When I set out to start a new company last year, I returned to a problem I had been thinking about for years: the lack of help available for bereaved families. I was no stranger to loss in my own life; it’s also vividly present in some of my closest circles, and I had seen firsthand how difficult it was. When someone close to us passes away, we find ourselves lost in a sea of unfamiliar, complex tasks like planning a funeral and administering an estate, all while laboring under the intense grief and emotional turmoil of loss.
Together with my co-founder Yon, I started Empathy to solve this problem, seeking to give families all the tools and guidance they need to understand what they are going through and to do what they need to do. We built a world-class team and did hundreds of hours of research, learning about areas as diverse as funeral traditions and inheritance tax law; we spent months talking to families who had gone through the process about their needs, challenges and regrets.
When we began to understand the scope of the problem, one thing became clear: if we really wanted to help these families the way they most needed, we wouldn’t be able to build a lean startup or a sleek single-purpose product. We had no choice but to build something much bigger, a Swiss Army knife of features that address every angle of bereavement.
Like most complex issues, bereavement can look extremely different depending on where you are standing. Families’ needs are hugely varied. Some may need help dealing with their loved one’s benefits and bank accounts. Others may want to figure out how to clear out a whole house while navigating tricky family dynamics. Still others may simply need someone to talk to in their pain, grief and confusion.
An app that seeks to solve all of this has to be a robust, multilayered product. Understanding that families were navigating all of the logistical nightmares while also undergoing a profound emotional process, we took a two-pronged approach, addressing practical issues alongside guidance for grief. We built up a huge library of in-depth resources and a comprehensive checklist for every task and responsibility a family might face. We created tools both to ease the burden of practical matters, such as a feature that closes a loved one’s accounts and cancels their subscriptions, and to help with grief, such as a daily journal prompt to remind grievers to check in with their feelings.
And on top of all that, we established a Care Team that users can chat with to understand and resolve their unique challenges. A 24/7 resource that is staffed with living, breathing — and highly qualified — people, with all of the heavy operational lift that implies.
In short, our product is big. It has to be to truly live up to our name, to give bereaved families the support they need in the way that they need it.
Meeting families where they are
At the same time, we knew from the start that our approach to the market couldn’t be a lean one either. Despite conventional industry wisdom (and much of the advice we received), we always understood that we would be creating a product that was at once B2C and B2B2C. There is no other way to truly meet families where they are in their journey of loss. Bereaved people are everywhere and we need to be accessible to them, whether they find us through their life insurance, their funeral home, their Medicare-paid hospice, or their own individual search for assistance.
Thus we pursued partnerships with organizations in every area of the end-of-life space. By joining forces with StoneMor, the second-largest operator of funeral homes and cemeteries in the US, we gained access to every family that walks through their doors when their locations provide our services to their customers as an added benefit. Our partnership with the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization expands the support hospice providers give the families of patients by sending them our app. Partnering with New York Life, the country’s largest mutual life insurer, brings in new Empathy customers while providing support to the insurance beneficiaries that goes well beyond a payout.
And we’re constantly expanding into new areas; families facing loss are everywhere, and we represent the potential for any service provider or business that serves them in any capacity to do more, to serve them better, to add a dose of empathy to their offerings. In turn, they provide us with further avenues to finding the families that need Empathy, and meet them on their journey of loss.
I think of meeting families in this way as our responsibility — and as a tremendous opportunity. Building a category and a brand that seeks to do more for families, to support them both emotionally and practically, invites collaboration with businesses that touch people’s lives in fundamental ways and even build meaningful, lasting relationships with them. Like life insurance providers, which promise to be there for every customer at the moment they need it most. Or hospices, whose care teams often become almost like members of the family. In this day and age, when consumers have become increasingly skeptical of the brands they transact with, this kind of relationship is becoming more valuable than ever. Tired of being treated like categories or points on a spreadsheet, today’s consumers prefer to hold out for brands that treat them like full human beings with unique needs.
Humans helping humans
By building an app that offers full-spectrum support for whatever a bereaved family may be dealing with, and forming partnerships with organizations that support families through some of their hardest times, Empathy is establishing itself as a company that does just this: approaches the bereaved as complete humans, with their own challenges, preconceptions, emotions, questions and relationships.
Like any human on this planet, all of us at Empathy have our own history with loss, whether it’s something we’ve seen up close or watched others around us go through. Carrying those interactions with us, we have met so many new families along the way dealing with their own issues and struggles. We are honored to have been able to listen to their stories, and build a solution that can help them — and all the families we haven’t met yet.
The app may be broad, but the concept is actually very simple: empathy, not sympathy. Don’t stand at a distance; meet them where they are. Don’t invite the user to come to you to find the support they need. Rather, find them, wherever they are in their journey, and then listen to them when they tell you how you can help.