artists trying to “prepare a death-phobic culture for their inevitable mortality.” The group has amassed hundreds of signatures from people expressing their intentions to talk more openly about death.
At the same time, people are seeking new ways “to celebrate the spirits of their loved ones,” Balter says.
The timing might be right for Mylestoned, says David Chang, a Boston entrepreneur and investor, and PayPal Media Network’s former chief operating officer. (Chang is not a Mylestoned investor and is not involved with the company.)
“I think it’s too early to [say] whether there will be a whole industry of [deathtech] services, or simply the emergence of narrowly focused apps that address specific use cases,” Chang says in an e-mail message. “I suspect we’ll see a few different services launch in this industry before they merge/consolidate with each other or get acquired by incumbents.”
There are already plenty of websites that enable people to pay tribute to the dead through text, photos, videos, and so on. And social media platforms like Facebook have also become popular ways of memorializing the dead online.
But Balter thinks those options leave a lot to be desired. Not everyone has a Facebook account, so making that the main vehicle for online tribute automatically leaves out some family and friends. And the “likes, emojis, and well-intentioned comments” of social media can “trivialize meaningful memorialization and can sometimes lead to awkward interactions,” Mylestoned says in the press release.
Meanwhile, Balter sees current websites dedicated to memorializing the dead as “one-dimensional” and essentially just taking the traditional funeral-home comments book and moving it online. “We haven’t taken that to the point of enabling the spirits of those loved ones to be around us at times that matter,” Balter says.
Mylestoned intends to make that possible in future versions of its software by enabling the recollection of memories based on triggers like dates, events, and visiting certain locations. (The concept is similar to what SafeBeyond, another deathtech company, has built.) For example, on favorite holidays or the anniversary of a loved one’s passing, Mylestoned could send a notification to family members and friends that “there’s a gift waiting for you, which is a series of memories” they can view, Balter says.
Another example of a trigger would be a place that held meaning to the deceased person, perhaps a favorite restaurant. When someone in the person’s “Web of memories” visits that spot, Mylestoned could serve up digital memories people had shared about the deceased’s experiences at that place, Balter says. The idea is for Mylestoned to be more than an online repository of memories, but to add “relevance” and “discoverability” of things people might not know about the dearly departed.
Balter also suggests that Mylestoned could someday incorporate augmented and virtual reality technologies, which are still in early stages of development and adoption. “Today, [the format] may be a Web page. In 20 years, it might be AR/VR.”
Balter and his team are taking a smart approach in the early going by starting with a “tight focus” on a small number of features, Chang says.
“I also think Mylestoned is positioned well,” Chang says, “on how it’s leveraging its target user base: low barrier to get the ball rolling, relying on a few motivated individuals to seed the content, then enabling a broader audience to consume the content and provide positive feedback/cycle to encourage more adoption.”
Mylestoned’s primary challenge, Chang says, will be “figuring out how much to leverage existing incumbent content sources (e.g., Facebook) to jumpstart adoption and grow their own user base.”
“They can either create a destination site/app and require their users to create content from scratch, or take a thin layer approach where they stitch together media that already exists,” Chang says. “Both strategies can work, but have very different pros and cons.”
Ultimately, Mylestoned could be useful not only to those who knew the deceased personally, but also those who didn’t, including those born after the person is gone. “You can imagine a future where every single deceased person has almost a personality or a set of memories so anyone can discover who they were,” Balter says.
“The goal is to create this tapestry of people and who they were and the impact they had on the world,” he continues. “You don’t have to just chisel someone’s name in granite and put them in a cemetery and hope to go there to remember them. It can be present all around you.”