Erin Bury and her husband, Kevin Oulds, launched Willful, a digital estate planning startup, in 2017 after a family member unexpectedly died without a will. Now, her plan is to become the go-to resource for all end-of-life planning in Canada.
I worked my first startup in 2008, but I am not a born entrepreneur; I don’t have a lot of ideas. Kevin, my husband, has always been the opposite: he’s the idea guy. He was constantly throwing me in and I was like, ‘Oh, that won’t work. But her uncle passed away unexpectedly in 2015 and she hadn’t prepared many of the end-of-life wishes that would have been helpful to the family. So they were sitting discussing whether Uncle Dave wanted to be buried or cremated and wondering where important papers were kept. Kevin said, “There has to be an easier way to collect this information so that families don’t have to sit back and go through what we are going through.”
When you looked into the estate and will planning space, you found it to be pretty dated – it was really dominated by attorneys, in-person appointments, and paperwork. We were using Wealthsimple, Airbnb, and all these digital tools to do everything else in our lives, and we just didn’t see anything comparable in the end-of-life space. That was the genesis, and this time I knew the idea would take off. You don’t really learn about estate planning in school, and it’s not something you normally talk about at the dinner table, but what happens if you die without a will? Unless you have personally experienced it, as we did, it is usually not the most important thing. So we started digitizing the will process.
Kevin quit his job at a cement plant to work on the idea full time. He raised around $ 100,000 from friends and family, hired a software developer to build the platform, and found real estate attorneys to partner with to develop legal content. At the time, I was running a marketing agency working with tech startups, so I invested and joined as an advisor. After working on product development for about six months, the company went public in October 2017. I joined the company full-time in April 2019 and we immediately hired our first full-time employee, our director. of technology. , which is still in the company today.
Our biggest focus in the last four years of construction Deliberate It’s been education – half of my job is educating people about wills through talks, media interviews, and content on our platforms, such as videos on our YouTube channel. The other half is that once people decide they want a will, Willful is the obvious choice. We really want people to know that you don’t have to be old, rich, and on the brink of death to need a will. It’s actually one of those things, like life insurance, that you implement as soon as you have people who trust you. The sooner you have it in place, the better your family will be if something unexpected happens. And I think COVID proved that the unexpected can happen at any time.
“You don’t have to be old, rich, and on the brink of death to need a will.”
As entrepreneurs, Kevin and I look at The dragon’s lair. Applying for the program was something that was always on the back of our minds, but you don’t want to continue until you really have the metrics and success to support your company’s valuation. This year seemed like the right time as we expanded to eight provinces and formed partnerships with brands like Allstate Insurance. We were also actively looking to raise funds, so it was kind of a perfect storm. We made a deal with Michele Romanow, who makes the most sense to us as she is a digitally focused ‘Dragon’. While we didn’t end up doing the deal we did on TV, we did end up raising a round of $ 750,000 convertible debt. Many offers in the program do not materialize, so we are very happy to say that we made a deal in the the and Michele is now an investor. We are very happy to have her with her on the trip.
I think the biggest opportunity for us is for wills to go completely digital. [documents]. On December 1, 2021, BC became the first province in Canada to allow electronic signing of wills and online storage of wills. In all other provinces, you still have to print a will, sign it on paper, and keep a physical copy. We just launched a association with DocuSign and a pilot program for digital wills in British Columbia. We are hopeful that other provinces, such as Ontario, will follow suit. We really want to be the leader when it comes to fully digital wills in Canada, but not just wills – other digital end-of-life planning products like asset lists and funeral planning. We have high ambitions to become the first consumer brand to be synonymous with end-of-life planning in Canada. For us, wills are just the beginning.
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