Eirene’s CEO credits Ontario for easing their launch path

Let’s face it, end-of-life planning is scary. But it doesn’t have to be, according to Mallory Greene, co-founder and CEO of Eirene, one of Ontario’s most riveting new startups.

As the daughter of a funeral director, Greene knows that making end-of-life plans will save a lot of grief for loved ones and can even have a positive impact on your own outlook. That’s where Eirene comes in.

Disrupting the Standard

Mallory Greene
Mallory Greene, CEO, Eirene

Traditional funeral services tend to be a very stiff, buttoned-up affair where you walk into a funeral home and sign complicated paperwork, often at the last minute before a loved one passes away. It’s so outdated, Greene tweeted recently, that “people in the funeral industry still use typewriters.” And it doesn’t help that many funeral homes charge thousands of dollars, with little communication about what consumers are really paying for.

“We’re at a point now where it’s very cookie-cutter, and I think that we can kind of break away from that,” Greene said. “I don’t think that a funeral has to be a certain way anymore.”

So, she got an idea unheard of in the funeral industry: an affordable online cremation service that combines the humanity she learned from her father with the innovative experience she gained as an early hire at one of Canada’s most exciting companies, Toronto-based Wealthsimple.

“It just clicked to me that I was in a unique position to bring some change to the industry,” Greene said.

A Supportive Tech Industry

In five years at Wealthsimple, Greene helped the fintech company go from a star-gazing startup to becoming a household name in Canada—and she wants to do the same with her own business.

So, when Wealthsimple’s CEO offered to help her go out on her own, Greene was thankful but not surprised—she says helping entrepreneurs is a common feature in Ontario’s close-knit tech community.

“Now we’re starting to see more successful tech businesses pop up like Shopify and Wealthsimple and others, and they all have really great talent. [These tech entrepreneurs are] starting their own businesses and staying in Toronto and building up those ecosystems even further,” she said.

When first looking to build her business, Greene linked up with Eirene’s now-CTO Faisal Abid, who has worked for other Canadian tech success stories such as Kobo and League. The two learned through market research that nearly three in four Canadians plan to be cremated, but the price for the service can cost as much as $5,000.

Choosing Ontario

With low overhead and partnerships with a family-run crematorium in Burlington, Greene and Abid planned to cut the fee for cremations in half to $2,500 while offering human-to-human contact and even door-step delivery of remains. But they struggled to convince investors of their unique value proposition.

“I’m a young woman, and I think that there were hurdles to overcome with pitching [a business],” Greene said.

But Greene leaned on her network of female CEOs in the Ontario tech scene and managed to complete a successful initial round of funding.

“I’m very proud to be in this space and to be one of the women leading this new movement of death positivity,” she said.

Before launching, Greene got another big boost from the Ontario government. She says that without help from the province’s specialized Red Tape Reduction Ministry to get her business registered, she doesn’t know how she would have been able to get it across the finish line.

“Luckily, we work in a province—and are trying to start a business in a province—that supports small businesses,” she said.

Ontario’s Next Big Startup

In November 2020, Eirene launched its cremation service with a sleek website reminiscent of Wealthsimple—but the timing was awkward.

“It’s hard to start a conversation around death and dying right now because everyone’s so fearful,” Greene said of launching during a pandemic.

Coronavirus devastated the funeral industry during initial lockdowns, but online cremation proved timely as nearly every business shifted online.

Greene says she has been surprised to see how much the service has resonated with all kinds of different customers, from someone’s grandchild to a 90-year-old making funeral arrangements for his wife. “I had an idea of who would interact the most with our platform and who it would appeal to the most, but we’ve seen such a wide range of people use it—and use it successfully—which is incredible.”

A Model for Expansion

In the months since its launch, Eirene has already expanded from the Greater Toronto Area to Southern Ontario with plans to eventually be available across Canada. It also plans to offer more options for consumers, such as memorial services and environmentally friendly “green burials.”

But Greene has bigger plans for her successful tech startup—she wants to change how Canadians talk about the end of their lives.

“We want to humanize grief, and we want to talk about what dying looks like and what are the steps you need to take to pre-plan for end-of-life,” she said. “And then my hope is that naturally...those conversations will start happening in households and with people’s loved ones.”

April 6, 2021
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