John Nyongesa, a Kenyan tech entrepreneur lost his father in 2003. More than a decade later, his son who was four years old at the time of his grandfather's demise asked him a few questions that led him to create a memorial website for his father.
"The inspiration came accidentally. My son, Jason who turned 18 in 2018 provided it. The loss of an uncle with whom he shared a clan name, inspired questions about our family, our clan and specifically, his grandfather (my father). He could not remember much of him, and his curiosity generated question after question. The most pointed out was; “Why isn’t granddad online?”," Nyongesa told Benjamindada.com.
"I fumbled to answer that. If it wasn’t online, it did not exist. It was clear. My father was forgotten because, beyond a few pictures, he couldn’t be found. I felt guilty."
At the time, Nyongesa said he did not find a Kenyan or African-focused memorial website that he could use for his dad. Within three months, he created a memorial website for his dad. "During the process [of creating the website], dozens of my friends expressed the same desire: to preserve their memories of lost loved ones for future generations. So I expanded my personal website into a public memorial website," he added.
Nyongesa started the development of SafiriSalama.com in 2018 as a public memorial website taking its name from the Swahili words "Safiri Salama," which translates to "Travel Safe". This website has now evolved into a funeraltech startup, the beta version was rolled out in November 2022. A year before the role out, he was joined by Steve Lelei, an actuarial scientist and Edith Orwako, a Project Manager, as co-founders.
"Africans tend to avoid discussions about death or end-of-life planning," Nyongesa, the co-founder and CEO of SafiriSalama says. "This lack of knowledge creates an opportunity for exploitation, as people are uninformed and emotionally vulnerable when a loved one passes away." According to him, when grief and urgent decision-making are paired, bereaved families are disadvantaged.
During the Covid-19 lockdown, traditional committee meetings in Kenya were unable to plan and announce funerals. With an almost 85% decline in national newspaper circulation and an increase in online news consumption, the trio realized the need for a tech-based solution to provide information management and planning.
SafiriSalama.com developed two products: Death Notices and Memorials.
Death Notices enable the creation of affordable and user-controlled digital death announcements that can be shared across multiple social media platforms. Meanwhile, Memorials provide a subscription to a one-stop-shop including a user-friendly noticeboard for managing a loved one's funeral process, preserving memories (galleries, links) and narratives collected through obituaries and eulogies, and enabling discovery through search engines.
"Every life regardless of status is a story," Nyongesa said. "The internet is an equalizer."
To further enable the logistics needs of bereaved members, SafiriSalama.com also built The Redbook, a B2B & B2C product and services online directory that connects verified service providers in the funeral industry with families. "[Often times], bereaved families are hugely disadvantaged. You can buy a toothpick online but cannot track a coffin seller," he said. "That is ridiculous."
The Redbook provides funeral vendors with a mini-website to showcase products, pricing, and stock availability, and be search engine discoverable. "Grieving families face difficulty conducting proper research and often "pressure buy" due to a lack of published prices in the funeral industry," Nyongesa added. The Redbook is a subscription-based product where vendors pay a fixed annual fee to be listed in their chosen category. They are charged per category listing.
A $100K angel investment to grow its funeraltech offering
Since its beta launch in November 2022, SafiriSalama.com has had over 67.3K visitors, 167 notices and memorials. More than 478 tributes have been written on the platform, as well as more than 2000 memorial pictures upload.
Last week, the Kenyan funeral tech startup announced that it secured a $100,000 (Kshs 12.5 million) investment from an undisclosed US-based angel investor. According to a statement shared with Benjamindada.com, SafiriSalama is preparing for a pre-seed funding round to finance marketing, hiring, and product improvements.
"Funding is a challenge...The appreciation of an impact startup is more or less shaped by the eyes and ears of the West where the majority of VCs are based," he said. "Lack of extensive analytical research in some social areas that require tech solutions, such as deathcare, may hamper immediate appreciation by investors particularly when it comes to anticipating traction, growth of market size."
Kenya's end-of-life industry in Kenya is estimated to be worth $450 million (KShs 56 billion) annually, according to the statement. However, the industry lacks a clear and user-friendly system for bereaved families, leading to issues such as inconsistent pricing, unclear industry standards, and difficulty distinguishing between competitors. This is what SafiriSalama intends to solve.
Funeraltech in Egypt and Nigeria...
Far from East Africa, SOKNA, an Egyptian funeraltech startup secured a $1 million seed round in 2022 to enable "the funeral industry in Egypt has been largely stigmatised and fragmented".
Since launching in late 2020, the company has enjoyed a rapid expansion - growing threefold in the past year alone. To date, SOKNA has operational partnerships with 20 hospitals and corporates in Greater Cairo alone, has amassed more than 70 partner vendors, and has performed more than 2,500 funerals.
In Nigeria, JohnPaul Nwobodo, an Associate at Proximity VC told Benjamindada.com that "expensive traditional rites in cultures like Igbo land is the reason why funeral services like APAMs succeed. For context, the standard cost of burial, including commemoration service and the feast is pegged at ₦5 million (~$10,857). However, this varies according to kindreds, as there are levies that family members pay to different groups in the village in order to carry out a successful ceremony."
APAMS is a leading funeral logistics company in Nigeria.
"A funeraltech startup which offers a full suite of burial insurance will play a strong role in lifting the hefty burdens that Nigerians [and Africans] feel during burial," JohnPaul added.