Lantern began with a simple sentence: “We need to do something about death”. I was standing in my co-founder, Alyssa’s, front door after weeks of managing the end of life of my grandmother. While the grief was overwhelming, this wasn’t about stopping death entirely, it was about those that live on afterwards. Death is our single greatest commonality, and yet, we have very little in place to help people navigate it. So, we built Lantern, the single source of guidance for navigating life before and after a death.
One of the biggest mistakes that founders make is assuming everyone feels the same way they do. I knew my experience wasn’t unique but needed to explore how others navigate the process. We interviewed over 100 people via video chat thanks to an amazing site called Respondent. Our interviewees had nothing in common except that they’d lost someone in the last 18 months and they were the primary planner. While we walked away with enough learnings to write a dissertation, our greatest was a single truth that was shared amongst every person: no one knew what was done. This lack of clarity created immense anxiety that often spread over years of blind decision making and the incessant hope that they were honoring them the right way.
How did you get your first three customers?
Our very first user found us through search which was pretty shocking considering how new we were! The following two customers were through strategic partnerships. When we began building Lantern we recognized that digital end of life and post-death planning wasn’t a part of the average person’s natural thought process. We needed to shift behavior to include digital tools. One way to do this is to educate people who interface with planners during their times of need. This includes hospitals, hospice, bereavement organizations, religious institutions and beyond.
Did you have any experience/expertise in the area?
Yes, but not directly. Prior to Lantern, I was on the founding team that built Crisis Text Line, the free, 24/7 crisis support line via SMS. I led all of our communications and business development from day one for 7 years. Amongst many things, Crisis Text Line taught me to build and communicate with empathy and to solve massive problems with a cross of technology and humanity. In my personal life, I’ve experienced the loss of my dad, aunt and grandmother. I’ve also spent the last 5 years on the Experience Camps (a bereavement camp for kids) board of directors.
Have you raised any money? How much?
We raised a pre-seed round of 890k in June of 2019. We plan to begin our seed raise in April.
What is the funniest/most strange customer request you’ve had?
I wouldn’t say this is funny or strange but rather endearing. We find that our customers like to share with us why they’re planning and who they’re planning for. End of life planning is one of the most selfless acts we can do for our loved ones. It warms our hearts to hear of the love and care that our users feel for those they’re writing their plans for. The subject of death can be incredibly unsettling for most people, but our work is more about life, and the human connection we create when we recognize our own mortality.
Where did you meet your cofounder/founding team?
Alyssa (COO), Shae (Technical Lead) and I met at DoSomething.org, my first job out of college. We each went our separate ways exploring for profits and non-profits in a wide array of industries. Alyssa and I continued our friendship outside of co-workers. She’s always been the person I go to with ideas and problems. There was no doubt we would build something together one day.
Any tips for finding first employees?
It feels like there are a billion platforms, services, networking events and so on to meet new candidates. We met Wendy, Software Engineer, through an exceptional program called Flatiron School. But, where you find employees is less important than knowing what you’re looking for. For our first hire outside the founding team, it was critical to us that she not only had the capabilities needed for the job but she was passionate about the work we do, the team she was joining and the vision we’re building towards. She’s also incredibly positive and excited to learn. Skills you can teach; the rest, you can’t.
What motivates you when things go wrong? What is the end goal?
I am motivated every day by our current and future customers. We’ve built something that feels like magic when people need it most. Some of our user testimonials really say it best: “Pre-planning is so low angst with your website”, “Know the Lantern checklist is bringing my mom so much comfort. She feels so validated checking things off". I also have an incredible co-founder and team that challenge me every day and make work fun. If you don’t work with people that make you think, grow and laugh; you’re doing it all wrong.
Do you have any advice for someone just starting out?
Two things: (1) There will be a ton of no’s. As long as you’ve validated your idea, don’t let this stop you. There will always be believers and non-believers. You have to be your company’s #1 believer. If you need a reminder of the struggle, listen to the podcast How I Built This. I used to listen to it on jogs while Lantern was still an idea. It was a constant and healthy reminder that even the greats face rejection, pivots and hardship.You got this! (2) On a similar vein, if you’re not absolutely head over heels in love with your idea, move on. Things will get hard, there will be many moments where quitting looks like the best option. If you’re not passionate about your idea, the business won’t go anywhere. Not to mention, no one else will feel passionate about it either!
What has driven the most sales?
At this stage, media tends to drive most people to our site. We were recently included in a Vox article that 4x our user base in just a couple days. And, the site performed beautifully!
What is stopping you from being 3x the size you are now?
We are in a classic start up scenario. We have a very clear roadmap and vision for what the product can become, but only two (very talented!) engineers. We need to scale up the team in order to see the massive growth we know is within reach.