Halifax tech company aims to reinvent the obituary business

By Steve Gow

A local company is introducing an innovative new format for people who want an alternative way to memorialize loved ones after they pass on.

Founded by Startup Canada’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year finalist Harrison Smith and renowned local entrepreneur Paul LeBlanc, Dear Life is an online platform aimed at capturing and recording people’s lives in order to give customers a way of sharing their life-defining moments and memories in an interactive manner.

“Really this problem is faced by many who lose a loved one and they’re worried about their memory fading,” says Smith of methods of memorializing people through traditional means like obituaries.

“That’s really what we are solving — it’s not like we are developing software or cool functionality, we are helping you preserve your loved one’s memory because memories are scattered, stories are scattered, photos and videos are scattered — so we bring that all together for the user.”

Developed as a software comprised of a custom algorithm that helps to walk users through the process easily, the concept for Dear Life arose after the death of LeBlanc’s father in 2013.

“When it came time to celebrate him, he was looking at the ways that he was offered to celebrate his father — an obituary, a funeral or a tombstone,” says Smith. “He thought these are awful because they don’t capture the beauty of his father’s life, they don’t capture his life story.”

As a result, LeBlanc and Smith teamed up to develop a more comprehensive way of creating a legacy format for loved ones through an interactive experience they call a Lifestream.

“This Lifestream concept is a beautiful and cinematic experience of your loved one’s life story and what it includes is photos, videos and written stories of their life-defining moments,” adds Smith, who says the software allows family and friends to easily collaborate on creating a legacy. “We also walk you through the process step-by-step of telling your loved one’s life story, which can be super overwhelming.”

Smith insists Dear Life is more intimate and personal than current digital offerings for such services — which can include expensive outsourcing for the creation of video tributes or the self-managed launch of a community Facebook memorial page.

“We are the middle man,” adds Smith. “We offer that do-it-yourself. You get the personal connection, you take care of the quality control but because you get to do it yourself, it’s not expensive (and) it’s simple.”

Founded about a year ago, Dear Life is scheduled to launch the first version of the product on August 16, when users will get the chance to test out the software.  As it turns out, demand for Dear Life has been high with more than 300 people already signed up on an “early access” waitlist.

“They’ll actually have access to the product (as of August 16) and then we’re going to be bringing more people in waves,” says Smith.

He expects the product to become improved as customer feedback is collected and considered. “Now we’re refining it, so through the early days there will be a lot of customer service and help there but this is going to be fully automated for the masses.”

Based in Halifax, Dear Life is set up at Volta Labs, which has been Atlantic Canada’s premier innovation hub since its opening eight years ago. The founder-led start-up company was created as a space for like-minded entrepreneurs to develop new technology businesses as a “long-term investment to grow Atlantic Canada’s start-up ecosystem.”

“One company to my left just got acquired for millions and millions of dollars,” laughs Smith of his workspace at Volta. “So it’s a great environment to be in if you are a top performance start-up there.”

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