#090 InHeirit | Coaching an Early-Stage Startup towards Launching

Show Notes

Preparing a product for a launch, even a beta launch, can be a hectic period for first-time founders. The co-founders of estate-planning startup InHeirit are learning that firsthand. I recently sat down with them for a coaching session and wanted to share that session with you. It’s great insight into everything that early-stage founders are thinking about and how a coaching session can help make sense of everything.

  • What led to the idea of starting InHeirit.

  • The promise that InHeirit is going to offer users.

  • How InHeirit is balancing marketing with the launch of its beta product.

  • Advice that founders receive during a coaching session.


Roland Siebelink: InHeirit, consumer estate organizing. You've been at it for about a year. Who can tell me about how the idea came about? What drove you to actually run a startup for this?

Astin Hayes: A little over a year and a half ago, I became a caretaker for my godmother. Unfortunately, she passed and then all the situations that came with - dealing with an executor. Everybody’s been through it at some point, either with their family or they've heard stories, nightmares of having to go through paperwork and things of that nature when everything's not put together. And I was like, “There’s gotta be a better way. There’s gotta be a better way.” 

That's when I came to Amanda because I knew her background and I said, “Hey, I have this idea. What do you think about teaming up? Bringing this to life or seeing if this is something we can do.” Started doing some more research and figuring out who our competitors were, some R&D, and how we can make it better and stand out from our competitors.

We went down the rabbit hole and decided to go ahead and make it a business. Got in front of some friends and family around December to do a friends and family round or at least talk to some people. And Rendel was a part of that group. 

He came to us and was like, “I want to be a part of it versus just helping you guys invest. It's been a great addition. Thank you, Rendel. Now we're to the point where we're just trying to get signups while we build on the back end and get all the other pieces in place before we completely launch the platform.

Roland Siebelink: Perfect. Before we start talking about the traction you've already seen, what was the conclusion from your market analysis? I'm actually applauding you because so many founders just start building without actually doing the due diligence of understanding what's already out there and how they can stand out from the competition as you called it.

Astin Hayes: Exactly. The direction we decided to go in is for more middle class that have thought about it, but haven't even haven't dived into it. A lot of families, people that get married, have children, they go years and years and years and don't have anything in place. This is for the market that is being overlooked right now. 

Roland Siebelink: Okay, so a segment that hasn't been served very well by existing tools. What are some of the tools out there that you are particularly comparing yourselves with? 

Amanda Moutrage: There's a few of them. There's Trust and Will. There is Origin. Origin just released a component of their financial planning tool that is for estates. 

There are some that have already partnered with other companies, but Trust and Will seems to do the documentation, the estate planning documents, they do that. Origin also does the document part of it, and they incorporate the financial component of their platform to feed into that - assets and liabilities, which is an interesting perspective.

The one thing that our competitors don't do is the unlearning of systemic or generational habits when it comes to organizing. Astin mentioned that our target audience for our product is to cater to this middle class or this group of people who are overlooked or who have not prepared the documentation when they know they need to.

Our objective of our product is to make it as seamless, as comfortable as possible for that same person who may feel too busy. With that comes this unlearning of not being prepared. And that brings in that organizer component of our product to help the user themselves or the modern day consumer prepare for their estate on a regular basis. Getting organized compels you to do more.

Roland Siebelink: I love that. It reminds me a little bit of an adjacent category of the app you need a budget, which was targeted toward people who've never budgeted in their lives are always losing out. And it’s the basics of how do you start budgeting and trying to save some money as opposed to always being in debt.

Amanda Moutrage: Yeah, exactly. That's the same approach; to get the user to feel that getting organized actually is not as uncomfortable as it may seem or that it is perceived and then progresses into that estate planning mindset of let me prepare now so I can enjoy the rest of my days. One of our mission statements is getting back to joy - getting back to the joys of life: family, friends, et cetera.

Roland Siebelink: Excellent. Okay. Your persona is that middle class person that's not actually done anything here, but has thought about it. Any further color you can add to that persona other than what you mentioned already? Is there a certain age group, certain educational profile that you target? 

Astin Hayes: The age group ranges from 35 to 50 - more so hyper-focused on that 40 range. But like I mentioned before, mainly women because normally they're the ones that take control of situations with the family with money and things like that. And they're usually the ones that are taking care of parents on both sides. If they happen to be married, it's usually the in-laws and their parents, if they're still living. And then of course the children. We want to focus on that because even if they're the ones not making a final decision, they're the ones that will get their husbands on board to say, “Hey, we need to do this.” So, more so focusing on women. 

Rendel Solomon: Roland, the only thing I'd add to that is just to build on Astin's comments about older millennials and Gen X. That's an interesting group. I sit right there at 45, and for our generation, we're dealing with the concepts around death and legacy in both directions.

We have aging parents. I've sadly lost both of mine. But I do have an 84 year old grandmother who's still with us. And I'm also married with a kid now. That group is in the building family stage of their life, but also managing prior family. It's a key target to have to start this conversation with them, both about securing their own legacy but also trying to manage the legacy of those who come before them.

Roland Siebelink: Okay. Very good. The problem that you identified is that people have not done this work. They know they should. What’s the actual problem when you look at the other offerings out there? What are they not serving? 

Rendel Solomon: This idea of death tech is a fairly nascent marketplace. We're more focused on our execution for our audience. There's not going to be one player in this space, no more than there's one lawyer out there doing estate plans for people.

We're honestly less concerned about what the other organizations aren't doing and focused on what we can do to execute the best we can for the consumers that we plan to target that aren't being served. If every single person already had one, and we were trying to go poach to try to get people to use our program instead of someone else's, then I think we'd be more focused on the competitive side.

But as Astin pointed out and Amanda earlier about what those other companies are doing, we do keep that in mind from an offering product and particularly a communication perspective with our target. 

Roland Siebelink: Yeah. The real problem, as you say, they're not being properly served by those other tools. You can do a better job at that.

What would you say is the promise - if I'm going through a framework here, persona, promise, product - what is the promise that is the high line of what you would say? When you use our products, when we use InHeirit, this is what you're going to get?

Amanda Moutrage: I think a way to see what our end goal is here or our objective is to allow our users or the consumer or the community to unlearn the taboo around estate planning, around death, around that part of our life. The one thing that is inevitable as a human being is that we will no longer exist as a human being. That's one thing that's inevitable; after birth is death. 

How do we get a consumer or someone that looks like me or someone that is in our age group to think about this as in this is a component that makes my life better and makes my life easier, not only for me, but for my spouse, my parents and my children?

Roland Siebelink: I like that unlearning very much. 

Amanda Moutrage: Our bread and butter is going to be around this knowledge base. We are a go-to, but we're also this place of unlearning habits, learning new process, learning new habits, mitigating that specific taboo that exists.

Roland Siebelink: Very good. Let’s go to the product. How far are you with the product? What traction are you starting to see? 

Amanda Moutrage: Sure. Our product is not currently published to the public yet. We are currently building our beta. We are at least 70 to 75% complete on our beta product. We are expecting a go-live date somewhere in the second or third week of July, based on current projections. 

When we do launch our beta product, we are launching to our immediate and extended community. We will do a soft launch rather than an official, full pledged launch. We will try to get around 500 to 1,000 beta users, if not more. We're not restricted in any way. That will help us pilot and get a proof of concept on what we have envisioned based on our competitive analysis, on what we understand of the market, what we understand about estate planning and organizing as a current living person versus other products.

Roland Siebelink: Okay, cool. Even before the product is ready, have you done any tests or showing screenshots, focus groups, whatever you need to do to get customer feedback before you start building things? 

Amanda Moutrage: That is a good question. Astin earlier mentioned our family and friends rounds. We did show some of the screens during that. We did get some feedback initially on that as well. When Rendel joined, he gave us feedback on our initial dashboard. We are currently doing within our team, we are currently doing a review of the product status right now in terms of the workflow, the user flow, and the user interface.

Roland Siebelink: Okay. The next step of the flywheel would be how to generate demand for it. Have you guys got a waiting page or a landing page where people can already sign up with interest and show how many people have signed up so far?

Amanda Moutrage: We have been very intentional with not putting out public marketing until we are in a position of being ready or anticipating a publication date of our beta version. We are going to start our social media soft launch in a couple of weeks, which will then direct users or potential users to our website to sign up for that beta release.

It does have facts and information on it. But essentially that is what's going to start happening in June. That is the buildup to that product release, that beta release in July. 

Roland Siebelink: What do you envision in terms of sales model? Is there some free trial functionality? Do they need to sign up for some commitment right away? What's your revenue model? 

Amanda Moutrage: Those are good questions. We are in the position of  finalizing those. We have an estimated or a proposed idea. One of the items that we will offer our users free is the power of attorney, because as a living person, that is a document everybody should have. That is an incentivization on our end to get the user in, get the user active using the platform. Power of attorney is a very powerful document for anybody - especially those who travel, those may have young children or pets even. 

That is one thing we do. Then the organizer will have certain parts - every section will have a limited amount of free access, then you can upgrade. We are actually proposing that the product, you'll be able to log in, you will be registered, and you will have access to building your power of attorney and being able to add limited information into the organizer. Because once you have a taste of it, you get an experience, you're like, “Oh, I want to do more. Let me upgrade.” $250 a year or $15 a month, whichever works best. Obviously the annual subscription rate would be at a discount because then that's a commitment for a year.

Roland Siebelink: Yeah, and do you expect people to typically stay for longer after they've drawn up their documents? 

Amanda Moutrage: The idea around if they will stay around or not is that because of the organizer part - think about Rocket Money. You know your accounts, you do go in there at least once or twice a month. You get these notifications like “Hey, you have five bills coming up. Wait, I have bills?”

You do have these prompts that allow you to go in and that'll be a part of our internal marketing email campaigns where it's like, “Hey, have you thought about this? Have you thought about that?” And those will be tied into certain features within the product that will get the user back in and provide us with that user data. How many times a month did someone log in? Over a year, who was our average active user and who wasn’t. And those are metrics that will come over time. 

Rendel Solomon: Roland, there’ll be - as we think about extended partnerships and opportunities in this death care, end of life care space. Obviously, we're focused on the estate planning part right now and the life organizing. But there are so many ancillary components related to that, whether it's health, managing your account, there are going to be other ways to interact with the folks who are logged in that will get them back there. 

Because you're right, once you do an estate plan, it's not something you're looking at every day of the week or month at all. We're going to have to be creative around the knowledge base, the education, and the partnerships that will draw our users back to the site more often. 

Roland Siebelink: Okay. Very cool. If people do sign up for the full package and start paying you $15 a month, what will you need to do to fulfill things after that? Is it just somebody who does everything in the app, there's no support needed? Or do you envision some support, some actual labor taking place there?

Amanda Moutrage: Yeah, we envision there being legal support available for the user. If they're going through a document or we've sent them a prompt saying, “Hey, it's been 12 months since you reviewed or you looked at your power of attorney, maybe it's time to review."

There will always be available support in real time. We envision having a team of paralegals or working with our law firm partner who will be able to provide that. And that will be by appointment or in real time. Being able to provide that support to the user, we do envision that being a part of that upgrade. 

Also, I think it's available to anybody. It should be available to the people who are free too because our mission is to be community based and community focused. We don't want to exclude anybody from getting some support. 

Roland Siebelink: At the moment you’re still in the build, model, learn phase, which is the first part of finding product-market-fit. What I would say from just listening to you guys for a few minutes - and of course I may have missed big parts of the picture - is I would do my best to speed up the learning cycle and try to get some screenshots or very simple things out there to actual users rather than just investors and friends.

You really need to get that user feedback almost at the front of your process. What they often tell people at Stanford, for example, is the first version of your app should just be sketches on paper. And you need to actually get people to put things with their finger on a piece of paper as if they're using an app because it's so much more efficient to work that way than to first build it and to figure out “Oh my god I spent a month building the wrong thing.” That I think is something that I would really focus on. 

In parallel, I think even if you're envisioning your soft launch in June that is related to the product becoming available, I think most startups don't necessarily need to have that as a hard-coupled thing. You will see many, many launch pages, landing pages that are essentially for non-existent products. But they look as if the product is available, and they have a button for sign up now. And it's only after that you get a notice that the product's not actually available yet, but we'd love to talk to you. 

What that does is it generates proof points for there is actually demand out there. And apart from building the product, you will also start honing the messaging on your lead page to figure out your marketing, the right messaging, the right positioning for your target group  - to actually hone from the persona that I think you really have figured out towards is this a problem that we're seeing or is this a problem that they are seeing that they can relate to right? And how do I phrase my promise in a very easy way that they will jump onto right away?

I think on that promise, you'll probably have a bit more work to do to put that in language that your target group will jump onto. I like the unlearning aspect, but that's more from a founder perspective - maybe even a bit theoretical. How do you turn that into very actionable language, like, “Oh my God, I need this?” That's where I would focus my attention right now. 

Ultimately, you'll also revise pricing and you'll revise all your support available. But I don't think that's the most critical at this stage. On the one hand, testing out product features even before they're built. I typically tell early-stage startups like yours you have to get a list of learnings - like experiments - together. Typically, I want to see at least one learning per week, if not more. It’s almost a scientific method of we tested this. Even if it's just three people in a focus group, two out of the three said they like this, they don't like that. That gives you some data points. 

And then on the lead side, it's figuring out what would appeal to people. What would they sign up for? And crucial there is to make it look as if the product already exists until they press that button and give you their contact data.