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Innovation

Death in the family? There's an app for that.

Can a company called empathy help simplify life after a death?
greg-nichols
Written by Greg Nichols, Contributing Writer on
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Death is no simple matter. As a matter of fact, it's dizzyingly complex -- at least for those loved ones left behind following the passing of a family member. Can technology help?

That's the pitch of a company called (and yes, this is a bit on the nose) Empathy, which leverages familiar app-based technology in a bid to untangle the many logistical nuances the living inherit when they lose a family member. In April the company raised $13M in a seed round and this month a famous grief expert, David Kessler, co-author of On Grief and Grieving, joined as what the company calls its Chief Empathy Officer.

If death and taxes are life's twin assurances, the bureaucracy following the former is an oft-overlooked footnote. Families spend something like 500 hours, on average, dealing with a death, which includes arrangements like planning a funeral and validating a will, as well as long-term processes such as account cancellations, estate administration, benefit claims, and property cleanout.

"It's the inherent optimism of human nature that causes us to avoid talking about death," said Ron Gura, Co-Founder & CEO of Empathy. "But because we don't discuss it, we miss out on important opportunities to innovate and provide families with technology that can help them manage some of life's most challenging moments — and this leaves families overwhelmed and underserved. Logistics are made hard by grief, and grief is made harder by logistics. Software can and will play a huge role in helping families deal with loss and will hopefully drive a much needed change in the industry at large."

For the same reason we may fail to plan properly for death, many technology companies prefer to skirt the issue. Empathy is attempting to thread a tricky needle. Its app aims to streamline end-of-life bureaucracy, minimize tedious tasks, and automate processes involved in the administration of an estate.

But technology is also often seen as cold and impersonal, and that's where Empathy is hoping to carve out a special niche. The app is designed to provide emotional guidance and practical assistance along with streamlining the more mundane, if macabre, logistics.

"In my decades of helping grieving families, I heard repeatedly about how overwhelming executing an estate can be when coping with tragedy," said Kessler. "In fact, this was personal for me – after my son's passing, I was unable to close his bank account. I called, visited the bank in person, and pleaded with everyone on staff, but to no avail. After a few years, I gave up – the few hundred dollars wasn't worth the emotional pain. With Empathy's help, however, I was able to finally resolve this in mere minutes. I can tell you firsthand that Empathy's approach of combining unique technology to ease the logistical burdens families face with a commitment to guiding them through tough times is powerful, and a mission that I fully endorse."

Empathy has already gained the confidence of the investor community. The company is backed by $13M in a seed round co-led by General Catalyst and Aleph.

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