Empathy app helps grieving people complete tasks
“Death is the end consumer sector that has remained neglected from an innovation standpoint,” says Ron Gura, CEO of Empathy, an Israeli startup whose app recently emerged from stealth with a technological take on the bureaucracy of mourning.
The reason is that humans have an aversion to dealing with death, Gura says. “The logistics are made difficult by the bereavement, and the bereavement is made difficult by the logistics.”
How difficult is this logistics? After the death of a loved one, a family member will spend an average of 570 hours dealing with issues that are often entirely new to recently bereaved people: arranging funerals, canceling accounts, cleaning up property, hiring movers, etc. claim benefits, review wills, understand probate laws and more.
It’s devastating work that happens when you’re most vulnerable – which also allows unscrupulous salespeople to take advantage of the bereaved.
Some three million people die each year in the United States, where Empathy goes first. The company announced $ 13 million in funding from venture capitalists General Catalyst and Aleph to market its “GPS for Grief.”
The Empathy app first asks you to provide details about your situation and then walks you through a step-by-step process of everything that needs to be done after a person has passed away. Dozens of professionally produced articles and audio clips are available (in English) and a help desk run by real people who can step in to help.
“Sometimes the help desk staff can even take care of certain tasks for you,” Gura tells ISRAEL21c. “So if you can’t get your Comcast account canceled, the hotline might say, ‘Let’s call Comcast together now and I’ll stay with you online.'”
Empathy – with live help or DIY through the app – aims to help grieving people with the piles of paperwork that suddenly becomes relevant, “so you have more time to be with your family,” said Gura. “We are helping you stay organized and in control during this overwhelming situation.”
The app helps you pre-fill the forms you need. Once you’ve entered the necessary data once, it stays in the system, so you don’t have to re-enter your loved one’s address and social security number over and over again. And by having all the documents you need in one place, “you don’t have to search for the things you might be entitled to.”
Mapping the journey of mourning
When building the app, the Gura team mapped 16 key paths, 300 steps, and 24 data points common to most people’s grieving journey.
Empathy can help you apply for benefits, stop identity theft, figure out how to shut down social media accounts, make immediate arrangements for burials or cremation, set up a media obituary premises and even inform others of the loss.
For many people, this process can take up to 18 months. Fortunately, the Empathy app does not have an expiration date. The application is free for the first 30 days; if you find it useful, you can pay a one-time fee of $ 65 to keep it active.
There are no additional fees, no advertising, and no selling personal data to third party vendors looking to make money on your bad news.
“We’re here to offer some relief,” says Gura. “The loss is messy; it’s personal, it’s real. We believe $ 65 will democratize access to bereavement support. We will be with you at your own pace. It’s not about winning, it’s about facing up. “
End of life technology
“The end-of-life industry is a vast sector that has not been impacted by the wave of digital transformation that is happening in every other sector,” adds Joel Cutler, managing director of Investor Empathy General Catalyst. “Empathy is unique in that it responds to both the emotional and logistical anguish of loss.”
Gura is an example of how the app can help prepare for browsing a loved one’s belongings.
“The app will play a pop-up sound sequence five minutes before you enter the house for the first time, defining the dos and don’ts.”
It will also remind you that everything in the house is owned by the property until these matters are sorted out, although “if your mother says, ‘I want you to have the ribbon,’ you will have it. ”
When the time comes to hire a moving company, the app will provide a list of approved suppliers. “We will ensure that there is no exploitation,” Gura emphasizes.
How can an app do this? First of all, with transparency.
“The technology is good enough for things like comparing prices,” Gura notes. “We’ll tell you how much it should cost, what to worry about, what to expect and direct you to the right suppliers.”
Another area where technology excels is automating the process of finding information on the web. All the forms and instructions one need are there, but often buried deep in government websites.
Empathy’s crawlers search the internet for this information and logically organize it for users in a simple and orderly manner. “That’s a lot of information that humans have to go through,” says Gura. “But it’s very easy for machines to do that.”
Empathy uses 256-bit encryption and two-factor authentication. Preventing identity theft is a key part of the company’s mission. “Thirty percent of identity theft cases relate to bereavement,” says Gura. “Best to prevent it with automation.”
Technology vs desperation
Empathy has been building their team and technology since August 2020. As of April 6, the product was ready for download and use in the United States. Gura plans to expand to other countries in the future. “The loss does not jump to anyone,” he said.
The company has 23 people in its offices in Tel Aviv, New York and Dallas. Many of these team members – including Gura’s partner Yonatan Bergman – have lived together thanks to several successful startups.
Gura and Bergman previously founded The Gifts Project, which enabled group shopping and giveaways. The company was acquired by eBay in 2011 for $ 25 million. Gura became Product Manager for Business Incubation at eBay and then set up and managed WeWork’s research and development center in Israel.
Gura came up with the idea for Empathy while he was still on eBay. He had a team member who had recently lost his wife.
“Two months later, I realized he was taking care of this all the time. It shows how little we know about what goes on the minds of our employees and what we can do for them, from sympathy to empathy, from flowers and condolences to service.
While subsequently working as an Entrepreneur in Residence at the Aleph VC, Gura was encouraged by Managing Partner Michael Eisenberg to move forward with his idea.
The Empathy app was launched with Covid-19 still raging around the world, and the website contains articles and sound clips dealing with the pandemic.
But as Gurap points out: “Loss is always complex and difficult. It will always be there. There may be a vaccine for Covid-19. There is no pill or vaccine against despair. “
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