Life And Death Startup

Back to Contents of Issue: January 2001

WiLLifFE wants to use the Net to improve all the key aspects of users' lives -- and deaths.

by Chieko Tashiro

WILLIFE, A STARTUP FOUNDED last May, aims to use the Net for improving nearly every aspect of users' lives. Through its network of portal sites, it aims to boost the quality of users' finances, healthcare, family relations, relationship with the planet (through ecologically correct products), and even death. The three sites it has running now focus on funerals, sending ashes into space, and recyclable products. Those still in planning focus on finances, family, and health. Here's the rundown: This portal will help users design their own funeral instead of leaving their loved ones to deal with Japan's price-gouging funeral homes. The site will offer reverse auctions for various funeral services, allowing consumers to anonymously negotiate for the cheapest prices. Some question whether there's a market for "I don't quite see the necessity of using this service," says Takeshi Hosoya, an analyst with Jupiter Communications. "A funeral is something you plan on short notice. It will take a while for Japanese people to get used to getting information through the Net. Plus, assuming most of the potential users are older, they won't be adept at finding information online."

At the moment the company is still trying to attract business partners for the auctions, and there's an online expo on the site to that end. What does do now is sell clearly priced, environment-friendly cardboard coffins. That may sound odd, but it's in line with the company's ecological approach to life (the coffins may be cardboard, but that doesn't mean they're not high quality -- see below). It also addresses the price issue. Because death is not something that Japanese talk about openly, it's extremely difficult to address the issue of funeral costs. Few in Japan would know what a reasonable price for a coffin is, and it isn't easy to find out. (Another Net startup taking a slightly different approach to funeral home price gouging is Polytech. See "Disintermediating Death," page 76, November 2000.) Through this site, WiLLiFE will act as an agency of sorts for Celestis, a US company that provides space memorial services by sending 7 grams of the ashes of the deceased into space. In the last three launches, the ashes of 13 Japanese have gone to space -- all through WiLLiFE charges ¥1 million for the package, which includes a flight to the launch pad, stay at a hotel, et cetera. uchunet customers have so far included parents mourning the loss of a child, families of those who died too young, and others who felt that a normal funeral just wasn't enough to say goodbye properly. "In one case, the deceased's friends pitched in money to send his ashes to space," says Keiko Tachibana, president of WiLLiFE.

Name WiLLiFE K.K.
President Keiko Tachibana
Location Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
Phone +81-3-3511-2898
Ownership Private
Founded May 2000
Employees 8
Services Life-enhancing portal sites
Competitors Polytech Co., Ltd.
Partners Celestis Inc., Encounter 2001
Investors Tri-Wall, Global Alliance's space offerings are not only for the deceased. With its US-based partner Encounter 2001, uchunet also delivers a customer's DNA and any messages to space. The site will soon host space-related information and arrangements of a space camp program organized by NASA. This site sells ecologically correct merchandise, especially items made of cardboard, including toys and furniture. The company claims its chairs are comfortable and support even the heaviest users. (Though we wonder about sumo wrestlers.) The idea fits the "life-enhancing" theme in that it helps one live a life in tune with nature. ("with family") will be a family-oriented portal dealing with advice and offerings on education, interpersonal communication, and related events. Jupiter's Hosoya thinks that would have a better chance of succeeding if it didn't narrowly market itself as being for families only. ("secured" life), the health portal, will offer a matchmaking service between healthcare providers and customers. The site will also sell medical equipment to businesses and consumers, and offer information on healthcare. will focus on helping users get the most out of their money, with various financing, insurance, and a matchmaking services between financial planners and customers. Seminars and investment simulation programs will also be offered. Hosoya, noting that many of Japan's big financial institutions already have their own financial portals, thinks this site could have a tough go of it.

The company says that in its first financial statement, from September 2000 to March 2001, it's projecting a loss of ¥78.6 million. For the following year it's projecting a ¥88.3 million profit.

It aims to raise ¥300 million to ¥500 million by the second quarter. Where's the revenue coming from currently? The space memorial service and the cardboard merchandise, primarily, but starting this month online sales for other sites should begin, the company says.

WiLLiFE has taken an interestingly holistic approach to the lives and deaths of its customers, and as far as we know it's unique in Japan.

It's worth keeping an eye on.

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