Deathtech Rising: Mylestoned Unveils Interactive Memorial Software

Xconomy Boston — 

A startup industry around “deathtech” seems to be emerging. Last fall, Xconomy was among the first to explore new business approaches to death in the digital age.

At the time, Boston serial entrepreneur Dave Balter was mum about what he was developing with one of the companies we featured, Mylestoned. That changes today with the launch of the startup’s beta version of its service that aims to give the grieving a more meaningful and interactive method of paying digital tribute to the dearly departed. (More on that in a minute.)

The seven-person company, which CEO Balter incorporated in January after leaving his position at Pluralsight, announced it has raised $1.5 million in seed funding from Founder Collective, Boston Seed Capital (where Balter is a venture partner), Converge Venture Partners, and individual investors.

The money gives Mylestoned a chance to see if it can gain some early traction in its quest to “reframe death through the communal transformation and discovery of memories,” as the company says in a press release announcing its launch.

“We think we’re at the forefront of a massive change of how people memorialize” the dead, Balter says.

Balter’s previous ventures include BzzAgent, a word-of-mouth marketing company he founded in 2001 and sold to Tesco subsidiary Dunnhumby a decade later for $60 million, and Smarterer, a skills-assessment company started in 2010 and acquired four years later by Pluralsight for $75 million.

A software company focused on death might seem like an abrupt departure for Balter. But he studied psychology in college and says all of his businesses “are really about the behaviors of people.” BzzAgent explored “the willingness of people to share their opinions.” Smarterer looked at the “necessity of us to prove our skills.” And now Mylestoned is focused on “this great psychological desire to stay connected to those that have passed on,” he says.

“The psych degree is the foundation for every curiosity I have about why people do what they do,” Balter says. “And I want to solve that stuff. I love seeing how you can help people come to their own conclusions and change their behaviors for the better.”

Balter has been obsessed with death for months. The initial spark for Mylestoned came during regular flights to New York’s LaGuardia Airport, when he was consistently unable to spot a single living person in the cemeteries that the plane passed over just before landing. The reason, Balter has said, is people are more “transient” these days, and it’s less common for them to live near the cemetery where their deceased relatives are buried or to routinely visit their graves. At the same time, more people are opting for cremation, in part, he argues, because they want their lives honored in a different way—for example, by having their ashes scattered into the sea.

His new company’s approach is to build software that makes it easier for people to share and view an engaging digital collection of memories of the deceased. In the beta version of the product, users can submit a “memory” by filling out a form on the company’s website or by sending it via text message to Mylie, a software bot created by Mylestoned using artificial intelligence techniques.

Balter gave me a sneak peek of the service last week. After texting “hi” to a number provided by Balter, Mylie responded and asked me to share a memory I have of the late actor Leonard Nimoy. I replied with a short tribute to him. I gave Mylie my name and confirmed that I wanted my memory shared on Nimoy’s “Mylestone”—the company’s term for each collection of memories. Within seconds the bot sent me a URL where I could view my homage, along with those that others have submitted.

An example of a "Mylestone" memory, this one submitted by Dave Balter.

An example of a “Mylestone” memory, this one submitted by Dave Balter.

The current version of the Mylestone is pretty bare bones, Balter admits. It has a sleek design, but it’s basically just short snippets of text. “Our roadmap has a long list of items that will turn this into a much more dynamic structure,” he says.

That will include augmenting the text with photos, videos, audio, and other features, Balter says. For example, if someone submits a memory about the deceased person’s love of football, Mylestoned will be able to embed images of football in the story in real-time. If users would prefer uploading their own pictures of the deceased playing football, say, they could do that. “We can make this relevant to a point, and allow the user to build on that with their own content,” Balter says.

One target audience is relatives and acquaintances of the deceased—people in the “second ring of grief” outside of the immediate family—who could create a Mylestone as a gift to the family, Balter says.

The company is still figuring out how it will generate revenue, but Balter says some possibilities could include … Next Page »

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