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Funeral Innovations brings digital marketing to death care

Two young software engineers from IBM Greg Young and Zach Garbow, wanted to extend their talents beyond corporate America. They didn’t anticipate finding their way into America’s death care industry. An opportunity presented itself when a high school friend of Young’s returned home from mortuary college. “[My friend] came back and realized that [the business] ran…

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funeral_innovations

Greg Young, co-founder of Funeral Innovations. Photo courtesy of Funeral Innovations.

Two young software engineers from IBM Greg Young and Zach Garbow, wanted to extend their talents beyond corporate America. They didn’t anticipate finding their way into America’s death care industry.

An opportunity presented itself when a high school friend of Young’s returned home from mortuary college.

“[My friend] came back and realized that [the business] ran several decades behind the times. They weren’t leveraging technology; they weren’t utilizing the Internet. Facebook then wasn’t what it is today, but they weren’t leveraging the new, modern communication channels that were being built,” said Young.

And Young saw an opportunity for growth within this niche market.

How Funeral Innovations Works

Funeral Innovations provides digital marketing technology solutions for the death care industry. Founded in 2008 in Des Moines, Young and Garbow turned their extensive experience with software engineering to developing their own programs aimed at funeral homes.

“We realized how important it was for the funeral home to be the primary resource for end of life planning and death-­related topics or areas of expertise, so we focus on delivering simple, turnkey solutions from the content to the delivery, oversight, and expertise. [That way], we can roll out a social media strategy that will let them be part of that daily conversation that was taking place on Facebook,” said Young.

To engage these personal conversations online, funeral homes must build top-­notch, carefully curated social media and email relationships with their clients.

Funeral Innovations’ Social Media Copilot and Email Copilot streamline that process, allowing easy post­scheduling and automatic publishing. Their extensive content library let users select from a variety of existing stories and pictures, tailor these resources to their audience, and even upload their own content.

Trial and error

“We actually built a couple products for the funeral industry that just didn’t work. We were trying to built things we thought they wanted,” said Young. “But we weren’t doing enough research to find out what the market was actually looking for.”

Young and Garbow attended national funeral home conferences to expand their brand and get face time with potential customers that helped them learn what the death care industry was looking for. Taking the time to focus on their core objectives rather than trying out every one-off opportunity that presented itself allowed Funeral Innovations to pivot for growth and brand expansion.

Following these initial stumbling blocks, Funeral Innovations have established themselves as a company at the forefront of the business. Because they developed their own software, they are not bound by the limitations of other preexisting programs; they have honed their product particularly for funeral homes. In fact, they have improved greatly on their previous projects, creating a program that makes social media engagement as easy as possible for the customers.

“There’s a lot of manual interaction [with programs like Hootsuite or MailChimp]. With ours, we’ve automated all of that because we own all of the technology,” said Young.

Developing a sales team in 2016

Funeral Innovations currently has four employees: Young and Garbow, its co-­founders, as well as software engineer James Arama and Director of Design Jackie Suckow. It’s a lot of leg work to split a nationally ­recognized business among four people, with Young and Garbow doing much of the sales work.

“I would say the vision for next year is to continue to grow our company in terms of sales development. That way, Zach and I can kind of step away from the day­to­day operations, have employees to do that, and he and I can focus on the future,” said Young.

Sarah Kugler is an Iowa-based writer. Her professional interests include the animal health care industry and the future of the liberal arts in higher education.

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