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How a New Zealand Funeral Start-Up Came to Call Portland Home

It all started with an Uber ride.

Presented by Great Goodbyes August 24, 2020

Great Goodbyes believes funerals should be something one-of-a-kind, just like the life that has passed on.

“So, what brings you to Portland?” It’s the local version of the familiar opening line of drivers the world over, and to the petite woman with the hard-to-peg accent, it was pure gold.

It was the first of more than 60 conversations Jude Mannion would have with Portland Uber drivers across the next three months as she shared her vision for Great Goodbyes, an uplifting website that enabled people to browse and compare different options for funerals, including funeral homes and a surprising network of thoughtful suppliers.

Almost all drivers had a funeral story of their own to share, some told with voices that revealed confusion or sorrow. It reinforced what Jude knew to be true—that our standard, traditional way of saying farewell to those we love was selling us short. “It was a remarkable piece of market research,” Jude says.

Saying goodbye is hard. Don’t let it be ordinary.

This finding is echoed by Great Goodbyes co-founder Sharon Hunter when she reflects on her mother Lynn’s funeral. “We let her down,” she says. “It was a nice enough funeral, but we could have done so much better to reflect who she was.”

Create funerals that are one-of-a-kind, just like the life that has passed on.

It’s a common regret. In fact, Great Goodbyes research found that 40 percent of people, given the chance, would do a funeral over again. Freed of the shackles of what a funeral “should” be like, people wanted to create something far more personal and unique: something one-of-a-kind, just like the life that had passed on. As Jude likes to say, “Saying goodbye is hard. Don’t let it be ordinary.”

The days of don’t ask, don’t tell are behind us.

Great Goodbyes is reimagining how people arrange funerals. Online, in private, and without pressure, it’s a digital ecosystem filled with all the pieces that come into play when there’s a funeral to arrange for someone we love.

Part magazine-style inspiration and part marketplace, Great Goodbyes enables price comparison and helps users search and compare everything from funeral homes to alternative ideas for venues, celebrants, florists, live music, and more. Feel like a food truck to mix a few cocktails or serve some tacos at the wake? You’ll find that, too.

Why didn’t the funeral sector embrace online arranging decades ago? It seems that American laws protect funeral homes when it comes to publishing prices, and the consumer pays a high price for that lack of transparency—literally. The Consumer Federation of America found that the country’s largest funeral group had prices 47 to 72 percent higher than other funeral homes and cemeteries. As the Funeral Consumer Alliance stated, “It’s easier to exploit a customer who has no idea what the competition is charging.” Great Goodbyes is setting out to change that ignorance.

Jump online: you’ll be surprised at what you find.

Great Goodbyes works with independent funeral homes who are happy to publish their prices, then marries this information with open and honest commentary on everything from whether embalming is necessary to how to choose the perfect song. Need some inspiration? Dive into stories of funerals that broke the mold.

Great Goodbyes believes Portland is perfectly poised to discover just how unique this life event can become. Why are the founders so sure? One of Portland’s own has taken the lead in the angel investment round. Exciting times ahead.

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