Cremation services startup Solace raises $1.7M as interest grows in tech to disrupt funeral industry

Keith Crawford, left, and David Odusanya, co-founders of Solace, a Portland-based company reimagining cremation services. (Solace Photo)

New funding: Solace, the Portland-based startup that has added digital convenience to the process of planning and facilitating cremation services, has raised $1.745 million in seed funding, the company announced Wednesday. Solace is part of a wave of innovation and disruption targeting traditional end-of-life services.

The company: Solace was started in April 2019 by two former Nike executive creative directors, Keith Crawford and David Odusanya. Crawford told GeekWire in a January 2020 profile that he first thought of reimagining the funeral experience after the death of his father, when he felt the pressure of an upsell in a traditional funeral home and he was confused by a complicated matrix of paperwork and pricing.

“I left that experience thinking, ‘It’s so strange to me why this industry feels very stuck in time and not evolving and not modernizing and not putting the family first and foremost,’” Crawford said. “I think people enter this moment of life not knowing what to do or what to expect. So we just started to really try and craft this much simpler approach to it.”

How it works: Solace charges a flat fee of $895, which is roughly half the average cost of cremation service on the West Coast. Customers can arrange everything online in as little as five minutes the fee includes 24/7 concierge-style customer service; funeral director and staff; assistance with paperwork; transportation of the deceased; cremation; return of cremated remains; and all necessary permits and fees.

Growth: Solace was first available in the Portland metro area before expanding to Seattle in 2020. The company now services Los Angeles County, the largest cremation market in the United States. According to a news release, Solace grew by 200% in 2020 and says it serves as many families in one month as a median funeral home does in one year. Solace is on target to triple its growth in 2021.

Disrupting death: An increasing number of startups are using technology and innovation to bring change to the $20 billion funeral industry. In Seattle, Recompose has gained attention by offering an alternative choice to conventional burial and cremation methods by turning human remains into soil. Last week, a a team from the University of Washington called AfterLife Listings won the $25,000 grand prize in a student startup competition for its idea to simplify planning and transactions related to burial plots.

At a conference in Seattle last year, experts even discussed concerns about our digital afterlives and what happens to the remains of what we did online while alive.

As the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns put in-person gatherings on pause across the country, interest accelerated in online end-of-life businesses, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Investors: The oversubscribed funding round was led by Portland-based Rogue Venture Partners and other investors include Cascade Seed Fund out of Bend, Ore., and Seattle’s Alliance of Angels. Solace plans to use the funds to further expand, make key hires and improve its digital infrastructure.

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