An Aussie startup disrupting the end-of-life sector has raised $1.1 million in funding, as it scales its online, automated will-writing service.
Founder Colin Wong launched Gathered Here in 2017 as a comparison site, designed to offer some transparency into the pricing of funeral services.
Four years later, Wong estimates the site is used during the organisation of about 18% of all Australian funerals.
The startup has also added additional services, helping provide celebrants, probate services and estate administration. Most recently, it has launched its automated service for creating a legally valid and binding will.
It’s this will-writing offering that really spurred a period of growth for Gathered Here.
The service is free, so it hasn’t contributed directly to revenue. But Wong says user numbers are increasing at a percentage rate in the double digits, month-on-month, mostly through organic growth and word-of-mouth.
Currently, about 600 wills are being written through the service each month — that’s about 3.5% of all wills, he says. Within the next 12 months, he hopes to grow that to 15%.
This funding round was led by BetterLabs, the venture capital arm of the RAC motorists’ organisation in Western Australia. Aussie investment firm Luxem also contributed, along with Tidal Ventures chair Murray Bleach.
The funding will fuel expansion, with the startup set to build out its marketing, business development, product, engineering and partnership management teams.
Wong is also planning to expand its work with charities. While bequests in wills are an important part of charities’ fundraising efforts, previously, the process has been inefficient and difficult to track, requiring one-on-one meetings.
Gathered Here makes it easier for individuals to include charities in their wills, while also allowing the charities to track those commitments.
To date, it’s seen some $5.5 million raised for charities, Wong says — a figure he hopes to increase to $550 million by 2023.
Meaning in death
While digital will services are not completely unheard of, this is not exactly a space abuzz with innovation.
While most other service-provider industries have faced disruption in the face of technology, so far the end-of-life services sector has remained relatively untouched.
Wong suggests this is partly because the market wasn’t quite ready. His customers are on average 10 to 15 years older than those of other services, he notes.
And there was a time when people looking for end-of-life services would not have been tech-savvy, or had a presence online. That’s changing.
There is demand for wills among people in their 40s and 50s, or even younger. And people in those demographics want their services to be automated, tech-enabled and easy to use.
“They just expect things like this to exist.”
At the same time, Wong acknowledges that death is something of a taboo area. It’s not something most people like to think about too hard. Nor is it a trending sector that entrepreneurs are falling over themselves to take on.
But for him, “it’s a really fascinating one”, he says.
“You’re solving really human problems, and they present really interesting design challenges.”
He wants to make the whole concept of death more approachable and accessible. It’s part of human nature to avoid talking about it, he adds.
But making some of these services a little easier to navigate is “really meaningful work”. Now he’s here, Wong can’t imagine doing anything else.
“I can’t think of anything more impactful,” he says.