CoFounder Podcast No 3: Ville Hyyryläinen offers a very Finnish solution for afterlife
Finnish startup Emonum creates a unique value. But the customer has to die first.
Have you ever thought of what happens after you die? How does your digital life continue on Facebook? How do you send messages to your children if you are not here?
In movies, you sometimes see final testaments being issued as video tapes.
In a way, Emonum brings testaments into the social media age. You sign up for the service, you record messages and set release dates for them, and after Emonum has confirmed the death from the official registries, the system starts to send out your messages. Just sending your family all your passwords would be really helpful, right? Or making sure your child gets a personal message from you when he or she turns 18.
For CoFounder Podcast No 3 Indrek Põldvee sat down with Emonum’s Ville Hyyryläinen to discuss the early days of building the afterlife cloud service.
How did you come up with an idea like that?
The idea has been developing over the last two years. I was doing some research and thinking: what really happens in the digital world? I realised that there are a lot of dead people that are still in many services. There is no clear process as to how it should be done. What bothers me, personally, is that nobody even asked the users how they would want their account treated if they died.
There is no real system that separates living users and dead users – that’s the main issue.
Also, we’ve been hearing stories that a lot of content disappears. For example, someone at a university might have been doing a lot of research, but all this work they have been doing for years is locked behind passwords so that nobody has access.
How did you come to found the company?
We saw that it was a real need. Once we had started to get a bit more understanding about what was really going on in the industry, we did a lot of preliminary studies. We met over 700 people in 18 countries. It was interesting to hear stories about the experiences these people had been having. The problem is huge.
So how have you solved it? How does Emonum works?
We have a user interface where people add and upload all their meaningful content in one place – this might include passwords, documents, their big emotions, life stories, and all kinds of other things. The service is built for daily use, so the user can use it for himself or herself too.
We also have integrations, so that when we receive information that the user passed away we lock the account and the publishing features are activated. During their life, the user has been managing the system and deciding what content is going to who, and when it will happen.
It’s like a digital testament?
It has common aspects to insurances generally. One way to see this is like a personal diary, because I believe that when you have a diary the main point is that you use it for yourself. You are thinking about, and analysing, your own life, thoughts and things happening around you. But with our system you can also decide what will happen afterwards: who will see the information and exactly what information they see. You might have some content that you want destroyed. That is all possible.
How do people react to this kind of idea? It’s a topic that people don’t like to discuss.
In Finnish culture, people are not brave when it comes to talking about love or death. These are issues that we are often only brave enough to talk about with a best friend or within a couple.
However, with those 700 people who we met – after some initial confusion – people started to share some really personal and deep things about their family and the relationship they have to death. People are ready to talk about it, but somebody needs to be the one to open the topic and let people talk about it. Generally, we don’t talk about this deep stuff with strangers.
What have been the main challenges you have faced?
I believe that like many early stage startups, credibility is the main issue. It’s not the easiest thing to get meetings with people that you haven’t met before, because it’s quite hectic and the key players in the industry are so busy and hard to reach. So many people want to get a bit of time from them.
Then the economic issues are always there, because startups need quite a lot of investments to build something global.
How did you manage to raise capital? Is it hard in Finland?
During the first year, when we did those preliminary studies, we didn’t have any investments. We needed to show everybody that the concept was reasonable and that people would be interested in using the product, and we needed to build the network too. We were building our team quite actively. It was hard work for the first year, but we knew that that an investment the founders needed to make. It wasn’t easy.
I’m pretty sure that in the beginning – the first year – was mentally really tough. Are you going in the right direction?
What has really helped us is that both of us founders are so stubborn – we have always believed that the need is real. But we still needed to prove it to others. That was the challenge.
We had a strategy that meant we would meet a lot of people. We have trusted the average opinion of those people: we don’t take the most positive comments or the most negative comments. Nobody has done this before, so we don’t have the absolute truth out there. Instead, we need to trust that the average opinion will be the one to guide us.
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