Minnesota Y-Combinator grad turned serial tech entrepreneur. Local Startup Spotlight #20: Funeral Innovations



Funeral InnovationsWhen it started, SocialBrowse was a simple way to share links with contacts around the social web via Firefox extension. The technology, which has since evolved into the iframe-based Qwisk, is believed to be the original Minnesota native Y-Combinator startup (fall 2008) – a journey by which two other Minnesota groups have since embarked (FanChatter & ZenCoder).

While SocialBrowse/Qwisk currently faces its own challenges in direction and adoption, Co Founder Zachary Garbow does what any real entrepreneur would do – keep on keeping on. Together with partner Greg Young, he’s been quietly building Funeral Innovations, which is a fully integrated web-based software aimed at funeral directors and related vendors within funeral industry.

Funeral Innovations is a robust  suite delivered online with the vision to provide open web-based solutions to funeral directors across the nation.  The open architecture allows a funeral director to plug in any vendor to the product and offer more choices for their customers, a fundamental difference when compared to the current default approach of offering a very limited (or exclusive) number of preferred vendors. Also included in the Funeral Innovations toolbox is:

  • An interactive headstone/monument designer app which replaces the current approach of paper, pencil and fax.
  • online obituaries & tributes publisher with Facebook integration
  • case management software for funeral directors
  • iPad application (in the works/beta)

In order to take advantage of the basic functionality, funeral directors are paying $995 up-front and $50 month recurring, with add-ons available a la carte (sliding scale) starting at $40.  The company also provides customized services for the funeral industry including website design/development and hosting.

Funeral Innovations is a fully bootstrapped startup and through their consulting services, the duo has managed to start profitably while deepening their relationships within the industry.  It’s as strategic as it is sensible. “Were not looking for a fast exit with this, so we have the patience to make sure we do it right” says Mr. Garbow

As a former IBM software engineer and Y-Combinator alumnus, this technologist has  no regrets about leaving the stability and security of the corporate environment to pursue more entrepreneurial endeavors. In fact, as his rate of activity indicates, he may have overcome one of the largest mental obstacles which all entrepreneurs face – fear.  Whether it be fear of failure, fear of change, or simply risk adversion, he offers encouraging words:

“Everyone who’s thinking about it that the fear is normal and ok…but it will be worth it in the end.”

And of course, we’re always eager to hear about the differences between other startup/tech environments vs. that of our own. Accordingly, Mr. Garbow describes:

“I lived in Palo Alto for half a year and the startup culture is so pervasive that it’s a lot easier to find other people who are doing similar things.  That really keeps you motivated, there’s a lot more opportunities for partnerships and collaboration and that’s the piece that’s missing here in Minnesota… the culture makes all the difference…however, I’ve seen a change in Minnesota since I was out there and there’s been [increasing] activity and events…I think that makes a big difference.”

Stay tuned for more news about Mr. Garbow’s next venture, The Bus Ride.