Learn How Beyond is Empowering Customers in Our Interview with CEO Ian Strang
Ian Strang is the Founder of Beyond, a UK-based funeral planning resource helping families make informed purchasing decisions for end-of-life planning. He recently made our list of 10 Visionary Death Care Entrepreneurs Revolutionizing How We Die for his progressive work in the UK death care space.
In the U.S., we like to watch the UK death care space because they seem to be about 10 years ahead in adopting new trends and adjusting to the ripple effects of those trends. The UK cremation rate is at 76% and looking at how their industry is dealing with shifting business models as it continues to rise can be incredibly enlightening.
Early in 2018 UK Dignity’s share price plummeted by 50% after announcing that their upcoming performance report was going to be below expectations. They blamed low-cost competitors and called for more regulation to protect customers from poor service, thereby avoiding responsibility and continuing on the failing protectionist path the funeral industry has become notorious for. One of the reasons that consumers are choosing lower cost (not necessarily lower quality) cremation services is Beyond’s transparent price and service resource. In just three years the tool has become a leading digital funeral planning resource in the UK and their business is expanding to provide more tools and resources for families.
Beyond began as a content resource which is a common path seen in other successful digital death care startups like PartingPro and EverPlan. We were interested in how Strang got started and where he sees the future of Beyond and the death care space at-large. Find out more in our interview with Ian Strang below!
CD: What was your path to creating a business in the death care space?
IS: It was an idea I first had back when I was doing an MBA at London Business School in 2009.
I saw that the death care space had in many ways been left behind by many of the innovations that had revolutionised other industries. Things we take for granted in other areas, like price transparency, digital presence and service reviews, were practically unheard of.
That lack of transparency, in particular, meant that some businesses couldn’t be held accountable when they perhaps weren’t acting in families’ best interests, while a lack of digital presence was helping larger chains to slowly push out smaller independent businesses, as well.
It being such a sensitive industry, when people are perhaps more vulnerable than they might be when making practically any other purchase, meant that a service like Beyond’s funeral director comparison tool – which is what we started out with – could have a huge positive impact.
So, we tested it at first, to see if there was any interest, and found that the website we’d quickly set up was seeing a lot of demand. We took it from there.
CD: What problem did you set out to solve?
IS: We wanted to put power back into consumers’ hands. When information isn’t freely available online, families often end up going to the nearest funeral director to them, who might charge twice as much as the funeral director down the road. They might not know how much it will cost until they feel like they’ve already made a commitment.
We wanted to make it easier for families to make a fully informed decision about who they would like to arrange a funeral, without any obligation.
At the same time, we wanted to give those small, independent funeral directors the digital tools to compete with the major chains, boosting their online presence and helping people find them. When you compare independents to, for example, Dignity Plc, they are about 123% less expensive, which is good for the families as well.
Now that Beyond has grown, we’re branching out into other areas of afterlife care. We offer a free will writing service (why pay over £200 for a will, when it’s possible to make one yourself for free, and control the whole process?) and a fixed-price estate administration service as well (why not use a service that tells you the price up-front, and sticks to it?) It’s all part of the same mission of transparency and fairness.
CD: In a couple of sentences, what is Beyond’s business model?
IS: We provide an online marketplace that connects funeral directors and at-need customers. When someone chooses a funeral director after finding them on Beyond, then (and only then) do we take a commission from the funeral director, and at no cost to the family.
CD: Where do you see your business in 5 years?
IS: I would like to see us expanding the range of options we offer to families so that they can find more of the information and services they need in one place. I’d also like us to extend the territory we cover: the UK is not the only country that can benefit from the services we offer.
CD: What changes to the funeral industry at-large do you envision for the next decade?
IS: I think an overall move towards greater digitisation, and a more mobile-first approach: increasingly, the people who need our services will be very digitally savvy themselves, and they’ll expect businesses to be the same.
I think price transparency will roll out across the board – already the larger chains are under pressure to be more open about their pricing.
Finally, I think that (and this has already started) we’ll see a sea change in the way people view funerals, with the majority of families coming to see them as a way to celebrate a life, rather than mourn a loss. So, potentially more family involvement in the planning and more personal, unique and creative funerals as people move away from the traditional approach.