New Startup Offers Celebrity Appearances at Funerals

NEW YORK – Kickstarter has attracted tech gurus and Hollywood filmmakers, but a recent project appears poised to apply the company’s model of crowd-sourced funding to funeral services as well.

Over the past five years, Kickstarter has established itself as an avenue for artists and startups to fund their projects – the company claims to have facilitated over $1 billion in donations from nearly six million donors. Now, thanks to a new project started by a team of entrepreneurs from Atlanta, funeral services will be the latest industry to enjoy crowd-funded innovation.

On October 3, 2013, brothers Walter and Elrod Cuthers received the news that their friend Ray-Nathan Davies was killed in a tragic airboat accident. The brothers wanted to give Ray-Nathan a memorable send-off and reached out to the community to raise money to get Jason Aldean—Davies’ favorite country music singer—to play a single song at the funeral. The result was an outpouring of support that raised enough for an entire concert.

“It was great, I mean, we was sad about Ray-Nathan, but the concert was awesome,” exclaimed Walter. “There was a jet flyby, they put Ray-Nathan’s ashes in the pyrotechnics. It was totally badass.”

“They gave away a signed guitar and everything,” added Elrod. “That whole thing made us feel way better about Ray-Nathan crashing that boat.”

Walter and Elrod’s story inspired Atlanta programmer Marcus Peters to launch a funeral-themed startup. He gathered a group of colleagues, made a Kickstarter account, and now, after receiving two million in donations, iFuneral is nearly ready for launch.

“This is basically taking the Kickstarter model and applying it to funerals. The bereaved can come to the site and make a profile for their loved one. The community then decides how much to fund each funeral. In the mold of Kickstarter, we would take 10 percent of donations as profit,” explains Peters.

While they have yet to make any money, iFuneral has been running as a free prototype for the past few months, and the preliminary results have been highly encouraging. This has led to strong Kickstarter support and celebrity endorsements from stars like Meg Ryan, John Leguizamo, Chingy, and others.

The early successes have left Peters understandably excited for the future.

“We’ve got a lot of great things in store. Say you donate 20 bucks and you get a t-shirt, $30 for a tote bag, $50 for a scrapbook of the funeral, and so on.”

“IFuneral is great because I can give money and feel like a better person, but I don’t have to actually do anything,” says Bryce Parker, a Brooklyn resident. “I like that donors get profiles so all my friends can see what a good person I am.”

Kickstarter has seen its share of controversy over the years, but generally the criticism is in regards to patent disputes and perceived misuse of the site by celebrities. The success of iFuneral has caused a different issue entirely, as many detractors have accused the company of “glamorizing” death.

“What if some kid sees that 50 Cent is doing funerals in February, and he decides to kill himself in an elaborate way to gain followers?” asks Eugene Morris, a developmental psychologist.  “IFuneral is going to get someone killed, you mark my words.”