Found In The Rockies

Wesley Eames ( \\ Revolutionizing death tech

November 23, 2022 Les Craig Season 3 Episode 6
Found In The Rockies
Wesley Eames ( \\ Revolutionizing death tech
Show Notes Transcript

In today’s episode, we have Wesley Eames, CEO and founder of Wesley is working to fix what is an antiquated and broken funeral system and he has the entrepreneur chops to do it. 

Here’s a closer look at the episode:

  • Wesley’s early start in entrepreneurship at 12.
  • Wesley’s background in business.
  • - genealogy - Wesley’s first VC backed company
  • Diving into dating apps by buying another startup - MeetMindful
  • Founding with his wife
  • The importance of memorializing stories.
  • Why death tech?
  • The death of big funeral -
  • No one has tried this before. Why is that?
  • The environmental impact
  • How death traditions have changed
  • Finding a co-founder.
  • The pre-planning services
  • What are the locations?
  • Adding the death insurance component
  • Wesley’s thoughts on the future of the industry.
  • Wesley’s thoughts on legacy



Wes Linkedin:

Wes Twitter: 

After LinkedIn:

Wesley  00:00

And she just like, you know, slapped the table and stopped me it was like, “You will regret this if you don't start this company.” And we've we've sort of had this framework in our marriage where if we reach a big fork in the road of decision making, we always ask ourselves, you know, and we don't dwell on regrets or anything like that, but we ask ourselves, will I regret not doing this? And if the answer is, you know, I will regret it. If I don't do this, then we we go for it. And that's kind of a litmus test for us. And, and so I said, alright, well, we're gonna figure some stuff out, you know, I can't run multiple companies. I need to go all in if we're gonna do this, and, and we figured it out. And so yes, we started the company, we're taking on big funeral, and they don't like us.

Les  00:49

This is Found in the Rockies, a podcast about the startup ecosystem in the Rocky Mountain region, featuring the founders, funders, and contributors, and most importantly, the stories of what they're building. I'm Les Craig from Next Frontier Capital. And I'm dead serious when I say that today's episode is going to put the fun back in funeral because the funeral industry is broken. And our guest today has made it his mission to fix it. On today's show. We have a founder I have been dying to get on the podcast. Meet Wesley Eames, CEO and founder of Hi, Wesley. Welcome to the show.

Wesley  01:31

Hey, Les. Thanks for having me. Glad to be here. 

Les  01:32

Now, today, this is a pretty dark and dreary topic we're gonna get into is that right?

Wesley  01:40

Morbid. Yeah. This should be the most morbid episode. 

Les  01:45

Ah, our listeners are already tuning out. I can hear them. Hear them groan as as as we speak. No, it's actually going to be kind of fun. There won't be any death jokes, though. I promise we'll keep it light hearted. But but no death jokes, or what's the what are the rules of engagement?

Wesley  02:00

I won't be making any death jokes. But you're welcome to. I’ve probably heard them all actually.

Les  02:06

I'm sure you have anyway, I'm so excited to dive into Because that's what you're working on right now. But, you know, to start off, why don't you just tell our listeners a little bit about who you are, where you came from? Where you grew up? You know, the whole spiel from the beginning? Sure,

Wesley  02:22

Yeah. Wesleyley Ames. I grew up in Southern Utah, of all places. I been entrepreneur since I was 12 years old. My dad came home with a commercial grade lawn mower. And, you know, said he, he was my first customer and the widow across the street was my second customer. And he you know, recommended I go knock every door on the street to get more customers to pay back the $2,000 lawnmower. And so that's I've been an entrepreneur since I was 12. My father was very entrepreneurial, my grandfather, great grandfather, so it's, it's hereditary, unfortunately. 

Les  03:01

Amazing. So your your father wasn't a business partner, he he, he conscripted you to pay back this lawn mower rather than sharing in the long tails of revenue from your business? 

Wesley  03:12

You can say he forced founded that company for me.

Les  03:17

Awesome. What a dad.

Wesley  03:19

Really, really, though, I think it was the best thing you could have ever done for me. So of course, since then, I think I've only had one job working for someone else. And that was really transitioning from service businesses to the tech industry. I needed to learn that and so but yeah, I've been an entrepreneur. What else do you want to know?

Les  03:37

Well, so we're gonna get into I mean, you've you've essentially when you when you say some people are like, Oh, I've been an entrepreneur my whole life. And it's like they're on their first startup. But I mean, you've started an online dating company, a genealogy company, a historical preservation tech company, and now death tech. I'd love to kind of go I mean, can you share the journey of just just high level of how all this stuff evolved?

Wesley  04:01

Yeah, so my teens were spent building service businesses figuring out you know, what service could make me more per hour and be a little bit easier. You know, I went from mowing lawns, and it's like Las Vegas weather where I grew up so 100 degree heat. And I realized I could do you know, window washing and make a little bit more per hour and I'd be inside air conditioning, and I learned like commercial window washing is better than residential. And then YouTube was, you know, YouTube was really cool back then. And I thought, I want to be a YouTuber. I want to learn more about the internet. So I started doing wedding videos every Saturday to pay for my like production gear and my camera and the editing software, because I can make $1,000 on a Saturday, if I did a wedding video instead of you know, $400 every Saturday doing lawns. So that was the progression. At 21. I went and interned at a tech company down in San Diego. And this was during The Daily Deal era of like 2010 2012, you know, LivingSocial GroupOn had just gone public, I think it was about to go public. So as a daily deal startup, which everyone was doing, we're raising money out of LA and the founder was a mentor. It completely died and, and blew up. But I learned a lot. And I learned I wanted to be in the tech industry after that experience. And so, you know, the next summer I also went down to San Diego different b2b SaaS company, I joined. And I think I was the, like, 18th person on the team. And over the next year and a half, they grew to over 100 people and I got to play you know, different roles within that org from sales ops, to marketing, to content creation and, and I think that's where I really like learned the ins and outs of the different functions within a software company and internet based business. Founder was a great mentor that that company was FMG suite. Had a private equity bio still running today, great business, but it was vertical SaaS for financial advisors. And that's also when I learned I'm a DtoC guy. Like there is nothing more boring for me than enterprise software. No offense to the enterprise software…

Les  06:13

You had to do it to realize how boring it was basically, 

Wesley  06:18

Yeah, to like, do like build a widget for like a company to make 10% better margins is like so boring. And so while I was there, I was Moonlighting, what is now And that was a combination of my, you know, passions, I was entrepreneurial. I wanted to be an entrepreneur, a tech entrepreneur, specifically. And I had always been like, the journalist, historian of the family, the genealogist. And normally that's like a seventy year old woman. And each family like, generally speaking, at every Thanksgiving dinner table, there's usually an older gal who cares about the family history while everyone else doesn't really care, right?

Les  06:56

Yeah, it was that was Aunt Dorothy, Aunt Dorothy and my family and now aunt Dorothy has passed and it's my mother. So yes, I know exactly what you're talking about, Yeah.

Wesley  07:03

I was Dorothy from like 14 years on. And so I saw an industry and that's kind of the other theme in my, my entrepreneurial journey is, I saw an industry that was like, very antiquated. Fusty was the word, I heard about that word first describing the genealogy industry. And so we built Trace, you know, that was venture backed early on, we did TechStars Boulder, we raised, you know, from some great investors, David Cohen, Dave Moon, the former chairman of ancestry invested in that, and then around Series A time we realized, like

Les  07:39

Pretty big signaling there.

Wesley  07:41

Yeah, yeah, we did great. We did great and TechStars it was a phenomenal program. And then around Series A time in 2019, we realized like this, this is not a big enough space to keep raising venture. And so there was like a small probability, we could squeeze a series A out and keep going, but we're gonna risk the company doing it. And the board ultimately agreed that, you know, we had like a 90% chance of becoming profitable and still sustainably growing. And so we off ramped that business from Venture still has a team of about 10 today, running it growing year over year, you know, double digit percentage, but still healthy and profitable. So that was that was my first venture in the tech world. And I think I learned more than anything in that business of them all. 

Les  08:28

I mean, what, what a fun journey. And that's, that's when we met originally, right? I think it was around that time. 2019 I think. 

Wesley  08:35

Yeah, you were one of the only investors who gave us honest feedback that we should not raise more venture. Everyone else just passed or said, Come back when you're bigger. And, and we didn't get real, honest feedback, unfortunately, from the community. And, and yeah, Next Frontier was very, this is why we're not investing. And I remember vividly saying, you know, “you're like, uh, for sure two to 4x, or, you know, like, something like that three to five, maybe, but you're not going to return the whole fund.” And we can only invest in companies that are going to, you know, we only take those bets on companies that are going to really, you know, make an outsize return and I was naive to venture economics at the time. And so I probably shouldn't have, you know, raised as much seed money as we did. But yeah, so far, so good. And I'm confident we'll either buy out the shareholders or return that capital, private equity sell. So yeah, that was that was the first journey,

Les  09:30

That was Trace and so you know, coming out of that, I mean, you think about like the you know, just going through just getting accepted to TechStars already as a founder puts you in like the I don't know what it is point something percent club and then, you know, successfully raising successfully growing a business I mean, pretty, pretty amazing experience that for a lot of founders would be like the pinnacle, but you you weren't done. You weren't done with Trace. There were some things that were after, after, Trace.

Wesley  10:00

Yeah, there was a founder identity crisis soon after Trace and and I think it was year six or so of Trace. I realized, you know, I got into this to really control my destiny and control my time, you know, create something great in the world, impact a lot of people. I realized I was like, after we pivoted to profitability, I realized I was over leveraged, overstressed, you know, running a marginally profitable business that was turning more into like a small business was just as stressful as venture backed business. And, and so I stepped back and said, Well, why am I doing this? You know, what, if this business fails? Am I a failure as a founder, and I had like all those, you know, negative, untrue thoughts that founders I'm sure go through. And, and around that time, too, I, I started saying yes to other stuff, because I'm six years in now to this tech startup. I don't I'm like maybe asset rich, but who knows that there will ever be liquidity. And I have no cash, right? And so this has actually been a net drag on my family on my marriage like this. This startup thing wasn't what I thought. So I just started saying yes to other opportunities, because there was no shortage of opportunities. That included buying a dating app. So I didn't start the dating app. But I bought another company that was in our TechStars cohort with a partner. And we bought MeetMindful. 

Les  11:28

That's right. I forgot they were in the cohort with you. I totally forgot about that. Was it it was called it was that that's that was the name of it, you change your name, you rebranded Trace rebranded, right?

Wesley  11:40

Yes, yeah. But MeetMindful was also in that cohort.

Les  11:42

Yeah. That's quite a unique story. I wonder if that's ever happened before that TechStars founder, acquired another company?

Wesley  11:50

Inner cohort acquisition.

Les  11:53

One of a kind. That's cool.

Wesley  11:56

Yeah. That was That was fantastic. I mean, I think I think that's a similar probably story. And certainly some details I can't talk about, but it was, I think it was a story of a great business that, you know, similar to Trace, probably, I mean, it is a better business and Trace, but a great business that probably shouldn't have raised as much venture capital as they did. And that created, you know, a hard kind of set of incentives later stage. And so the board actually, you know, forced the sale of of the dating app, as they pivoted to something bigger and better and, and I had run a marketplace business Trace was a managed marketplace at that point. And dating apps are just localized marketplaces. Obviously DtoC and, and mindfulness is just continuing to grow as like a category. So we acquired that business in 2020. And around the same time, you know, that's when we started investing more into, which is a oral history company, where we're trying to really just capture all of the stories of the baby boomers, I think we're losing six to 7,000 Baby Boomers a day right now in the US, and will continue to for the next 10 to 15 years. And so there's just so much treasure in their minds and their stories, and their history that needs to be recorded. And so, so around that time in saying yes to more things, I acquired a company, and then, you know, founded, with my wife, and now we have a partner who's actually running that named Spencer.

Les  13:30

I'll tell you In particular, especially as of recent for me, it's something I definitely want to make sure we put the link in the show notes. And I am I want to do a call out to all of our listeners to really give this some serious thought I actually just lost a dear dear friend, fellow veteran, 102 years old, a few weeks ago, and the incredible stories that I mean, sadly, only I know. And I know I could verbatim them tell so many of them because I used to have lunch with with my dear friend Al on a monthly basis. And I would hear the same stories like five or six times because he forgot. Yeah, he often forgot that he told them to me, but yeah, it's just you're you're so right. There's so much treasure there. There's so many incredible just stories to capture for inspiration for just truth of the universe kind of stuff. I mean, really cool. What you're doing doing with the Tales. Can you tell us a little bit more about if it's something that gets us excited? Like, what do we do? How do we get involved? How do we get these stories recorded?

Wesley  14:31

Yeah, so the origin of it was me and my wife, you know, talking one Saturday night realizing our children will likely never know any of our grandparents. I think I had lost two of my four grandparents at the time, or had just lost the third of the four. And then, you know, my wife had the same realization she only had one living grandparent left. And so our little two year old we realize is never going to meet these individuals. But they were so impactful in our lives, their stories were incredible. Um, anyone from I think the boomer generation has just a powerful story in their upbringing, the way of life in America at the time. And so, so it's a personal podcast about their life. They're interviewed by a professional, you know, journalist, or storytelling expert. It's either on Zoom or you know, grandma can just pick up the phone, we can call her landline. And and so half of the interview is

Les  15:25

It works with rotary phones too, I hope my grandmother had one. That's what I'm serious.

Wesley  15:34

Yeah, the quality will not the sound quality won't be great. But that's what we've learned is, if it's grandma on the line that you're listening to, it's okay if it's a little crackly, and it's not, you know, studio quality. And then the journalists and the professional interviewer is in a studio, and it is like NPR quality. And so we'll do you know, one to, I think we've done 10 episodes for one person. And these are half hour interviews that get edited down to 20 minutes, we take out the ums, we take out the questions that fall flat, or when grandma gets confused or, and so it's just like this really nice 20 minute snippet episodes, that mean so much to like, 100 people, and probably no one else will really care that much. But like to the 100 descendants of that male or woman. Like that's just so powerful.

Les  16:22

I see. So that's the focus is, is for that family connection. Very cool.

Wesley  16:28

That's right. Yeah. And there's so much research shows, you know, kids who know the family narrative are like, more emotionally resilient when they face hardships in their lives. And it's important for these stories to pass on for a lot of reasons. But yeah, you know, that's our mission. And that's kind of everything we do is got this sort of family mission behind it.

Les  16:48

Much better inspiration than TikToc for sure. Yes. 

Wesley  16:54

Much more wholesome and helpful to society?

Les  16:57

Yeah. Wonderful. So. So we're gonna dive into the meat of the conversation here in a second. But before we do, I just want to make kind of a, an observation of a question is, and that is, we've talked about Trace, we've talked a little bit about being MeetMindful and now Is there a theme here? Is there like, what gets Wesley out of bed in the morning? Or like, What is the theme of all these really unique sort of businesses that you started? Or is there one? Maybe it's a leading question?

Wesley  17:30

Yeah. So the way I simplify it for people just because it is odd, I think it's odd what I do sometimes. You know, we're really connecting families, historically, genealogically with Trace. We're starting families with the dating app. We're memorializing families with Tales. And then at, which I think we're here to really talk about. We are serving families at end of life, I think I have a deep appreciation for the family unit. And I think it's an important piece to society. And I want all of my businesses to benefit that. And the theme, right is like marketplaces, DtoC tech enabled services like those, those are the skills I have, where I can have the highest impact. And then, you know, yeah the consumer and the categories are all fairly adjacent.

Les  18:24

Makes sense. And, you know, with that in mind, let's talk about how the funeral industry is broken or dying. In fact, perhaps dying a slow death.

Wesley  18:34

RIP big funeral. They're dying fast, actually.

Les  18:39

What is it? So yeah, so let's start with like, kind of the inspiration maybe because like, when you think about accomplished, like, TechStars accomplished founder, like, family, like amazing portfolio of successes, and then it's like, I think I'll get into death tech, not what I would expect. Not what I would script here. Where did it come from? Where did the motivation come from?

Wesley  19:02

I think it was a it was a opportunity so compelling that it pulled me in like a very strong magnet. And it didn't make sense for me to start a another business. I had, I had multiple sources of income, we had stability, we have gotten kind of over that like five or six year hump as a founder where I felt like I was a failure, and I didn't have any real assets or anything like that. So I didn't need to do this. But the opportunity and the broken nature of funeral services just kept bringing me back like I found myself on Saturdays reading like industry reports on cremation preferences and the rise of cremation preferences. And I just, I have this, you know, part of that hereditary illness of being an entrepreneur, I, I just I get so obsessed with issues like real broken problems, and, and I was always close to death. Uh, being in the genealogy industry, you know, cemeteries are a huge source of information for genealogists. And it was always like working with baby boomer consumers. And so I knew like, you know, life insurance is a category, end of life space, hospice, these were just like, incredibly large businesses. And then we all know the local funeral home. And, and as I studied it, and as I became a student of the space, I learned, this is the most fragmented space I'm aware of, in the US, you know, we have 80,000 independently owned funeral homes nationwide, they’re mom and pop, they’re multi-generation, you know, there's, it's kind of in like a roll up consolidating phase right now. But as an industry, it's still one of the last ones that like really hasn't come online, very fragmented. And then the like, used car space, right, we all know is broken in the way they sell. And that's how funeral services are sold to us today. 

Les  21:01

And so for just 36, monthly payments of $199 99, we can upgrade you to the premium rest deluxe package made from aluminium. I had to watch it before. I mean, so our listeners are probably like, what is going on? These there's some amazing marketing videos, that has we'll put those links in the show notes, they are hilarious. But yeah, this is, this is the reality. I mean, it's not far from the truth, how bad right? How bad this is in real life.

Wesley  21:32

Yeah, and I'll caveat by saying, you know, you've never met a funeral director who's not well meaning and a nice person and doing it because they really are like mission driven. It's not them I'm critiquing. It's the business model. And I don't think it's the funeral home’s fault, right. They're just trying to have a sustainable business that their great grandfather started, they want to keep it in business and have good margins and everything. But it's the way these services are sold. It's the way you know, they use a phrase in the industry, start low, watch it grow, where you advertise a low price, get a customer in the door. And then there's all these add ons. And so just like the predatory nature of the pricing and the selling, people are grieving, they're vulnerable. And I thought, Okay, why hasn't anyone tech enabled this space? So I started looking into it, became obsessed with it, and then realized, you know, it was the realization that the next 10 to 15 years represent the greatest opportunity in my lifetime to change this industry as the boomers pass as they go through this experience. Because we now have a generation Gen X and millennials that are arranging all these funerals, that, that buy their mattresses online, they have very different consumer preferences. They're used to reading all these reviews, researching the exact make and model of car. And then they walk into the dealership and say “I’d like you order this, like, don't sell me what you have on the lot. I've already done the research.” And so why haven't we done that with funeral services. And the industry is just the industry is very large, the opportunity is very large. And the current solutions, I felt like we're falling short. And then it was like, I think I'm the most equipped person on earth to solve this problem with like, the past experiences and the past industries that I’ve been in. And so I was eating tacos with my wife one night, we were on date night and and I was like,

Les  23:24

In a cemetery. No doubt, right? You guys were…

Wesley  23:29

With candles. Yeah, yeah. And I told her, I, you know, I'm obsessed with this. I know, you've been hearing about it for months now. People are like, you know, offering to invest people are very excited, I have people saying they'll quit their job and come join the cause, like, it's a real problem people resonate with if you've ever, you know, buried a loved one, which most people have. And I said, but I can't do it, like I've got too much going on. And she just like, you know, slapped the table and stopped me it was like, “You will regret this if you don't start this company.” And we've we've sort of had this framework in our marriage where if we reach a big fork in the road of decision making, we always ask ourselves, you know, and we don't dwell on regrets or anything like that, but we ask ourselves, will I regret not doing this? And if the answer is, you know, I will regret it. If I don't do this, then we we go for it. And that's kind of a litmus test for us. And, and so I said, alright, well, we're gonna figure some stuff out, you know, I can't run multiple companies. I need to go all in if we're gonna do this, and, and we figured it out. And so yes, we started the company, we're taking on big funeral, and they don't like us.

Les  24:40

I love I love the framework of we will regret this if we don't do it. So we must. It's a good thing. You guys are in the in kind of a tech startup industry and not like extreme sports. Like I could jump off this cliff with a quirrel suit on. If I don't, I will regret it so much. A lot of courage, it takes the same amount of courage for something like this. And it's incredible. That you and that you had that buy in from, from from your wife. That's amazing. 

Wesley  25:12

Yeah, she's back to everything. And I think it's because at the core of what I'm doing professionally is sort of our family mission, which, you know, is to strengthen families to help families. We have four little kids ourselves, we plan to have a big family. And so she's she's all in as well.

Les  25:30

We have four, we're planning to have a big family. Yeah, is that a teaser? Spoiler alert here,

Wesley  25:38

Out here in Utah for is average or below average. So well, we'll probably have north of four

Les  25:44

Amazing, beautiful children, too. I've seen photos, they're gorgeous, gorgeous kids. The so I want to rewind to a second, something you said a second ago, which is, no one has tried this before. And what why? Why is that? Why do you think it's taken this long? I mean, the fact that, you know, I can get a car on demand, or I can, you know, order order food, you know, from McDonald's on demand. Like, like, there's there's so many other industries that I would think would be like lower hanging fruit. This is like a big, massive TAM. Massive space for disruption. Why has nobody tried this?

Wesley  26:24

Yeah, and I'll clarify that at the time, I had thought nobody has tried this. And that's one of the beauties of being a eternal optimist, and just jumping with a lot of ignorance as an entrepreneur, so I sort of jumped in, I think I bought the domain soon after that conversation. So that was me having skin in the game is buy a six that I'm paying, you know essentially.

Les  26:50

Expensive domain for sure, for sure.

Wesley  26:53

When you're paying a mortgage on the domain, every month, the same as your house, you're very motivated to build a business. And as I looked into it, there were people who had built something similar. There was one out of the bay area that I didn't learn about, so we had actually launched and then there was another in the Pacific Northwest, another in the UK. So as I looked out there, there were people already proving a lot of our assumptions, which was good. But prior to that, you know, I think in the last five years, those have all come about, and that's a result of, you know, when a startup like is very innovative, but it's too early, the industry is not ready for it. I think that's the answer to your question is, consumers really weren't ready to stomach like I can fully arrange my cremation at 50 years old, 20 years before I need it all online. Like, I don't think consumers cared to do that. So the timing was right, as the boomers have passed, and started to pass in the last, you know, five to seven years. And we're seeing those growths in death. I think what what my experience was personally, and I think a lot of people that are, you know, in my same shoes resonate with is, I've been to the same fusty funeral home in northern Utah, where my grandfather, my grandmother, and my uncles were buried, and I don't want to ever go into that funeral home again, like it has a negative feeling to me, I'd rather have a celebration of life for one of my loved ones, like, let's talk about them, let's share our stories, let's eat the food, they loved dance to the music they enjoyed. So we have this new generational preference for end of life. That's, that's kind of moving like a wave. And we are capturing and catching that wave at After. And so there was a huge change that's happened I think, probably in the last five years has been the most dramatic. It wasn't till 2020 was the first year in the US the cremation preference was above 50%. So before that, a majority of people still preferred to be buried traditionally in the ground. And so that wave though, is now coming and by 2030 you know, depending on which stat you look at, it could be upwards of 75% nationwide cremation preference.

Les  29:06

That makes sense and I especially think as people become more conscious of, you know, their carbon footprint and just you know, the the impacts of things that we do on the environment. It's like do I really need to be in a box taking up space on this planet until you know, till kingdom come? I mean, is that necessary?

Wesley  29:24

Yeah, it's worse than that. It is Do I really need to be pumped full of this liquid that's horrible for the earth that mummifies me put in a wooden box covered in metal put in a concrete box it is so bad what we are doing to the earth.

Les  29:39

Isn’t there a limit? It reminds me of like WALL-E. Isn't there a limit like eventually like every square foot of the planet some like right if we all continue to do this.

Wesley  29:49

Well so in the UK they already have this problem. So your your your tombstone and your grave site are usually like a 25 year lease and then they dig it up and put someone else in there. So they have a space problem in the UK already. Thankfully, in the US, we have plenty of land, it doesn't make it any better for the Earth to bury people. And there's other factors to Les, I’ll mention, you know, we're a mobile society now. So like, I don't live where my grandparents are buried. So these like local cemeteries mean last to us, because we're moving more we're working from home or working from wherever we're going to the opportunities, whereas a generation ago or two generations ago, you know, you kind of lived near and around where you grew up. And then, you know, the other reason is the decline in religion, a lot of traditional burial practices stem from traditional Christianity, you know, bury them facing east, you know, you have like religious services that restrict how that burial must be done in preparation for a resurrection. So as decline of religion in the US happens to cremations just like makes sense for the Earth. Makes sense because I don't live in that part of the country anymore. And, you know, I don't have to, I'm not required by Catholicism anymore to do it this way. And so,

Les  31:06

Yeah, yeah, makes sense. I mean, there's, there's a lot of certainly a lot of reasons. I think it's amazing how much has changed. Like, as you as you're talking about this, I'm like, wow, yeah, there's like a lot of conventional things, even in my lifetime, that are one or two generations away that are so different. And then you think about the tradition, like the the whole tradition of like a headstone. It's like, literally, you're carving my name in a stone. Like, how old is that tradition? That's like, stones. Wow, so so much to be disrupted and innovated here. So what could What could possibly go wrong? You got to you got a founder, someone with zero multigenerational experience in an industry that is like the precedent to be successful? Is like your father did it your mother did it your grandfather, like father, whatever, it goes back multiple generations? Like what could go wrong? Like, right, Wes? First, first time at it, solo founder a

Wesley  32:09

Here's what could go wrong. And this is why it took me seven or eight months of I was all in on like I was paying this domain payment for seven or eight months before we actually launched. And here's why. The MVP of this startup is no joke, like our first customer. Let's say we get a customer, right? You know, I've created e-commerce businesses, you throw up a landing page, someone clicks by and you don't actually have a product you now know they're gonna buy, but you could just refund the money. And you can test the channel or the acquisition strategy or whatever. If I go acquire one customer for After we need to responsibly care for their loved one and cremate them. And so. So there's a little bit higher barrier to entry here. And that's really how I got connected with my co-founder Bryce. He was running a funeral home, his great grandfather started out in Mesa, Arizona, and it was the most reputable one in town. They service Greater Phoenix. And so it wasn't until I met him that I have the confidence to even dare try this business. Because you can't screw up, you know, responsibly caring for a deceased, for family. And all my other startups I had…

Les  33:33

I thought I thought there might have been a missing detail there. Yeah, exactly.

Wesley  33:37

Yeah. So I had put this post out on LinkedIn, and one of our early investors did as well. Basically pitching the idea, you know, why don't we have crematoriums in more rural industrial areas. And let's, let's make it an internet first experience, let's say the customer costs add value by tech, enabling a lot of these other things like Estate Settlement, grief, support, etc. Let's just have like a high value offering that doesn't have the selling process of traditional funeral. And let's see if it works. And that post went out there. My co-founder and my now co-founder, Bryce saw it. He immediately messaged me, or I think he added me on LinkedIn. I messaged him, I said, “Hey, great to connect, you know, you're a funeral director.” I think my first connection on LinkedIn who is a funeral mortician.

Les  34:27

I didn't know they were on LinkedIn. I've never seen them on there. That's amazing.

Wesley  34:30

They're not very loud. And, and I said, you know, tell me more. I assume you saw the post. And he was like, yeah, how can I help? And I was like, wow, that's very, very interesting because I had called all the funeral homes up and down the you know, greater Salt Lake area, mountain range, and I had asked them you know, we do a pilot with me. Are you willing to partner on this? What do you think? And when I got there, I got one of three responses. They either flat out ignored like repeated, like, I'm texting their cell phones and they wouldn't respond. Or they high-browed us and said, like, Oh, that'll never work. You know, what you don't know anything about our space, or how we do things around here. Or they met with me. And they were very threatened by the idea and very guarded. And that's when I knew I was onto something from the reaction of all these funerals homes. And so Bryce was one of the first ones, you know, he's really the most forward thinking funeral director I've met, running one of the best run funeral homes in the country. And, and he said, “How can I help” and then later in meeting, I flew down to Arizona, we talked about a pilot, talked about partnering. And he explained, he's like, look, I got a great business, you know, large business, great EBITA you know, I think the company's mostly owned by him, and, and he's, he said, what you're describing doing, it could be maybe the greatest threat to my traditional funeral home, because the industry is polarizing. And that's why I want to be involved. The industry is polarized into really high end services, and experience based stuff, or it's polarized into I just need to do this cremation. So we can scatter the ashes in Maui. Like we'd rather memorialize their life by taking a family trip to Maui, and scattering them out there. And so so I just need like the cheapest, most basic cremation. And so with that polarization, it creates a problem for all the traditional funeral homes who are right in the middle that still want to charge four to $6,000 to cremate when it's the same machine that we use, and we do it for $700.

Les  36:38

Yeah, it's just it's like an industrial oven, basically, right?

Wesley  36:42

Yes. Little more bells and whistles but yeah.

Les  36:45

But yeah, it's yeah, sorry. I didn't mean to like trivialize it. 

Wesley  36:50

You’re insulting our crematorium.

Les  36:52

But yeah, so it's not what it's not it's not rocket science is death science like death tech.

Wesley  36:57

Yes. It's natural gas.

Les  36:59

So so what? So now you got Bryce on onboard, and he's willing to help, like, what did? Where did you decide to take it from there? Like, what was the what was the official launch strategy or the official go to market? Once things are starting to get more predictable?

Wesley  37:18

The first question was, how on earth do we get licensed as a funeral home in the state of Arizona, we need to actually be a licensed, you know, funeral home and crematorium that's approved by the Board of funeral directors. So there's like, there's red tape here. And there's, you know, there's there's other reasons why this hasn't been done at scale. The service is simple. The logistics and the regulatory nature of it are not simple or not trivial. So I think we spent the next three months you know, incorporating, becoming a licensed funeral home in the state of Arizona. You know, he was willing to do a pilot and thankfully he had an operating crematorium that served multiple funeral homes at the time. So we had we had someone in-house that could make sure the quality was high. And it was, yeah, it was December 2020. We launched, the pilot went so well, that three hours after we turned on ads, we turned them off, because we we didn't want any more customers. We just wanted to make sure we got like,

Les  38:19

Stop dying people. We can't, we can't take the business.

Wesley  38:25

Stop calling us. Yeah, we really wanted to make sure we have a good experience for these families. And so that was like December 15, of 2020. And we didn't relaunch until mid-January. You know, frankly, I was on paternity leave first of January. And, and we were making sure those families, those first three families were served really well. And then me and my, we have one other co-founder named Jackson, me and my other co-founder Jackson, we were the first care specialists for the first 50 families, just making sure they had a world class experience. We were texting, emailing, you know, figuring everything out with them hand holding through the process. And in doing that we were learning, you know, what of this process can we make more efficient? What can we tech enable, what can we make, you know, more world class experience and funeral homes are offering them? And I'd say we really launched and went full time. You know, the pilot kind of concluded in the June or July of 2021. And that's when we went all in. It was around that time too that's when we decided to raise venture capital. And that was a result of understanding that while the funeral goods and services industry, you know, is nearly $30 billion in the US. What was almost more interesting, or I guess, also caught our attention was separately an almost $30 billion industry is the pre-planned funeral insurance space. And from the week we went live, we had people calling us, it was usually like husband and wife on speakerphone. And they were calling us to pre-plan their cremation and they were in their 50s they were nowhere near dying. No terminal illness. They just wanted to get it done. And I had no idea there was a separate equally large industry there when we started the business, but that's when we decided to raise venture capital and really, you know, take a whole new approach here. Also, that's around the same time we went full time.

Les  40:18

Awesome. And and then where did you expand from there? So Eric, you started with Arizona? And what was kind of what was the expansion from there?

Wesley  40:28

Yeah, I think maybe three or four months into Arizona pilot, we decided to launch Utah. And frankly, that was because we had been inbounded by a Utah funeral director who felt similarly to Bryce of like, “Hey, this is maybe the greatest threat to my traditional funeral home, I want to invest. How can I help?” and as you know, similarly, forward thinking, and so we had a license here in Utah, we had a partner we really liked. We had a fulfillment partner that met our standards. So we launched in Utah, just because it was our own backyard, you know, most of the team was here, Bryce was down in Arizona still. And it just made sense. The other thinking was, Utah is the lowest cremation preference in the country. So it's 35% preference for cremation over burial. Whereas the rest of the country is above 50, for the most part states like Nevada, Arizona, they're above 70. And so it's the exact opposite. And we thought, if we can be viable in Utah, we can be viable anywhere else in the country.

Les  41:30

How did how has it gone?

Wesley  41:32

We’re viable in Utah?

Les  41:34

That's awesome. That's great. That's great. Very good.

Wesley  41:38

No, it's great. I mean, families families really want this. It's obvious from day one. It was obvious about families love us, traditional funeral homes, hate our guts.

Les  41:49

Yeah, well, and that's I'm sure that's a battle, you'll continue to continue to fight right with every new state that you launch it because it will be because of licensing. I assume it's a state by state. 

Wesley  41:59

Yep. Yeah. So we operate now in Colorado as well. So we're getting both sides of the Rockies. Hopefully, Montana, we just don't have very many people up there yet. We need more people to move to Montana.

Les  42:11

Yeah, it's like, that would be really a test of viability. Because it's not about percentages. It's just about large N or small N, I should say there's just nobody lives here. Yeah. How do you what about that? What about the infinite churn aspect of this business? Did any of the VCs throw that throw that at you, when you when you're pitching or like…How do you think about that?

Wesley  42:34

There were we thought about it? There were some comments and some jokes made on Yeah, LTV is capped.

Les  42:46

Actually, it's not really it's not really LTV. It's DTV, isn't it? Isn't it like death, time or death value or something?

Wesley  42:53

Yes, yeah. I remember, I don't know if as you or someone else I remember someone asked, you know, is there a recurring model here is, MRR play? There's not. No, the way the way we view it is, especially with the coupling the insurance business, so right now we're, you know, running internally, two separate businesses, there's an insurance tech piece. And then there's a end of life service angle with the cremation. And the way we see it is we serve family, we serve individuals preparing for their end of life. With the insurance angle, a lot of people are on monthly payment plans there. So like we technically haven't MRR. But we're writing insurance policies in preparation for the next 25 years. A lot of people we plan for a really 25 years from passing, building this very large book of business there. And then right we're servicing at need is what we call it or immediate service. And, and that's when the family becomes the customer. It's no longer the individual because there's a decedent, and the family is now our customer. And, and what's interesting is a lot of people who take care of you know, their loved one, as far as cremation goes with us, they then pre-plan and become a premium customer. And so it's very cyclical in the way that we serve families on all the sides of end of life and we plan to continue to go up and down the value chain from that point of death because that impacts families in a lot of ways, you know, settling estates, planning, you know, trusts and wills, like there's a lot we can do up and down from that very critical life event. You know, people often say it's one of the three biggest life events.

Les  44:35

Yeah, for sure. Yep. Well, I mean, what an incredible journey I think I speak on behalf of all of us and we say we're really excited to see what's what's next. With with Anything you want to as we kind of wrap up the episode I've got kind of two fun personal questions I want to ask but before we go there anything else on the company side that you want to highlight or, you know, predictions you want to make you know anything fun about the future?

Wesley  45:02

Yeah, the way like my point of view, which is likely wrong, but my point of view on the industry is we're going to see a commoditization of cremation. And what we're going to see in the industry, as far as innovation goes is experiences, you know, things I can do with ashes, I want to turn the ashes into a diamond, which we're already seeing a rise in that service. I want to send the ashes to space, different ways, different and unique, rather creative ways to memorialize someone's life to celebrate their life. We have we just hired someone recently, who is a certified celebrant, who helps families, you know, plan the coolest funeral like I want, I want the casket to be in this old Chevy truck. And I want music playing in the procession and and so we're seeing a new generation do this and I think that will become the norm as we celebrate life in very different ways. Which means, you know, the cremation itself, you're gonna go for highest value, you know, lowest costs usually. And then as far as other industry, you know, tidbits that we like to look at Aquamation is legal, I think in 21 states now. And that what is that? That is alkaline hydrolysis that is the technical term. And it's a water cremation using chemicals and heat. And it's it's more eco-friendly than fire cremation less greenhouse gases.

Les  46:29

If you want to like put it in an ocean or a river or something. But the remains that's like the best way to do it or…

Wesley  46:34

No, there's a machine it's similar to like, you know, we use a retort for fire cremation, there's an aquamation machine that you put the decedent in. I would google it if you are more interested. 

Les  46:44

An you bottle it up? I'm sorry, just not understanding this.

Wesley  46:51

Sure. And I'm not an expert on aquamation. But it is just seen trends, incredible. The chemicals in the heat of the water, it's a means of disposition for that decedent and what comes out of the machine is bones that are then rounded up and put into an urn, it’s different form of disposition. I see I predict that'll be illegal in all 50 states in the next five to seven years. And then terramation which is Earth cremation, or human composting is legal now two states, and I see that being a nationwide thing because that is the greenest form a barrier.

Les  47:26

And then you can not only not only can you plant the tree for the loved one, you can fertilize it with them.

Wesley  47:31

You are the tree at that point. Yeah. 

Les  47:34

Yeah. Wow, I didn't think we would get into that in this episode. But I'm glad we did. Because that was I learned something very interesting. 

Wesley  47:42

So means of disposition is very interesting to watch. And we've got our eye on that we have a strategy there too.

Les  47:48

Very cool. All right, time for a couple of fun questions to wrap up. First of all, an embarrassing moment for you on the podcast. 2021. You were Forbes 30 under 30. For consumer technology. Is that right? Incredible. I mean, that's awesome.

Wesley  48:04

Not that awesome.

Les  48:06

No, I think it's great. I think it's really cool. I want to highlight it. And first of all, there was no way you were 30 and 2021, with four children, but we'll we'll put that aside for a second. Young man, you're a young man, that's amazing. But second of all, and this is something that I really want to highlight for our founders out there. Well, first of all, Forbes talked about being brutal. Under education, they listed your education as dropout from BYU. That's right, on your 30 under 30 profile, like what in the world is that? 

Wesley  48:37

Well, I think they asked me in the you know, congratulations, you've won or whatever, fill out this form. Tell us about yourself. And they said education and I dropped out. So I guess I'm uneducated.

Les  48:54

Well, I think it just goes to it just goes to show not that we're encouraging founders out there to drop out. But I mean,

Wesley  48:59

If you are studying entrepreneurship or study business, you won't be an entrepreneur. Just go do it. It is never too late to drop out. That's what I tell everyone in school.

Les  49:12

That's awesome. That's good. Good advice, but just not for maybe Mothers or Fathers. Just don't let your parents listen to this. Yeah. All right. And then to conclude the episode, what I love, I love, just ask kind of a personal question. You know, you're definitely a family oriented, father and person just in your life and your business pursuits. What's your legacy? As a founder, like what do you want to how do you how is how is Wesley Eames is going to dent the universe and what like, what's the legacy you're gonna leave behind?

Wesley  49:46

You know, how will you measure your life is one of my favorite books, and I don't I don't think I have the answer to that question. The way I view my current vocation and endeavors is if If I could bend, if I could bend the entire funeral services industry, towards what I think is a better consumer experience, better value, more helpful to families at a critical point in their life experience. I think that'd be a success. If I could bend an entire industry to be better. And, you know, long term, I think I think we can, we can get to the point where we're, we're serving, you know, 1% of the decedents that pass each year in this country. And that's one of our big, hairy goals. As far as my legacy goes, I don't know, I'm still figuring it out, I want to, I want to be known as you know, a Creator, who woke up every Monday and did stuff that actually positively impacted people. And so far, so good. If I can scale those things to be a little bit bigger, and help more people, that would be great, too. I think a lot of times, though, as a founder, you need to define to what is enough? I think too much ambition can be hurtful. And, and, you know, I'm speaking on both sides of my mouth, having raised venture capital for this business, you know, we we've raised $5 million in the last 10 months. So we're going to be very ambitious with After. But, you know, me and my wife talk a lot about, you know, when is enough enough? And what does that look like for our family? And how do we make sure we're never not spending time with our kids and making memories as a family, because those are the things that really matter. Business is business. And it's fun to go play startup every day during, you know, six to eight hours. But I think I think my children and the family we're creating is certainly the most important.

Les  51:46

Well said well said and, you know, as as both a friend and an entrepreneur that I really respect and admire in our ecosystem, just want to thank you for sharing your story today. And please tell our listeners where they can find you and more about online.

Wesley  52:06

Yeah, is thankfully, self explanatory. So you just got to We're working on getting the app after handles on social media, which requires trademarks and such, but just especially I think people who are, you know, who realized that maybe, hey, you know, my parents or my grandparents didn't really have a plan in place when they passed. And that sort of creates a problem for all the living next of kin after someone passes. So if you want to pre plan, for usually about 20 bucks a month and under 20 minutes, you can have all your arrangements taken care of @wesleyeames on Twitter, frankly, if you just Google Wesley Eames I think I'm in the first two pages all of the links so there's only one Wesley Eames unfortunately.

Les  52:53

Makes the genealogy easy in the future.

Wesley  52:56

Yeah, there is a paper trail of me on the internet.

Les  53:00

Awesome, Wesley thanks so much for being on the show.

Wesley  53:02

Thanks, Les. Appreciate your time.

Les  53:12

Thank you for listening to this week's episode of Found in the Rockies. You can find links in the show notes or go to to get transcripts, links, and contact information for today's guests. If you like what you heard and want more, please don't forget to rate review and subscribe to get notified as our new episodes drop every two weeks. We'll see you next time.