Death is one of the hardest things to cope with in life, both from an emotional and organizational standpoint. And what’s worse is that the latter of these is inevitably compounded by the fact that those left behind are grieving and focused on that. Unsurprisingly, tech that is being built to help in these situations is seeing a lot of traction.
Empathy, a startup that emerged from stealth earlier this year with a digital assistant aimed at helping bereaving families navigate those choppy waters resulting from the death of someone close to them — with a diverse range of services, from providing links to counselling to helping plan estate paperwork and taxes — is capitalizing on that opportunity. It has now raised $30 million in funding on the back of some very strong interest in its services.
The Series A is coming just five months after Empathy announced a $13 million seed round. Entrée Capital led the latest investment, with previous backers General Catalyst and Aleph (which co-led the seed), as well as LocalGlobe, Primetime Partners and prominent angel investors including Shai Wininger (CEO & co-founder of Lemonade), Sir Ronald Cohen, John Kim (ex-president of New York Life) and Micha Kaufman (CEO & co-founder of Fiverr) all investing.
The company is not disclosing its valuation.
Part of the reason for the swift arrival of the Series A is to help Empathy keep up with what has proven to be strong early demand. The company’s tech was built in Israel but it chose to launch in the U.S., where co-founder and CEO Ron Gura tells me that it’s already amassed a “nice, single-digit percent” of the market, in the form of seeing some 250,000 bereaved executors visiting and using Empathy’s services each month. Those services range from practical estate planning and tax tools through to links for counseling and other support.
“Some visitors are practical, and some come to find meaning,” he said. It’s a tricky balance when you think about it — having one side by side with the other inevitably might offend those looking specifically for one service, only to be confronted by another, so that Empathy has managed to build and operate such a platform is an achievement in itself.
It’s also building out its business by partnering increasingly with other stakeholders in the end-of-life process, be they hospice centers or funeral homes. To date, it has some 300 cemeteries and 72 funeral homes referring customers to Empathy, Gura told me. The reason for this is simple: bereaving families often start to ask questions of the people who are connected to those final stages, but those people’s focus is the job at hand, as much as they’d like to help with other aspects and to provide comfort.
“When families come into the hospice, the truth is around the corner,” Gura said, “and they turn to the coordinator. And all the coordinators want to do is help: they are usually good people who work in a complex field, but they have limited resources and capabilities as they need to move on to the next family.
“The funeral director is the closest thing to a concierge in this situation,” he added a little bit of irony, but also just talking straight.
It is indeed not an easy job, and not a glamorous one, but it has to be done, and so to have a company building some help that takes some of the pain of figuring things out for yourself, in a way that’s not an invasive and expensive business in itself (some services are totally free; others are not) is not such a bad thing.
“We are proud to continue to support Empathy as it strengthens its position as a market leader in the end-of-life industry and provides a service that is incredibly necessary for families struggling with loss,” said Joel Cutler, MD of General Catalyst, in a statement. “Empathy has proven both its commitment and its determination to reach as many families as possible, partnering with companies across different sectors to connect with diverse audiences, as well as recruiting the best and the brightest to further their mission. We look forward to seeing Empathy continue to prove how technology can make a major difference for bereaved families.”