Losing my mother inspired me to launch 'death tech' for good start-up, Sam Grice
Updated: Dec 17, 2021
Fellow Kiwi Sam Grice joins Purposely Podcast to share his founder story with Guardian Angel.
Guardian Angel is categorised as a ‘death tech for good’ start-up focused on reducing the stress in the immediate aftermath of a loved one’s death by enabling people to coordinate support from family and friends - simplifying the bereavement process.
Guardian Angel was founded in 2017 following the unexpected death of Sam’s mother in a road accident. Having been personally exposed to the end-of-life industry, the lack of digital efficiency became evident as he and his family struggled to coordinate the tasks and sudden influx of communications.
Sam said, “The support we received from well-meaning family and friends after mum’s accident was amazing. However, managing that support together with organising a funeral and a wake proved immensely difficult during one of the most stressful periods of my life. And I’m not alone. Most of us have or will experience the death of a loved one and face the same issues that I did.
Can you give some examples of what Guardian Angel provides?
At Guardian Angel we’re here to help people to plan for and through death. That includes our proactive planning tools such as our online life insurance application, online wills, and online lasting power of attorney forms. Sometimes it can be difficult to know where to start, at least that’s what I found, so we created Bow - a quick and easy quiz that gives people a score and recommended actions based on their situation. We also support people in the immediate aftermath of the death of a loved one with our Support Hubs. They create a bit of a framework in a chaotic time and a place for a community to come together and stay connected, long after a funeral.
Tell us more about your founder journey?
‘A lot of founder led businesses are linked or triggered by personal events – an ‘aha’ moment following a life experience and the thought ‘Can I improve this and make it better?’. Unfortunately, mine was linked to the death of my mother who was involved in a car accident. I was 27 and my siblings were young as was my mom who was only 60, she wasn’t prepared to leave us, and we had a lot of admin and things to sort.’
‘We found out how expensive and full of jargon the process was and we didn't know what was going on and there was no one really guiding us. There’s often no single point of reference and if you're speaking to a lawyer or your insurance broker and a funeral director and it feels fragmented and inefficient. It inspired my idea to help people plan but also manage the chaos that's left behind. If someone isn't prepared, then so often the family doesn't know what to do.’
‘We've helped over 100,000 people plan for a better managed death and that's a huge accomplishment. A positive outcome from something that was quite tragic for both myself and my family.’
Does entrepreneurship come naturally?
‘Yes and no, I think I have underlying traits that are suitable for the life as an entrepreneur. I was always hustling, and I had my first job at 13 years of age. I've always been doing stuff from cooking barbecues on yachts during the America's Cup to being a barista and a bartender to earn extra cash. I've also always been trying to start businesses. Despite that my first proper job was with IBM and I look back now and wonder how I ever managed to work within those constructs, but you only realise that once you've been an entrepreneur yourself and you have run a business. You could say I was unemployable!’
Being an entrepreneur can be incredibly stressful, what’s your advice to others wanting to follow your path?
‘If something stressful or concerning happens just reach out to an advisor and investor and say, ‘hey, look, this is what's happening’ and talk about it. I think once you start to talk about it, rationalize the stress and the thing that's causing stress - which is generally something business focused - acting on it is much healthier than stewing over it for days.’
What have been the best moments for you on your founder journey?
‘I always think that founders never really get a chance to sit back and realize what they’ve achieved or fully value what they're doing. They find themselves moving on to the next goal straightaway without appreciating the moment. I have tried to do that bit differently and one of my best days was when I got accepted onto the start-up accelerator programme - it was only then that I was convinced that I could turn the idea into a company. Another great day was when we launched the life insurance function which was a massive achievement to get across the line and the team worked really hard for about 10 months to make that happen.’
How has the business faired during the pandemic and what’s the short term look like for you and Guardian Angel?
‘Weirdly COVID may have helped our growth, everyone was on Zoom and it was suddenly a much more remote digital world anyway and we went from four people to 14 in that period. It’s probably been more stressful but if anything, it has meant that we have grown in the right way and we have been a little bit more streamlined.
On a personal note, not being able to go home to New Zealand when I have wanted to or needed to has been incredibly difficult and I haven't had a holiday in a long time. So, I'm looking forward to a break over the Christmas and New Year period. A good two three weeks with no work hopefully!’