1000Memories Confronts Death by Celebrating Lives

This is the second in a series of profiles of companies emerging this summer from Mountain View, CA-based startup incubator Y Combinator.

When I met the founders of 1000Memories, a new website where family and friends of people who’ve died can create free multimedia memorials to their loved ones, my mind flashed first to The Monk and the Riddle. This Silicon Valley classic was published in 2000 by startup guru Randy Komisar, who’s now a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. The book, which I reviewed at the time for Technology Review magazine, is loosely structured around the fictionalized story of Lenny, a young, driven insurance executive pitching Komisar for an investment in “Funerals.com,” a business designed to “put the fun back into funerals” by selling caskets and other funeral services online.

Digging past the dot-com crassness of the Funerals.com business plan, Komisar eventually discovers that Lenny isn’t the soulless opportunist he first appears to be. With Komisar’s coaching, Lenny realizes that lurking underneath his original plan is a far more compelling idea for a community site—“Circle-of-Life.com”—that would “bring together family members and friends, wherever they are in the world, and give them an opportunity to grieve, remember, mourn, and show their support in ways not possible until the Web.” Komisar helps Lenny recognize that his original Amazon-for-funerals pitch amounted to the Deferred Life Plan: the misguided decision to put one’s passions on hold while pursuing something safe, profitable, and dull.

The young guys behind San Francisco-based 1000Memories are not, as far as I can tell, on the Deferred Life Plan. For one thing, they’ve all given up lucrative careers to build the startup—Brett Huneycutt and Jonathan Good left management consulting powerhouse McKinsey & Company, and Rudy Adler resigned his post at Wieden + Kennedy, the advertising agency for Nike and Old Spice.

For another, all three say they’ve recently lost important people in their lives—out of respect, I didn’t ask who, and to their credit, they’re not hawking the names—and that they found that existing social networking sites such as Facebook don’t provide good ways to share stories or celebrate the lives of the deceased. (Recent stories, including this New York Times piece, have highlighted Facebook’s difficulties dealing with the deaths of users.)

1000Memories photo page for Sal DeBruno1000Memories launched on July 9 with backing from Y Combinator; it’s one of 36 “YC S10” companies now feverishly preparing for “Demo Day” pitches to prospective investors on August 24. I spent some time recently with Adler, Good, and Huneycutt at their apartment/headquarters in San Francisco’s Mission district, and got the sense that while their business plan is one that could have been lifted straight from the pages of The Monk and The Riddle, it’s an idea they genuinely care about.

“We prefer to be working on a business that solves a big problem,” says Adler. “Each of us has experienced the loss of a friend recently and we’ve watched the process play out online. You get the sense that people want to express themselves and share memories of the person online, but there just isn’t a great platform for doing it.”

“People tend to either use Facebook as a default, or create a blog themselves if they’re tech-savvy, but in both cases it just doesn’t work very well,” Adler continues. “We wanted to create a platform that would have a much better design, that would … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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