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PlanBeyond CEO Laura Troyani.
PlanBeyond CEO Laura Troyani.

Discussing end-of-life arrangements is one of the most difficult, but important, conversations a person can have. PlanBeyond wants to make it a little easier.

The Seattle startup provides resources to help older adults start planning for their final days and the time after they’re gone. PlanBeyond offers free state-specific advance directive and legal documents, checklists, and educational articles.

“Our goal is to be a one-stop shop where people can get their end-of-life legal, finance and healthcare questions tackled,” said PlanBeyond founder and CEO Laura Troyani.

Troyani, a Harvard Business grad, worked in marketing for Seattle-based companies TINYpulse and Rivet & Sway before launching PlanBeyond. She took the entrepreneurial plunge because she saw the consequences of failing to make the proper end-of-life arrangements first-hand.

We caught up with Troyani for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature.

Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “PlanBeyond gives you the legal, financial, and healthcare resources everyone needs to get their end-of-life planning in order.”

Inspiration hit us when: “I saw my uncle acting as the executor of my grandparents’ estate. My grandparents (who were awesome, by the way), lived through The Great Depression, meaning they never got rid of anything, ever. So, here’s my uncle, who has a full-time job, is the sole breadwinner for his family and is mourning the loss of his parents, trying to sort through this giant mess of stuff. I thought to myself, ‘this is a terrible position to put someone in.’ There has to be a better way to make the end-of-life process easier on family members and loved ones.”

VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “Bootstrap all the way! I worked at two VC-funded startups in a row before founding PlanBeyond. They were both fantastic rides, but I experienced first-hand the amount of time and effort that goes into prepping for board meetings, scrambling to meet quarterly numbers that were based on who knows how many assumptions, and watching a financing runway get shorter and shorter. It was nutty. I love the control that bootstrapping offers. Sure, it’s risky. But it forces me to be that much more frugal and optimize around the skills we have in-house.”

planbeyond

Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “KISS: Keep it simple stupid. Seriously. So much information out there on things from life insurance to hospice care to trusts is full of industry jargon. It makes it hard to understand and makes it look really intimidating. We cut the jargon out so people can quickly and easily understand what they want to explore. After all, your end-of-life wishes are some of the most important things you should plan for. Shouldn’t you be able to make educated, informed decisions about them?”

The smartest move we’ve made so far: “Asking mom for help. I asked my mom for her opinion of my first website design. I had my mind set on this one design … until I showed it to my mom, who absolutely hated it. You see, my mom is my target demographic, and when she had this deeply visceral, negative reaction to the design, I knew it was all wrong. I realized really quickly that it was too busy and had too many bells and whistles. The 50 or 60-plus aged audience really wants a more streamlined experience, and the first design was anything but. It forced me to go back to the drawing board and come up with something much, much simpler (and yes, my mom likes the current design).”

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “Paying for a logo design. As crazy as it sounds, the logo I originally paid for ended up being 10 percent the cost of my development, plus design fees, largely in part because I strove to keep design and dev fees so low. But I’m a marketer at heart, so I thought I needed to have a logo. I ended up hating the logo design I paid for, and just created something myself.

Because everything is bootstrapped, I have to remind myself to ask the question, ‘Will expense X or Y have an impact on moving the business forward?’ If the answer is, ‘no,’ or ‘probably not,’ then I know I need to toss it. This was a case where logo design was an expense I could have done without.”

Would you rather have Gates, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “Definitely Jeff Bezos. One thing I admire about all the new consumer-oriented products and services Amazon is offering is how easy they are to use. They really have streamlined user flows down to a science. It’s something I strive for with PlanBeyond. I know people aren’t lining up to plan for their deaths, so I want to make sure that the way to get the resources or information they need to make informed decisions is no more than a click or two away. Having someone in our corner that can make sure we’re doing just that would be awesome.”

At the PlanBeyond home office with the company's
At the PlanBeyond home office with the company’s mascots, Lucille and Gertrude.

Our favorite team-building activity is: “Walking the bulldogs. The PlanBeyond mascots are Lucille and Gertrude, two sassy English bulldogs.”

The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: “Right now it’s just been contractors that I’ve worked with. But no matter their background, whether it’s development, design, or copywriting, one thing has to be certain: they have to be able to work with me to figure out how to get a great product at the most frugal price possible. I’m looking for people that are flexible and can help me adjust project scopes or requirements to make sure they fit within my resource constraints.”

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Figure out what your core skills and competencies are, and make sure you create an MVP that leverages those competencies. Early on, you’re not going to have anyone else’s skill set to lean on, so make sure you actually are able to create what you set out to create.”

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