Sept. 28, 2021

The Business of Death: Dealing with Loss and Grief

Linh Dao Smooke chatted with Liz Eddy, Co-founder and CEO of Lantern, THE company that helps death-planning easier. πŸ’†β€β™€οΈ
On this episode of The HackerNoon Podcast:
When did Liz get her start? (01:14) 🍬
How did Liz found her business? (10:50) 🀯
How did Li...

Linh Dao Smooke chatted with Liz Eddy, Co-founder and CEO of Lantern, THE company that helps death-planning easier. πŸ’†‍♀️

On this episode of The HackerNoon Podcast:

  • When did Liz get her start? (01:14) 🍬
  • How did Liz found her business? (10:50) 🀯
  • How did Liz know she wanted to solve societal issues with entrepreneurship? (15:35) πŸ₯Ί
  • How did Liz find her co-founder? (20:39) πŸ‘Œ
  • What is Liz's advice for aspiring entrepreneurs? (26:50) πŸ™‹‍♀️

πŸ™ Lantern was nominated for startups of the year in Brooklyn, New York:

πŸ’Ž Get approved for 10-20x higher credit limit with Brex -

πŸ¦‘ Learn more about Liz's story's here:


[00:00:00] Linh: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the hackathon podcast. I'm your host Lindhout smoke CLO a pack of noon. I'm just going to be here today for Amy, Tom, a regular host, and we had with us, Liz Eddy, a very special guest, the founder and CEO of lantern. Round of applause. Hi, welcome to the podcast.

[00:00:23] Liz: Thank you so much

[00:00:24] Linh: for having me.

I'm so happy to have you here. Yeah. So that's why I mentioned, in that chat before the podcast I have to interview you after reading your story on how you found it Atlanta. And I told Amy that this is the one interview, the one founder that I really want to interview. So thank you so much for coming to join the chat with me today.

First thing first, can you please tell the hackathon audience a little bit about yourself?

[00:00:48] Liz: Yeah, absolutely. I feel like it's like where to begin when I was like two, five,

[00:00:57] Linh: I guess.

[00:00:58] Liz: I guess from like a career perspective I've been building companies since I was 15, so I started my first organization really focused on dating abuse and domestic violence education for high school and university students built it with two of my really good friends. It's been running for more than half of my life now, which is pretty wild to recognize and really fell in love with the pace and the variety of running a startup and not knowing anything.

And then learning as you go and meeting really smart people and and doing it all for a mission that I care deeply about. And so that kind of set me on a trajectory of really. Wanting to work and startups wanting to work in mission environments. And so ended up working at a couple of nonprofits, starting with do something and then transitioning into crisis text line, which is the I guess now largest global crisis support line via SMS and was the initial director of communications at the go to market strategy.

Really bringing the concept to life. States, and then in three additional countries but have always had this like deep kind of nagging need to get involved in the end of life and grief space. I lost my dad when I was nine, so it's always been a topic that I just hold very dear to my heart. Seeing how it impacts a family logistically, legally, financially, emotionally.

And it wasn't really, until my grandmother passed away, though that I started to see like how I could really have an impact in the space as a full-time job. And as one of the caregivers for my grandmother, I was the one who got. The initial phone call when she passed away. And so I drove up to where she was living in a nursing facility in Connecticut and was bent by two police officers and nurse in her body.

And they said, what do you want to do? And I was 27 at the time. I had no idea what was supposed to be done. Assumed that either like you just suddenly know like instincts kick in or there's someone there to tell you. And the reality of it is you know, exactly the same amount of information you did before it happened.

And if you're prepared, you continue to be unprepared. And so I pulled out my phone and I Googled, what do you do when someone does. And I'm fully expected. Something like my current company lantern existed was really looking for a site that could walk me step-by-step through everything around end of life and death expected it to be well-designed to have a great user experience.

Cause that's what we get everywhere else. If you're getting married, you're having a baby or you're buying a house, it's 25 different companies to choose from. They're all beautifully designed. They're extremely comprehensive. They're really easy. They're affordable. And then for the one thing that affects every single person on the planet, multiple times throughout their life, it was really fragmented and expensive and confusing.

And so wait

[00:03:49] Linh: a minute. What did you find on that Google search? What did you

[00:03:52] Liz: actually. Oh, my gosh. It'll yeah, it'll be it's very localized information typically. I came across a a bunch of funeral home listings, local funeral, home listings, some blog posts from five years earlier that had just been around for awhile.

And so they had good SEO and what I ended up doing, which like, it feels really ridiculous now, but I know it's. The case for many people that, that aren't using lantern. I just started calling from the top down the funeral homes on that list. I didn't even know what to say. When someone picks up the phone, I was like, I don't like, how do I start this conversation?

What are you open with? Because they'll just say, hello, funeral home. And you're like

[00:04:33] Linh: my entire life just changed. Can you help me, like navigating.

[00:04:37] Liz: Exactly. And I was completely stumbling over my words. I was like I truly, I think I said something to the effect of like my grandma died.

I don't know if to was a body helped me. I don't like just panic because it's not something we really think about until we have to, and then you're thrown into this like logistical mayhem of trying to figure it all out and not to mention, especially with. The states we have like terrible bereavement leave.

We have very little support systems. We ignore that death is the thing until it's right smack in your face. So you're typically taking care of kids trying to manage your job. Do you like your own emotions of the experience and then. Basically planning a wedding in a week instead

[00:05:22] Linh: of the joyful and like all the happiness that like a wedding, guests arriving and cheering for you congratulating, you would bring it basically.

It's just you're depressed. Why are you doing it? And I can't even imagine it. I haven't gone through it myself, but just like I was shocked when reading from your story, basically that. Not up until, and like anyone who basically did it in a nice, walking you through, navigating with you.

And she's like helping you as a human kind of way. Wow. Like how can that be? I feel as a society, as a culture, we don't prioritize. Grief. And like the downside of being a human, like things like miscarriage is never talked about, in our culture. Even though it happens where one out of four women there has to be like a campaign, from the women, not like from companies, but literally just from women saying that one out of four, listen to my story.

And I feel like it's the same way with with death is we don't know. For whatever reason, feel comfortable talking about it or do something about it until we have to let you mentioned.

[00:06:27] Liz: Absolutely. And that's so much of what lantern does yes, we build products that make things easier and yes, we refer to services and you're do all these things, but really at its core, We're trying to help people have these conversations and feel more comfortable and confident in these situations because before, before Lanter, and you really, you were on the scavenger hunt of trying to piece together all of these different products and tools and services and making a lot of guesses without a lot of education, and then continuing to operate in a society that doesn't provide proper, bereavement care in any facet.

And so a lot of what we push for outside of, developing lantern itself is being a part of the push for national bereavement leave in the United States. Like right now there's no requirement for any kind of paid bereavement leave. For a lot of workers in the United States, they can lose their job for taking off after the death of a loved one.

[00:07:18] Linh: It's mind blowing to me, like I'm over here just thinking about paternity and maternity leave. So fucked up it is that we already don't have that. Don't treat parents like humans, no way, but not go to me. That it's the same way. But with people dealing with death and with grief, a society that doesn't treat the birth of someone nicely probably doesn't treat the dentist of someone nicely.

I though. Oh my

[00:07:40] Liz: goodness. Yeah, we actually, we just want them to survey. Or we're asking people to anonymously review their company's bereavement policies and benefits, and like any kind of review, you get like the best case and the worst case scenarios. And and there are certainly companies that are doing a really great job, but the vast majority of the reviews that we're getting are people.

And these are like big, well-established very wealthy companies that are doing things. Like we had someone tell a story write a review that basically said this large company. She had five years of positive performance reviews and then her spouse. And she came back after a few weeks, which was, what they allowed her to take a really hard time readjusting afterward and she ended up being, let go because her performance slipped and you know what it's like there's gotta be a better way to handle that.

[00:08:34] Linh: Oh my goodness. That is fucked up. That is just, I can't believe that. Oh, my God. Ah, and like couple of that with the fact that you're dealing like, grief is not linear. It's not something that you chose, it happened to you, you get over it and then it's it's overcome, right? Like it's never that way.

It's we'll sneak back to you. Like couple of that. The fact that you also have to deal with all of this shit that life's going to throw to you at the same time,

[00:09:06] Liz: I'll make a nose, a reminder. We always remind employers and people who are supporting loved ones after a loss. The person who's coming back is not the same person that left before their brief.

Currently, if this is an entirely, deeply, emotionally changed person and you have to be prepared for that. You can't just say, okay, operate at your 100% that you were, last month,

[00:09:29] Linh: here's your KPIs. Here's your next quarter performance review like, oh man. All right. So walk me through that date in 2018 again.

So like you have that phone call. Multiple phone calls with funeral homes, and then it's like off code to you that has to be something to be done about this because apparently no one is doing like what you next? Add to that.

[00:09:50] Liz: Yeah. So I spent some time researching, cause I'm also a firm believer that if something great, already exists, join it, don't duplicate it.

And so I spent some time looking at a lot of the companies that are in the space and doing really great and interesting things, but finding that There was just a tendency, which is true in tech in general, to pick one aspect of a process and do that one aspect really well. And I think that's really, it's a smart way to build a scalable business, right?

To have your hook, have your wedge, and then you start to build out from there. But the reality of losing somebody is that you don't operate in these little silos.

[00:10:28] Linh: Yeah, exactly. What just takes up death. It's

[00:10:32] Liz: a life experience. And it's exactly why, when you look at a wedding site, they're not like, oh, we'll just help you find a wedding planner.

They're like, no, we're going to help you find all of your vendors and do your invitations. They're gonna, because it doesn't make sense to use 20 or 30 different websites for this life event. And so it, it wasn't like the concept of lantern as it stands today is the idea that came up in that moment.

It is evolved dramatically over the last few years and in huge part based on. My team and my co-founder. So I, after going through this with my grandmother, the first thing that I did was I went to my, now co-founder literally walked into her apartment and she teases me about this all the time. That was like, we've got to do something about death.

I was

[00:11:13] Linh: like,

[00:11:19] Liz: yeah. And I was like, what do you mean? We have to just think about that, but what does this, do? It's. It is tempting at times, especially founders who go through a life experience to feel like, oh, I represent the, every man, the every person. And so I'm going to build this product based on my experience.

And the reality is the way I experienced death and loss is not the way. 99.9% of people have experienced that loss. It is it's very unique from a variety of circumstances where you live in the world, your culture, your religion, your socioeconomic level there's so many different reasons why you experienced death in different ways.

And there's tons of, death inequities in the United States and abroad. And so one of the biggest things for us when we started was to say, okay, I'm representing one experience. We need to get a collective understanding of what the primary problems are that people are facing.

For us, in the United States, that's where we were focusing. And so we started doing a ton of user research and we were interviewing people from all over the country that the only thing they had in common was that they had lost someone in the last 18 months and that they were the primary planner.

And for the vast majority of them were people we had never met. We worked through a like a matching company for user research and. We heard over and over again was this like, of course there's the sadness and depression and the grief associated with a loss. But the primary thing that kept coming up was anxiety.

And it was anxiety around not knowing what you don't know, not being able to find the information quickly, not knowing who to trust through this process and falling back on tradition. Not because they felt like it was the right choice, but because they really just didn't know what else to do.

And yeah, look for

[00:13:07] Linh: the only blueprint that

[00:13:09] Liz: is exactly like people go to the same funeral, home generation after generation. They don't think about is this the right thing for me? Can I afford this? Those conversations don't really happen. It's just this is what we do.

And then we deal with the consequences and it might not be the right fit, but that's where we are. And so that was our, I think the biggest thing for my co-founder Alyssa and I was, making sure we were. Setting out to build something that, that really addressed a lot, the larger experience of loss in the us and how we can best approach.

Something that we can solve, right? Like we can't fix grief like that is that's going to be there. But what we can do is fix the anxiety around that, around the not knowing and take the logistics off of someone's plate so that they can focus on their grief and they can focus on their family and, and the things that really mattered during that time.

[00:13:59] Linh: I feel like that's like a common thread in your story of since you were younger of just like seeing some kind of like big, larger societal issues that you wanted you want to address and then do something about it. Not like fixing it, like you mentioned, like you can't fake. That there's like domestic abuse and violence.

I like things that happen outside of your control, but you can do something about it, just the same way that you addressing, the grief and the dealing, the anxiety, dealing with death and logistics problem of just like being then being able to help people going through it. Why do you think, explain that?

Drive to just always want to do something about societal issues. Is that you was just born that way? Is it, I don't know, like maybe your parents your environment, like what explains that?

[00:14:49] Liz: Yeah. I think it's like anything else, a cross-section of a lot of things Partially just how I was raised.

My mom has been, always been an activist particularly she started a group called conversations on race, where she's helping people have discussions around racial inequities and racism, and mostly like suburban towns with, Local parents and students. And so watching her do that, and now she's also very involved in animal rights activism.

So I there's always been an activism edge within my home and it's been very normal. I think that crossed with a lot of exposure to entrepreneurs, my grandmother, an entrepreneur, my mom's not. And. There's always the privilege element, right? Like I, I always had the space to experiment. I always knew, like I have an extremely supportive family, both emotionally and financially where I know like I can try things and if I fail, I have something to fall back on.

I think that gives you a level of confidence to test and try things out. It's certainly a cry across section of things. Yeah.

[00:15:54] Linh: That's so cool. That's so cool to hear. It's like one of the aspects of your story that I was so much relating to is this, I don't want to say naive, but like basically I always think of myself at any point in my life.

I could relate to me being 16. Eyes wide open going to this this thing called U the United dwell college, which has 200 students from a hundred different countries for the first time, from a little town in Vietnam, going to that environment and being like exposed to like basically the injustices of the world and all the different colors and diversities and stuff.

Any point in my life, whatever I do, I can always relate back to that moment of being 16 and like being in India for the first time and get introduced almost to this path that I'm on right now. And yeah, it's just it's interesting how life just takes Texas different ways.

Cause you know, I read your story and I'm like, wow, like she's basically. Social entrepreneur for most of her life. And that basically what I would identify myself as, as well as I want to do something, not because society and like capitalism, what tell me to do. And that is the way to make money, but I want to be able to make some kind of impact that is larger than than financial.

Yeah, that, that is something that I think Draws me a lot to to, the way you approach the problem of death, but also all the other times, like you mentioned you and Elissa, I like the cut in the string and I'm just like, that is so beautiful. Can you explain a little bit of that?

What is, what does that mean to have a co-founder or like someone like a soulmate and your entrepreneurial journey that you can. Always count on

[00:17:38] Liz: having a good co-founder is if you don't have that I dunno. It's I don't know where, like how you go forward. I truly, it's very hard for me to visualize because it's, doing something on your own.

Is incredibly lonely and challenging, and you're pulled in many different directions, which is true, even if you have co-founders, but even more so as a solo founder. And then having a co-founder that's not a good fit or that you don't trust or that you don't learn from, or that you don't laugh with and have fun with.

Also, can be really the breaking point of a startup. And I know from, doing a couple of rounds now of fundraising, venture capital fundraising, that so much of what pre-seed investors are doing is looking at the strengths of the team because in those early days, the co-founder.

Are what makes or breaks the business. That's it, that's all you have. That's how you have to go with, right? Because the product has, it doesn't have product market fit yet. Like you haven't figured out so many things, but if you have a strong theme, you'll be able to get through a lot of those challenges and work through them together.

And with Alyssa, like we've been friends since, 2012, and we became friends from working together, which I think is a really powerful way to find a co-founder is We worked together. We gave each other, fill out a feedback. We, we were, and through that became very good friends.

Some were very used to having a working relationship. We don't. We always assume best intentions in each other. We aren't offended when one of us disagrees with the other or wants to change something or, has a different expectation. It's, we're very comfortable with that. But the, the chitin stringing example that you're talking about We so we have, yeah, we have our matching tattoos.

[00:19:28] Linh: you mentioned I did not expect anything less. Yeah, of course you have matching. Yeah.

[00:19:37] Liz: Yeah, that, that metaphor it's it's w we get asked often, how do you divide and conquer as. As co-founders and the division of responsibility is so important and, we very much see it as we have.

We have our division of responsibility. We have our division of strengths. One can't operate without the other. And I am, as I think a lot of CEOs are, I'm very like big picture, lots of ideas. Like I get super hyped up and energized by conversations and I'm always pulling things from different conversations and things I've read, and I'm like me, and to do this and try this and think about this.

And and that is. Important. It's an important L you need that in a startup, right? You have to always have that innovation going, but if that's all you have, you're not going to have anything. It's going to be total chaos with no focus,

[00:20:31] Linh: the metaphor I use, not metaphor, but like the words that we use between me and David similar is the Explorer and the explore.

So I'm the Explorer in the pear. Basically, I make sure that we do everything. We have food on the table. The light is on and the team does not die not to be dramatic, but David would be. Partnerships and I saw all kinds of new territories and think about two years from now, 10 years from now, like what else we can do, all the big picture, like you mentioned.

And I think it also works well in our case, even though we're not like founders relationship with basically the runner of the shelves. So we like leading a team. It's important to have someone who keeps the team grounded and who keep things moving. And then it's also important to. Steer the ship, right?

Like to move the thing in the direction and not get too caught up in all the day-to-day. So that is perfect that you have someone like

[00:21:30] Liz: that in your team, extremely grounded. She's extremely thoughtful. She's extremely thorough. She has, and she has a really great way. And this is true for our whole team.

Not just for me. She has a really powerful way of not like stomping on people's ideas, but trying to keep us organized and moving forward. So it's not you come to her with an idea and she's no. It's more like really interesting and great. Okay. Here's where you know where our next quarter is, where the next year is.

And maybe we can move these things around and maybe this thing should wait. And she's she's very good about making you feel like heard and supported and understood while also keeping the ship moving in the right direction.

[00:22:08] Linh: That is still awesome. Okay. After reading your story, I will basically want to be best friends with you.

And then after this interview, I basically also want to be best friends with her.

for real though, maybe if we ever like in New York, but if you haven't been in Colorado, we'd definitely. She'd like me Devin person,

[00:22:32] Liz: that we are big hacker noon fans. It's awesome. When we first saw it I though it was the first time I had been introduced to hacker noon and I wrote to our engineers and I was like, Hey, you guys we're about hacker noon.

And we're like, of course we do.

[00:22:48] Linh: I, after four years that never gets old. Every time someone says that they know how to noon or I go somewhere and like on the computer, they reading one of us stories. I'm just like, get this kind of butterfly feeling in my tummy still. Yeah. I don't think that will ever go away, but I'm just so happy.

So the reason why we found you and Lantus and like this beautiful story of how you founded the company is basically. Running campaign it's been going on for two months now called startups of the year. And Landon was actually nominated as one of the best startups in Brooklyn, New York. Yeah, just audience know, like they can go to startups down, hacking and find Brooklyn.

It'd be like, you resonate with Liz's story or you just want to check out what, what it's like to have a company that basically is like the wedding planning site version of. Depth planning and the way you describe it, it's not it's pretty comprehensive because a lot more people would understand what it's like to like wedding site of they have ever gone through it then.

Yeah. Like you can take out a land to now and maybe they'll give them a boat. As for it, like concluding the conversation. Do you have any. Let me see. What's a good kind of leaving notes for any like aspiring entrepreneurs out there, especially any aspiring, like female entrepreneurial out there.

Do you have any kind of advice maybe any tips for them to go ahead to do what they what they're meant to do

[00:24:18] Liz: first of all. Do it, I would be, I it's, it's mind blowing to me how only about 2% of venture capital goes towards female businesses at this point. There, there's no lack of, except it's not like a pipeline issue.

There's no lack of exceptional female entrepreneurs out there. And so I was like pushing, connect, support each other, reach out to me. I really do try to elevate and make introductions and push forward other founders. And yeah I, if you need that encouragement, I'm available and excited to, to support those progress.

[00:25:00] Linh: I'm sorry to cut you off. But recently I learned a stat that All companies started out, 40% of companies started out being founded or run by a female entrepreneurs. But because of the disconnect between VC money and companies, it turns out like 2% of total companies that ad run by females about funded, which is crazy because it's not like for the lack of companies being started by females, it's that bridge between funding and and companies being run by females that is lacking.

And I listened to this podcast at planet money podcast, where this person tried for 48 hours. To use only female founded company products. So things like status chits, which basically was started by this person called Stacy. And then now it's not it's not run by Stacey anymore and like by a man, but I try so hard to.

Just follow the track of companies and, pass that tomato sauce, toilet paper that founded big companies. And basically she could not do it like after 48 hours. She had to give that because that's just not enough product that that, run by, by a company audit, continue to be run by a company for her to continue that streak, which is also mind blowing to me.

[00:26:12] Liz: It really. And so we need more of us need to support each other. And I also, for people that are further along, even if it's just a step ahead, like making sure you help other people up and yeah,

[00:26:29] Linh: absolutely. Okay. Thank you so much, Liz. This has been a short conversation, but I enjoy every single minute of it.

And I hope that number one Landon continued to be successful and. You achieve whatever you set out to do for this year, but also for the next years to come. And number two, maybe landed will win startups of the year. That is something that we can help with the audience. Listen, if you have one of the 300 people that happen to listen to this podcast, why don't you go ahead?

Two startups started hacking and silencing right now. Maybe something will happen. What happened to you

[00:27:09] Liz: so much? I appreciate it.

[00:27:12] Linh: Thank you so much. Bye bye. All right.

All right. Thank you, Liz. This has been an episode of the hacking in podcast. It was hosted by me, joined by Liz Eddy, Atlanta, and edited by editor, Alex Cobb. Thank you for tuning in.