smooth transitions

New Houston tech startup launches to streamline afterlife planning

The Postage is a new company that uses technology to help ease the experience of afterlife responsibilities for family members. Photo courtesy of The Postage

Three years ago, Emily Cisek was struck with immense grief when she lost three family members back to back. She says she learned first-hand how arduous the process of wrapping up someone's life is and how it can take away from the grieving process.

"I saw the frustrations in my family," she explains, as she grappled with the passing of both her grandmothers and her cousin's young child.

Cisek says in that moment she thought, "Wow, there's got to be a better way so that people have a resource to get a plan and walk through the process so that when you do lose someone, there is a really easy way to manage that."

Cisek's realization planted a seed and she has the idea for The Postage, a digital platform that helps collect information and digital assets in one place to ease with affair planning.

She sought out to build an online platform that provides an easy path for people to plan their affairs and leave behind wishes for loved ones, making affairs management after death easier and less time-consuming. The features include document storage and organization, password management, funeral and last wishes planning, and the option to create after-life messages to posthumously share with loved ones.

Up until now, death care has been a predominantly business-to-business model. Prior to becoming the co-founder and CEO of The Postage, Emily was the Director of Sales at Integrate Agency, a full-service digital and traditional marketing agency in Texas. Her years of launching robust marketing initiatives and developing communications programs, made bringing The Postage to consumers that much easier.

She partnered with her former boss and serial entrepreneur, Robbie Wright, to build The Postage and make her vision a reality to help loved ones deal with loss.

The Postage completed funding in April of 2020, surpassing its initial fundraising goal. In total, Cisek raised $925,000 in a three month span. The platform officially launched in September, bringing a new, accessible contender to the estate planning industry.

Making death a conversation point

Everything you need on one digital platform. Photo courtesy of The Postage

According to The Institute for Healthcare Improvement, 92 percent of Americans say it's important to discuss their wishes for end-of-life care, but only 32 percent have actually had the conversation. Talking about your death plans is never an easy conversation, Cisek remarks. Her goal is to provide a methodical process that "makes it simpler."

"Until the last 100 years, death was just a part of life. Right now with technology and healthcare, it almost is seen as a weakness versus as you know, something we all experienced together," says Cisek.

Knowing how arduous these conversations are, she feels The Postage is like a "guidebook" that provides "clear-eyed compassion" to start the conversation. The site's planning options, password and document storage, and ability to share final wishes aims to make the process less emotional and difficult for users.

Accessibility for all ages

The Postage is something anyone can use. Photo courtesy of The Postage

While creating a death plan may feel like something reserved for later in life, Vox reports that millennials are becoming a "death positive" generation. More people in their 20s and 30s are planning their own funerals, donating their body to science, and contemplating how they want to pass peacefully.

From YouTube channels like "Ask a Mortician" to apps that remind you that — sorry to break it to you — you will eventually die, young creators are coping with death online. Despite the online vote of confidence in passing to the other side, dying is, well, expensive.

According to data from The Postage, estate planning and legal services can cost an average of $6,500. Cisek's company allows a monthly subscription with prices ranging from $5.99 to $9.99 a month, depending on storage space and features.

"I think the way The Postage has [made planning more available] it's provided a price point, an understanding and steps involved that are more easily accessible; no matter what age group, what race, what your background is, your religion, anything like that, you're able to sign up," says Cisek.

Digital options like password management and storage also make the site a more cost effective, approachable option for young people born into the digital era.

Saving time

Founder Emily Cisek prioritized convenience in her design. Photo courtesy of The Postage

Death puts into perspective just how valuable time can be. According to The Postage, families can expect to spend nearly 500 hours on completing end-of-life details if there is no planning done in advance. If every moment matters, 500 hours can sound like an exorbitant amount of time spent on paperwork.

From knowing who your loved one's electricity provider is to ensuring you have the key to their safety deposit box, the process can be a nightmare, says Cisek. She believes that should be spent "celebrating [their life] and processing the loss versus getting frustrated and trying to dig through things that you don't understand, and frankly, don't know what the wishes were of that person you lost."

The Postage's features allow you to drop in documents and passwords at your own pace to provide your loved ones with a smooth transition and instructions. To Cisek, she minds the site to be a guidebook that says, "This is what we need to do, and here is how I'm leaving the best gift I can for my loved ones."

National growth

The Postage went live nationally. Photo courtesy of The Postage

The Postage is a Houston-based company, but Cisek and her team want it to reach Americans everywhere.

"When we went live nationally, we actually launched over 100 new enhancements — even small, little things in the customer experience that would make it better and easier," she explains.

During its summer launch the website received 60 percent engagement and over 43 percent in new referrals. The Postage plans to continue enhancing the user experience and expanding the app with new technologies.

Cisek, bright-eyed with entrepreneurial spirit, has big hopes for the future as she imagines the opportunities. She hopes to change the way her generation plans for the future, contributing to a shift in sharing your legacy and wishes with loved ones.

"I think that technology, in recent times, has really focused on the consumer being the product versus the technology being the product," remarks Cisek. "If we're able to take that back and provide a product that truly makes our users' lives easier, the sky's the limit on what that could look like," she continues.

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Building Houston

 
 

Cloudbreak Enterprises is getting in on the ground level with software startups — quickly helping them take an idea to market. Photo via Getty Images

Lauren Bahorich is in the business of supporting businesses. In February 2020, she launched Cloudbreak Enterprises — B-to-B SaaS-focused, early-stage venture studio — with plans to onboard, invest in, and support around three new scalable companies a year. And, despite launching right ahead of a global pandemic, that's exactly what she did.

Bahorich, who previously worked at Golden Section Ventures, wanted to branch off on her own to create a venture studio to get in on the ground level of startups — to be a co-founder to entrepreneurs and provide a slew of in-house resources and support from development and sales to marketing and administration.

"We start at zero with just an idea, and we partner with out co-founders to build the idea they have and the domain expertise and the industry connections to take that idea and built a product and a company," Bahorich says.

Bahorich adds that there aren't a lot of venture studios in the United States — especially in Houston. While people might be more familiar with the incubator or accelerator-style of support for startups, the venture studio set up is much more intimate.

"We truly see ourselves as co-founders, so our deals are structured with co-founder equity," Bahorich says, explaining that Cloudbreak is closer to a zero-stage venture capital fund than to any incubator. "We are equally as incentivized as our co-founders to de-risk this riskiest stage of startups because we are so heavily invested and involved with our companies."

Cloudbreak now has three portfolio companies, and is looking to onboard another three more throughout the rest of the year. Bahorich runs a team of 15 professionals, all focused on supporting the portfolio. While creating the studio amid the chaos of 2020 wasn't the plan, there were some silver linings including being able to start with part-time developers and transition them to full-time employees as the companies grew.

"Within the first month, we were in shutdown here in Houston," Bahorich says. "But it's been a great opportunity for us. Where a lot of companies were pivoting and reassessing, we were actually able to grow because we were just starting at zero ourselves."

Cloudbreak's inaugural companies are in various stages and industries, but the first company to be onboarded a year ago — Relay Construction Solutions, a bid leveling software for the construction industry — joined the venture studio as just an idea and is already close to first revenue and potentially new investors. Cloudgate is also creating a commercial real estate data management software and an offshore logistics platform. All three fall into a SaaS sweet spot that Bahorich hopes to continue to grow.

"We are looking to replace legacy workflows that are still performed in Excel or by email or phone," Bahorich says. "It's amazing how many opportunities there are that fit into that bucket — these high-dollar, error-prone workflows that are still done like it's 1985."

Given the hands-on support, Bahorich assumed she'd attract mostly first-time entrepreneurs who don't have experience with all the steps needed to launch the business. However, she says she's gotten interest from serial entrepreneurs who recognized how valuable the in-house support can be for expediting the early-stage startup process.

"What I'm realizing is a selling point is our in-house expertise. These founders are looking for technical co-founders," Bahorich says. "We can both provide that role and be capital partners."

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