I thought maybe you could talk to me about where the idea for Exizent came from?

I’d spent 20 years working in banking. I think over that time, you come to get a pretty good understanding of the things that people struggle with on a daily basis. One such struggle is obviously around the bereavement space.

When I left banking I wanted to go and do something a little bit more purpose-driven, something I could actually resonate with, and that had a nicely defined purpose.

And bereavement was the space for that?

Well like many people, friends of mine have lost their lost partners early and I’ve watched them try to struggle through all of the pain of administration of death, which is probably the least 21st-century process you’ll ever have the misfortune of going through. It’s still incredibly manual and paper-based, despite the digitization of data and of processes and everything else. It’s all the things that you don’t really expect anymore.

Why do you think the death sector was left behind for so long?

It’s not very glamorous. When you’re talking about startups and all this kind of stuff. It’s not an area that naturally springs to mind (although I do think that it is changing a little bit). But the other thing is we don’t like talking about death in the UK, almost as much as we don’t like talking about money. So when you combine those two things together it’s not the thing that most people are that comfortable with.

The other thing is more operational, and that this is a really fragmented space. There are lots of people involved in bereavement, so much so that no one actually felt terribly empowered to make a difference.

So it required someone new to come in and sit in the middle of it all and say, “I don’t have any legacy business models, I don’t have any legacy technology, and I don’t have any legacy processes, I can think of this in a fresh way and try and bring benefits to everyone”. That’s probably why it’s taken so long.

And how did you go about convincing all these people that there was an elephant in the room?

So I think the way we approached it was to think about doing everything, which is what you do in a service-design-led approach — you go and find evidence of the problem and put it in front of people in really stark terms.

And, and then you can drive consensus towards “Yes, this is an area that needs fixing”. A key part of our initial journey was, you know, spending five or six months soaking in the realities of the market by talking to different people and looking at it from different angles, and testing lots of different concepts. It was rare that you found anybody that said that there was no need for improvement.

There’ll be a few elements that don’t want change. But they are mainly the people that are essentially charging for inefficiency, which is an appalling state of affairs when you’ve got people that charge by the hour, and they’re making that money out of essentially running an inefficient system.

How did a strong brand help with Exizent?

Well, you obviously need a product, but you also need to have a way of talking about yourself and what it is you set out to do. You need to sell a vision, a destination that you want to get to, and that others will want to join you in getting there. So how do you talk about the destination in the right way? That’s where the branding part comes in.

There were several challenges in the way of this. One part is in recognising that this is a sensitive subject, so you need to get your positioning right. And the second thing is there are because of all fragmentation in the sector, you need an idea various parties can coalesce around because the benefits will be different depending on who is using it. That in itself is a complicated communication problem.

So how did the “Making sense of it all” brand proposition aid with this?

We could have tried to go after only one of these groups, and refine from there. But we wanted momentum and traction and to do that we needed to resonate with various groups. Having a central centrally defined purpose, and message, and brand identity that could talk to all those different groups and show that we are a serious group of people trying to do something meaningful, was essential to that. “Making sense of it all” was the wrapper that brought it all together.

This was important for us to get right early on because you need to have a presence, something people can believe in. From funding to attracting talent, this is crucial. Straight away, I wanted a defined tone of voice and brand messaging that hit all those different stakeholders in the right way.

What does this look like on the ground?

One of the early decisions we took was to have a couple of in-house talent work for us. These two individuals have been here from the get-go and have completely immersed themselves in the story, and then taken our product to market and really represented who we were off the back of a lot of that messaging.

I think it’s that purpose that resonates so well with people: improving bereavement for everyone. It’s a powerful message, and it holds everyone together and keeps people moving forward, and actually makes people want to come and work for us.

So if you get it right, you have a really good recruitment tool as well. That was part of the brief because we wanted to be able to build a team around a product that didn’t yet exist.

Research shows that businesses with purpose usually come out top, so it stands to reason that that’s what investors are on the lookout for.

Well, of course, if you have clarity of purpose, you are probably more likely to succeed. Now there are lots of other factors obviously, but if you’re completely clear about what you’re trying to do, and you have conviction, that definitely makes a difference — you’ll stand out a lot more in any case.

In what way did ‘Making sense of it all’ illustrate your purpose?

Well, the idea of the tangled thread and the untangling of it was exactly what we were trying to do. The language resonated with everyone we needed it to because whenever we talked about the problem it was about making sense of the senseless.

The fact that it is pretty broad too was also important. There are a lot of different strands of bereavement that you have to deal with. And we were very keen not to pigeonhole it immediately around all around the probate process, because there are all sorts of other bits of it that are also key that you deal with as well.

Part of the joy of a startup is charging through doors that open up to you and new opportunities which open up. So making sure that our branding at the time was broad enough that we could give ourselves a bit of latitude to go over here and there was a key part of that initial process.

Any lessons for those who are thinking about making the leap from a big company to a startup?

I’m not sure really, I knew what I was getting into. I tried to do my own thing in my late 20s, and that didn’t work because I didn’t know anything. I guess the one thing to know is that you are highly likely to fail. But after 20 years you’ve built up a lot of scar tissue, which is important for the startup world, as you really do live and die by your own decisions.

I suppose ultimately just have conviction in what you’re doing. Make sure you get some good people around you early on as there’s a lot of weight on your shoulders you’ll need help with. Most importantly, understand the problem you are trying to solve, and you’ll be in a much better position to solve it.

Thanks Nick!