American Funeral Home Revolution #6: The Pitch

The sixth installment from awesome Austin-based funeral director Sarah Wambold documenting the process of opening her own funeral home.

(Catch up: American Funeral Home Revolution #1#2#3#4, #5)

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“I’ve made everything from furniture to sex toys,” a product designer whispered into my ear as she slipped her business card into my hand. “I’m also a woodworker.”

Now I was listening.

“Can you make a casket?” I asked hopefully. She nodded enthusiastically. I handed her my card and we made plans to get together soon.

This, friendly Order folks, was the scene that unfolded after my first-ever pitch night. It took place recently here in Austin as part of an initiative by Elance, a freelancing website, to get people to “work differently.” Nobody was expecting to hear about a funeral home start-up, and afterwards, nobody could stop talking about it. And I didn’t even technically win.

048I decided to enter the Ignition Pitch Night because it was beyond time for me to start practicing my business pitch. It was also high time I let Austin know I was planning to open the funeral home of its dreamz. The Internet is Continuum’s first home, but Austin will be its physical location, and it has always been inspired by this city.

When I arrived, I noticed I was the second-to-last person pitching. I was going to have to follow up pitches for baby equipment rental apps, elementary education apps, football apps, party cake apps. APPS. So I was already different conceptually, but that started to get me excited. Once the pitching started, it went by really quickly because we were only allowed 5 minutes each. We also got to have PowerPoint slides, a program I used to find hilariously inadequate for presentations but now realized, with the right amount of finesse, can be fairly persuasive.

047

By the time it was my turn, I had sat through just about every pitch starting off with a question such as, “How many of you like to take pictures?” or “Who likes to eat cake?” I actually was going to do this standard open, but decided to go a step further at the last minute. “I’m not going to start with a question,” I began, “because I already know the answer. We’re all going to die.” Welp, that shut them up!

Surprisingly, I was able to move on from the grimness of that statement and describe my funeral home as a new and better funeral experience for everyone, and as the funeral home that Austin deserved. By this time, I was hearing gasps of approval. It was all very exciting.

continuum slide 1

Good vibes aside, my pitch does need more work. I need to have a clearer ‘ask’ and be more specific about the dreaded financials (spoiler alert: it’s gonna be high). I was lucky enough to get some tremendously helpful feedback about how to improve it and, in fact, the woman who won the competition, whose pitch was perfect, was very supportive and eager to help. There was a great spirit of collaboration surrounding the competition, which was a relief, because networking events can sometimes be overwhelming and feel a bit desperate.

It became clear to me that Austin is ready for this funeral home and people really want to talk about funerals when they’re in a safe space. One of the judges approached me at the end of the night, saying, “Awesome. Your idea is phenomenal. Don’t put it away just because you didn’t win tonight.”

I wouldn’t dream of it.

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  • HS

    AWESOME!!! I told a couple of coworkers about the idea of converting old motels into individual viewing/mourning/funeral/home funeral type rooms, and the responses were mixed on the land use itself. Once I described the “home funeral”, the answers were even more mixed. Some thought it was a great idea, especially in hispanic areas where it is still customary to practice home funerals in their native country. Others could not fathom the idea – “why would someone want to sleep in the same room as a dead body?” or “why would someone want such a private area for that when there are funeral homes for that purpose?” I also mentioned the whole “green” idea of not injecting the dead body with environmentally harmful chemicals, and most of them thought that was a good idea. So, there you have it. Mainstream America has not yet made the turn, but they are turning to the idea of green burials, and more personal mourning ideas. The idea is coming to fruition – even amongst us boring city planners!

  • Melissa Shawn

    Hi Sarah, first things first: Continuum is the perfect name for your business idea. Now that you mention it, this one words describes everything there is to know about what death is, at least as I understand it. I love the subject of death and am never more animated and alive than when discussing it. Just this past week, I typed a 6-page single-spaced letter to my youngest daughter (living in Portland and also named Sarah) about the subject. Several years back, I contemplated becoming a funeral celebrant…more recently as green burial has been in the local news, I started thinking about it again. My thoughts are never too far from death-related creative ideas, and it occurs to me that perhaps we should meet up? I live in Austin…am a native Austinite actually…and would love to do some in person talking and brainstorming with you about your business.

    If you’re interested, contact me at melissa {dot} shawn {at} gmail {dot} com