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17 May, Tuesday
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Utah Business

After will send your cremated ashes to the moon (if you want)

“We’re positioned to help people plan incredible goodbyes better than anyone else in our industry,” says Jackson Buntrock, a co-founder of After alongside Bryce Bunker and Wes Ames.  

The industry they’re working to reinvent? Deathcare. 

“I’m a fourth-generation funeral director,” Buntrock says. “My family has owned and operated funeral homes for decades, so I’m very familiar with how the industry currently operates. There are needs that are met by the long-standing traditional approaches, but there are even more deficits that simply can’t be addressed the way we’re going.”

The traditional approach Buntrock is referring to is funeral and burial services, which cost upwards of $10,000 for individuals in the United States.

“It’s incredibly expensive,” he says. “But the average price for a cremation nationally is about $2,200.” That price disparity is a driver behind the move to cremation nationwide. Bunker says trends suggest a nearly 80 percent cremation rate by 2030 in the U.S. 

“Disruptive” companies often enter their markets with a cost differentiation approach, but with affordability already a hallmark of cremation, After had to find a new way to stand out. That’s where Buntrock’s expertise came into play—bringing the heart back into death care.

“There are people who provide affordable cremation services already,” he says. “That idea in and of itself is not incredibly innovative. But where we believe we separate ourselves from the rest of the pack is the value we provide at that low price point—you get an affordable service without sacrificing the deep, emotional, personal parts of a ceremony. We customize our pre-and post-services based on the families’ needs, and we take their preferences into account while planning.”

It’s these partnerships with complementary spaces that enhance the families’ experience, Bunker says. And all of that is possible through something the death industry just isn’t familiar with—technology.

“It’s no secret that funeral homes are not the most innovative places,” he says. “They’re not on the cutting edge of tech. We’re used to using sticky notes and whiteboards to keep track of things, everything manual.”

Inside the industry’s greatest weakness is where After found the greatest opportunity for improvement. After employs tech-enabled solutions to provide smarter, seamless service to its clients, which means they can serve more people faster and more effectively. “The market is leaning toward these simpler approaches, and we do a better job of recognizing and honoring life in unique but simple ways than anyone else,” Bunker says.

The team at After replaced the antiquated organizational strategies with an online customer portal, where clients can track the real-time progress of the cremation and submit all necessary paperwork. One of their most popular updates is their texting program.

“You don’t have to come into a funeral home and sit down with the director to go over everything,” Buntrock says. “With us, you can pay for the services, get everything arranged, and receive the cremated remains—all without talking to anyone, if you want. That’s pretty much unheard of in this line of work.”

Nothing says unique quite like a trademark, though. Right now, After is awaiting approval on the phrase “After Party”—an event they throw for clients at the end of the cremation process.

“We wanted to rebrand the ceremonies that take place and make them more of a one-of-a-kind experience instead,” Bunker says. “We want people and their loved ones to be able to plan their own ‘After Party,’ for guests to walk into the event or the experience and feel as though that person was still there.”

The decision to trademark came from a global shift of the celebration of life, Buntrock says. “People are tired of following the same steps as everyone else, of putting their loved ones through a funnel of tradition. With us, they can leave a mark any way they want.”

Scott Paul, Utah’s most prolific angel investor, bought into the “After Party” idea—literally. He became After’s first investor with a six-figure check.

“The things I invest in, they’ve got to be disruptive,” Paul says. “The idea has to ring really differently when you first hear it, and [what After is doing] jumps out at you,” Paul says. “What they’re working on is the future.”

What’s Paul’s ideal for his After Party? He’s hoping to get his ashes sent to the moon. 

“That’s the beauty of an After Party—it can be a barbecue in the backyard with friends, or we can get your ashes to Mars,” Buntrock says. “We’re matching results to individuals.”

Paul’s investment was a turning point for After, which initially launched in Arizona. Buntrock’s funeral home is in Arizona, where cremation was much more mainstream. When After started to gain traction there, they decided to take a leap into the other co-founders’ home state—one with a pretty lousy cremation reputation.

“Utah has one of the lowest percentages of cremation per capita of any other state in the US,” Bunker says. “And it’s the absolute lowest in terms of cremation growth year over year, even with the trends toward cremation nationwide.”

The low number of cremations in the state may have to do with religious beliefs, Buntrock says.

“I think it comes down to a lack of education,” he says. “It’s something that people have heard growing up, and a large portion of the demographic here in Utah feels like cremation might not be OK, even if it isn’t true.”

Knowing that getting Utah to sign on would be an uphill battle, the After team deemed the state a “test market.”

“We felt that if After could work in Utah, we could be successful anywhere,” Bunker says. “And seeing the response from the people here, we know our idea has legs. We believe that even Utah is going to experience that seismic shift toward cremation in a few years, and we’ll be the only ones really prepared to serve in this emotional industry.”

As cultures and needs change, the After team feels more than ready to ride the wave.

“Everyone says they hate funerals,” Bunker says. “And at the end of the day, we’re in the business of changing that. We know how significant death is, and we’re able to recognize its significance while simultaneously creating an incredible, healing, and powerful experience for their loved ones—all through a text. We’re pretty excited about that.”

Jacqueline is a Master of Accounting student at the University of Utah. Specializing in tax, she's interested in business, government, and the intersection of the two. When she's not studying or writing, she loves to run, play Candy Crush, and read novels