VCJ Report: Signs of Life in Digital Death

It’s the eternal questions, at least as far as some investors and entrepreneurs are concerned: Is there life in the digital death market?

The Internet and social media have changed the way people live and interact. But what happens to our digital identifies—Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, email logins, Web domains, Spotify accounts, etc.—after we die?

Should we even care? And should VCs invest in startups that cater to it?

Jeremy Toeman grappled with these questions before he founded his digital afterlife startup called Legacy Locker. Two events happened in his life that convinced him there was an unmet need in the market.

First, his 94-year-old grandmother passed away. She was an active Hotmail user who exchanged messages with friends around the world. But Toeman didn’t have her account password, so he couldn’t get into her account and notify her far-flung network of her passing.

Second, not long after, Toeman was on a turbulent flight when he realized his wife did not know many of his own online passwords, including a GoDaddy account in which more than 100 Web domains were registered in his name.

“I saw a huge opportunity here,” Toeman tells Venture Capital Journal.

He then went on to raise a six-figure angel round of funding to build Legacy Locker, which has about 10,000 users. The company, which launched two years ago, operates much like a digital safety deposit box, holding passwords to a user’s online accounts for safekeeping. For every account stored, a beneficiary is assigned, and when a person dies, Legacy Locker securely delivers the account information to the named beneficiaries.

“The number one issue here is timing,” says Hans Koning, a venture partner at Solid Venture, an Amsterdam-based firm that led a $1.5 million investment in Respectance.com, an online tribute and memorial site where users can share photos, messages and video of loved ones. “We know we are pushing a concept that is ahead of the market, but we also recognize that we are on the right track.”

There are about 50 or 60 businesses in the digital afterlife industry, according to The Digital Beyond, a blog dedicated to the topic. But most are just basement operations. Only a few, like 1000Memories, DataInherit and Respectance have raised venture funding. Several others, such as Legacy Locker and Entrustet, have raised angel rounds and may soon go out for venture funding.

“The market is currently a battlefield for several innovative companies,” says Walter Huersch, an executive partner with Zurich-based Zühlke Ventures and an investor in DataInherit. “We believe that the digital afterlife market is still in its early stage and will strongly grow in the coming years.”

Subscribers of VCJ can read the full story about the digital death market by clicking here.

Not a VCJ subscriber? Click here for a free trial.

And if you want to talk more about interesting other interesting sectors of interest for VCs, send an email to VCJ Editor-in-Charge Alastair Goldfisher at alastair.goldfisher@thomsonreuters.com.

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