1000Memories Confronts Death by Celebrating Lives

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U.S.-Mexico border by both migrants and “Minutemen” volunteers. Huneycutt met Good, a native of New Zealand, at the University of Oxford, where the two both studied as Rhodes Scholars. Both later accepted positions at McKinsey.

After weeks of Skype conversations starting last December, the three convinced each other to quit their jobs, fly to San Francisco, and hole up in a hotel room. All three were approaching age 30, and “it was one of those ‘now or never’ things,” says Adler. “We thought, when were we ever going to have another opportunity. But we decided we needed to be in the same room together for a while to find out if we liked the team and whether we were going to be able to work together. At that point we had about 15 ideas that we slowly started paring down.”

The team hadn’t planned on applying to Y Combinator. But Huneycutt, through his alma mater Boston College, had met Rich Aberman and Bill Clerico, who’d founded WePay as part of the summer 2009 Y Combinator class. (See my WePay profile here.) “They were so positive about the program that we decided to apply,” says Huneycutt. “They’re a couple of years younger than we are, but they’ve been our startup mentors.”

The trio already knew about Y Combinator’s unofficial mantra: “make things people want.” Good says that as the three evaluated startup ideas, they kept coming back to the concept that became 1000Memories, in part because it was the one that seemed to resonate most with everyone they talked to. “One of my brother’s best friends died from meningitis last year,” says Good. “I’d be talking to him about other ideas, and he’d say ‘This is something that’s really important.’ Doing something that has the potential to change the world is a really good motivator.”

Of course, doing something that has the potential to make money is another good motivator. But all the tools at 1000Memories are free—and so far, founders aren’t being specific about how they hope to monetize he growing collection of “memory pages,” as they call the individual sites (such as johnkrettek.1000Memories.com).

Good points out that funeral costs in the U.S. average $10,000, including $1,000 spent placing obituaries. “There’s a real desire to manage down those costs,” he says, and the availability of a free online alternative could bring many people to the site. Says Adler: “We think we’re in a position to create a platform for making a better obituary, because it’s a collaborative obituary.”

But what then? “We’re not too worried about the economics of the product,” says Adler. “It sounds cliché, but we are really focused on making the best product possible, and we think that if we’re successful in that, we will be a good financial proposition.” On August 24, the team will have a chance to find out whether potential investors agree. (I’ll be at Demo Day myself, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for Randy Komisar.)

Before I left, I couldn’t help asking Adler, Good, and Huneycutt how they find the passion to work every day on a project that is, after all, about death, the ultimate downer. Adler—the one with the advertising background—turned my question around, saying 1000Memories is really about life.

“I think the best memory pages are the ones that capture an entire life,” he says. “There are pages where you see a photo of the person as a young boy, and then you see the wedding photos, and then they have kids, and then they reach middle age, and then the last photo is of this really old man. That’s fascinating. So regardless of if they’re old or young when they pass away, the goal is to capture the complete story of the person. We don’t think Facebook is the right platform for that. People see our product and say, ‘Thank you for building this.'”

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

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