AmazingLife makes organizing funerals as painless as possible and 10 times cheaper
Jan 7, 2015
Most startups focus on disrupting how we live. After all, how can you disrupt how we die? Death is already the most disruptive event a person or community experiences. A startup targeting the death industry needs to reinvent the concept of death, and reduce if not eliminate the personal chaos it creates. Japan’s AmazingLife, founded by Yu Shinohara, thinks it can do just that. Japan’s AmazingLife , founded by Yu Shinohara, thinks it can do just that. Shinohara, a 37-year old serial entrepreneur – this is his fourth company – decided to build the startup after having to lay his own mother and father to rest in 2010 and 2012. After spending his career in the internet services industry, he was shocked to find how funeral services still conduct much of their business in analog, making it difficult to easily arrange a funeral online. A time of sorrow might seem like the best time to have human-to-human interaction, but Shinohara had a different experience. “The fees were not clear so, during the funerals of both my parents, while my family wept and grieved, I was off to the side arguing with the undertaker. As the host, only I was not afforded the time to mourn,” he tells Tech in Asia. Building a better way
The purpose of AmazingLife is to make it as easy as possible to arrange a funeral, regardless of whether the passing has been long expected or happened in a tragic, unexpected twist of fate. As a non-technical founder, Shinohara’s toughest task in the beginning was finding the right engineers. Eventually, on the advice of a friend, he met up an engineer working at a startup but looking for a change of scenery. That person, who was a co-founder, has since left the company. Kenichi Bando has taken over as AmazingLife’s CTO since July. Yu Shinohara
Along with engineer Tanvir Shahid, the men built a suite of three services and are about to unveil a fourth. There is a curation site , designed to educate current and future customers about the funeral process and preparations to take in order to reduce confusion and frustration in the stressful days after a loved one has died. The main service, however, is a one-stop-shop for funeral arrangements. Coming in two options – cremation and non-cremation – users can outsource everything to AmazingLife. The startup will take care of transporting the body, hiring the appropriate religious figure, setting up a wake, even doing the paperwork down at city hall. The order can be made with minimal fuss on a smartphone or computer. AmazingLife uses a 24-hour call center to make sure they can spring into action at any time and provides customer support throughout the process. Funeral services also benefit because they do not have to deal with the customer directly – all specifications and requests are mediated by AmazingLife. The average cost for the cremation package is JPY 220,000 (US$1,850) and the non-cremation option typically comes in at JPY 750,000 (US$6,300). AmazingLife then takes 20 percent of the gross profit. Incidentally, that can mean a 10x advantage in pricing for the consumer. The standard Japanese funeral costs around JPY 2 million (US$17,000) . Shinohara says he can drive down the price since he doesn’t manage physical funeral homes or hearses. He also does not waste money on excessive advertising or extra sales staff, instead putting the company’s resources into engineering. Finally, he is not cutting deals with hospitals or other such institutions like some funeral services. That way, there is no need to split revenue any further. AmazingLife’s latest service will help the deceased pass on their assets. The next step
AmazingLife is just a little over a year old. Shinohara did not disclose user numbers or sales figures for 2014 but he states that, as of January 6, revenue is up 600 percent from December. It would appear he either secured a big new contract or the New Year’s holiday was not kind to people’s health. Shinohara says he has managed to register every funeral home in Japan on the website. A perusal of the listings does show a very thorough amount of options. That said, the service is only available in reality to residents of Tokyo and Fukushima prefecture. He aims to have 12 straight months of profit by 2017. So far, the three-person startup is entirely bootstrapped but Shinohara is looking for an investment of hundreds of thousands of dollars. That cash will help him expand to other major areas like Kanagawa, Saitama, Nagoya, Sendai, Hiroshima, Kyoto, and Osaka. AmazingLife’s homepage is also available in English but Shinohara does not expect to take the service global for another few years. In the meantime, his team is excited to debut a new product later this month. Uketsugu (“to inherit”) will make it possible for a user to inform family members what financial assets he or she held. After AmazingLife receives notification that a user has passed away, it will send out an SMS to the individuals he or she registered with the account. After providing identification and documented proof of the deceased’s passing, the information will be handed over. Piecing together someone’s financial history after they have passed can get complicated quickly, which is why AmazingLife built a system for this. It also serves as a way of locking families into the business well before anyone passes away. The new service also allows users to record a video message where a final message of love, along with Facebook and Gmail passwords can be shared. AmazingLife is still a very young company but with a hustling team, dramatically lower prices than the traditional players, and no well-known digital competitors, it is poised to bring some sense of calm to a destructive period that everyone must face.