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Fiverr, Lemonade founders back Israeli startup that helps mourners manage loss

Empathy takes US-based bereaved families through necessary procedures and logistics after death of a loved one

Ricky Ben-David is The Times of Israel’s Startups and Business editor and reporter.

Ron Gura, left, and Yonatan Bergman, the co-founders of the Israeli-US startup Empathy (Courtesy)
Ron Gura, left, and Yonatan Bergman, the co-founders of the Israeli-US startup Empathy (Courtesy)

Israeli startup Empathy, the developer of a platform that helps families navigate the complicated bureaucratic journey after losing a loved one, raised $30 million in Series A funding, the company announced on Thursday. The investment came just five months after Empathy emerged from stealth mode in April to reveal a $13 million seed round.

The funding round was led by Israeli VC company Entrée Capital, with participation from US firm General Catalyst, and Israeli early-stage VC Aleph, as well as UK-based LocalGlobe, and Primetime Partners, a New York firm that invests in startups focused on improving the quality of life for aging consumers.

Prominent angel investors also took part in the investment including Shai Wininger, co-founder and CEO of Israeli insurtech giant Lemonade and co-founder of Fiverr, Micha Kaufman, also co-founder of Fiverr and its CEO, British philanthropist and venture capitalist Sir Ronald Cohen, and John Kim, former president of insurance company New York Life.

Headquartered in New York and Tel Aviv, Empathy was founded earlier this year by Israeli entrepreneurs Ron Gura and Yonatan Bergman. The two began their work together at The Gifts Project, acquired by eBay in 2011, and over the last decade have held various positions including at PayPal, eBay and WeWork. With Empathy, Gura and Bergman developed a platform that helps families and loved ones navigate the paperwork and bureaucracy that come with a death, where in the midst of deepest sorrow the bereaved must organize a funeral and handle a myriad of logistical processes and financial tasks.

The platform launched in the US in April. It takes families through a “step by step” process of what needs to be done immediately and what can wait, Gura told The Times of Israel in May.

That process of arranging a funeral, validating a will, closing bank accounts, dealing with an estate, claiming benefits, etc., can take families in the United States over 500 hours on average — “a second job,” said Gura, adding that Empathy can serve as a Waze-like “GPS for loss.”

The app is designed for the American market not only because it is huge but because bureaucracy after death in the US is very burdensome, Gura said.

An illustration of how the Empathy app works to manage accounts (Courtesy)

The service can perform technical procedures like closing accounts and deactivating vendors, if the user takes snapshots of the executor approval, death certificates and bank statements, which get saved in an encrypted digital vault, Gura said. Then, with the permission of the bereaved person, “we will handle the bureaucracy and tedious tasks” for them, he said. “It will be as easy as one click.”

In-person human support from estate lawyers and grief experts is also available by phone or chat, creating what the firm says is a “hybrid experience” to help the bereaved.

Empathy has taken on a complex mission, said Gura, of mapping out all the different touchpoints to customize interactions by jurisdiction, family situation, income level and tax position. But it is no more complex than automating financials or self-driving cars, he said. Navigating grief “is something tech should be able to do and can do.”

Technology can help structure all the information, keep the documents secure and personalize the bureaucratic process, he said. “These are things we use tech for, day in and day out, for other sectors, but for some reason technology is not applied to this massive problem domain that none of us can elude.”

“As humans we forgot how to grieve. We are not giving it enough space in modern society,” said Gura. “Employers should do a better job in understanding people coming back from bereavement leave. Friends should not make you feel all the time that you should be over it, as if grief has a timeline. It doesn’t have a timeline. Sometimes it is a month, sometimes a year, sometimes forever.”

In a company statement on Thursday, Gura welcomed the new investment and said “software is finally being leveraged to make a significant difference for families struggling with loss.”

“We are humbled to hear from the bereaved families we’ve helped already, and are determined to continue working to help as many as we can in alleviating both the logistical and emotional burdens of a loved one’s passing,” he said.

In addition to its direct-to-consumer platform, Empathy said it is also working with leading brands across industries such as insurance companies, hospice chains, and funeral homes to “expand its reach through strategic partnerships.” Empathy’s most recent partnership was inked with New York Life last month to make the platform available to beneficiaries.

Empathy said the fresh funding will enable it to grow its staff and develop new products, as well as “further their mission of changing how the world deals with loss.”

“Empathy’s product is uniquely disruptive and a category-defining solution dealing with loss,” said Avi Eyal, managing partner of Entrée Capital, in the announcement. “Its holistic approach sets it apart, and this, together with its growth, drew our attention to the company. We look forward to working with Empathy’s founders and team as they grow by providing this much-needed solution to millions of people worldwide.”

Empathy employs some two dozen people in Tel Aviv and New York, and the team includes professionals from the legal, accounting, product design, engineering, and cybersecurity sectors, as well as grief experts, the company has said.

Shoshanna Solomon contributed to this report.

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