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E105 | Modernising The Death Industry with Dan Garrett

Death is such an unusual, fascinating, and emotional area to work in, however the industry hasn’t evolved much since the 1850s. But today’s guest, Dan Garrett, CEO and co-founder at Farewill, is on a mission to change that – to bring wills, probate and funerals into the 21st century. 

“[Will writing] is the most amazing industry because it’s basically the biggest consumer industry that’s been untouched by technology. It’s a multi-hundred billion dollar business globally. The industry looks and feels like it did in Victorian times.”

Having just raised £20 million in a Series B round and with their absolutely awesome recruitment process, Farewill is the UK’s leading tech firm in the death space, working to bring technology and an improved customer experience to a difficult time in everyone’s life. 

Starting a business, raising funds and recruitment are all common topics for discussion on Mind Your F**king Business Podcast, what makes this a truly unusual episode is simply because of the industry Dan is revolutionising. 

From tech and the death business, to the incredible recruitment engine he’s built that gets the hiring process right 80% of the time, this is a really interesting discussion with useful points pertinent to all entrepreneurs. 

On today’s podcast:

  • Why he started an online will writing business
  • Their chosen marketing channels
  • The problem with the existing funeral industry
  • Raising a successful series B during lockdown
  • His aggressive growth plan
  • The effect of burnout on him

The Death Business Bucking All The Trends

An art gallery surrounded by paintings and sculptures isn’t the first place you’d think of to present a first version of an online will writing website. But it was the perfect place for CEO and co-founder Dan Garrett to launch his site, Farewill, the UK’s leading tech firm in the death space. 

Why deal in death?

“[Will writing] is the most amazing industry because it’s basically the biggest consumer industry that’s been untouched by technology. It’s a multi-hundred billion dollar business globally. The industry looks and feels like it did in Victorian times.”

We humans have a profound aversion to talking about and dealing with death, and as a result, the industry has remained largely untouched since the 1850s. But there are so many aspects to the death process that could be carried out more effectively with technology, and that is the gap in the market that Dan saw. 

The problem however is how do you brand death?  

“The real challenge of building a company to do with death is the existing brand of death and dying. If you say to someone there’s a podcast with a guy who does wills and probate, the thing that pops into your head is this grey drab Victorian image of what it’s going to feel like. And as a result no one engages with or plans for it properly.”

And the thing with most funerals is that no one has ever had to organise one before, so you have to make split second decisions based on no comparison and driven by grief. And you can find yourself with a funeral that is overpriced and something the deceased person never wanted. 

Which is why to get around the death/image problem, Dan and his co-founders brought design and a modern take on branding to the table. With their solution, they were able to bring to market a model that turned them into the biggest will writers in the UK and from there their company took off. 

Marketing Death

To get their company in front of people has meant they’ve been creative in their approach – a lot of marketing has been word of mouth, they’ve used paid advertising on social channels as well as national TV campaigns, but one of their biggest pulls has been their partnerships. 

Partnering with charities such as Cancer Research UK for example, to raise their profile. Working with over 100 charities they’ve managed to pledge over £300 million to charity so far. 

They also work with companies that require customers to have wills in place, such as banks, mortgage brokers and life insurers, for example. The type of companies that want to offer a 360 degree digital service. 

Not to mention they’re far cheaper than the competition. To write your will through Farewill is 6X cheaper, probate is 5X cheaper, cremations 4X cheaper.

Up until now, 85% of consumers haven’t shopped around, they’ve just accepted the first product they’re presented at the funeral home. 

“Can you think about any other product where on a 24 hour purchase you go from not having thought about it, to spending £7000 without shopping around?”

But it’s not just their business model that is bucking trends, they recruit differently too. 

Recruitment with a difference

“So me and my co-founder were really brilliantly trained in how to approach hiring by this woman called Michelle Coventry, a talent advisor to one of our seed investors, Kindred Capital.”

How do Farewill recruit differently? 

First off they don’t use any external recruiters. Everyone involved in the recruiting comes from inside the team. They hire as a team – the majority of managers inside the company are really high level, well-trained technical recruiters. 

When a gap is identified, the hiring manager fills in a role pitch and presents that to the leadership team. That will go through everything from identifying potential candidates to writing a prospective job spec for the exact duties for the job including how the new employee’s performance will be assessed over a 12 month period. It’s painful and requires a lot of thought. 

Once that’s pitched to the leadership team, feedback is given on how it could be improved, and then the job spec is written in full, making it the most appealing job advert ever. 

“You’ve really got to inspire someone to be like, ‘why is this a fascinating data challenge?’ Why why should you work for us versus the hundred other companies that you’ve heard of in the London tech scene who aren’t working in the death world?”

They then make the job advert sound like the next step in someone’s career. From there they source candidates. They get a hiring squad of invested people, from the hiring manager to the people the new employee will work with, and they will go through LinkedIn or out to their networks and build a list of 150-250 candidates. They then go through each of them – 

  • Are they the right fit?
  • Are they too senior?
  • Too junior?
  • Do they have the skills?
  • Are they essential?

By the time they’ve whittled the candidates down, they have a team of really excited people who are eagerly looking forward to working with the new hire.

“It’s kind of like an organ transplant, like part of it’s finding great people, part of it’s how they’re adopted and on boarded into the organisation.”

The bit they’re most proud of is their 100% acceptance rate. 

“We only offer jobs to people where we’re pretty sure that we’re offering something quite close to their dream job developmentally.”

Finally, you don’t need to hire for the long term, filling the roles that need filled now is just as important. 

“We’ve done it in the past and offered jobs to people who we know are not going to be with us in a year and a half because they’re gonna veer off in a different direction. But we can do a year and a half of amazing work with them.”

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