10:10am

Tue May 29, 2012
Company Town

INDUETIME: How a "Death App" won Rochester's Startup Weekend

It started out as “The Death App.”

“I called it that because I couldn’t think of anything else,” says Tony Di Pietro.

Di Pietro’s “Death App” was the kernel of what became the winner of Rochester’s first Startup Weekend.

From pitch to product

Startup Weekend works like this:

Would-be entrepreneurs pitch their ideas for a company built around a web or mobile app.

The dozens of participants choose which of those pitches are worth pursuing before splitting up into teams and embarking on a 54-hour sprint to make it happen.

Di Pietro (who works in web design for the University of Rochester) pitched his idea - and it stirred up a lot of buzz.

“Everyone was talking about this death app thing,” Di Pietro says. “I think it really shocked people, the idea of someone talking about death.”

The original idea was to connect people with nearby services that were alternative to typical funerals.

Yet despite the buzz, Di Pietro says it took a while for Startup Weekend attendees to vote with their feet.

But two MBA students from the U of R’s Simon School of Business saw potential.

“We need to talk about this,” says international student Tohir Tillyaev, recalling his decision to sign on. “Like, ‘Are we joining this? Can we do this?’ And we’re like, ‘Hey, why not?’ ”

Tillyaev and classmate Sophia Mitchell soon joined Di Pietro and set off to work.

That’s when “The Death App” started changing into something else.

Being there - without being there

By the time the team presented its concept to a panel of judges, it was a platform for watching funerals online.

“It’s this virtual funeral idea,” Mitchell says. “You’re really there, even though you’re not physically there.”

“Again,” Di Pietro adds, “it’s not something that anybody wants to think about.

“But you have been in a situation where there’s a funeral and it’s across the country and you would really like to be there because that person meant something to you - but it’s just not feasible.”

“Death App” was dropped and the company became known as “In Time.”

It took home first prize.

“We had the only idea that actually could make money,” Di Pietro says, when asked why his team won.

Di Pietro says the company - now called INDUETIME (“in due time”) - was one of the few from Startup Weekend that would generate revenue from step one.

The idea is to sell the service to funeral home directors, who then sell it as an add-on to what they typically offer.

Di Pietro thinks it’s a million-dollar idea.

“Web streaming technologies are nothing new. Panoramic photography is nothing new,” says Di Pietro. “In fact, everything we’re doing is nothing new: It’s the package and the market.”

Cashing in

Death in America is a $15 billion industry.

In doing market research, the team found that the top four companies in the funeral home business are publicly traded.

The plan is to get the service up and running with Rochester-area funeral homes this summer, before approaching industry giants.

INDUETIME ran the numbers. They say they’ll still be profitable even if they achieve only their “worst case scenario.”

Di Pietro admits a few companies have tried this before. But now with things like internet-connected TVs, he believes the timing is right.

“This won’t even be an issue to say, Let’s participate in this event,” says Di Pietro. “Granted that event may be a funeral, but [people will say], ‘Let’s participate in this event in our living room.’ ”

Next steps

Despite the admitted ick factor of dealing with death, Di Pietro and the INDUETIME team are eager to leverage their Startup Weekend winnings into something very real.

(They say they’ve yet to collect the $2,500 in prize money and the thousands more in support services.)

The recently-minted Simon School graduates are staying on to launch the company. Mitchell is serving as Chief Marketing Officer. Tillyaev is Chief Executive Officer.

Di Pietro, the company’s Chief Technology Officer, hopes that what started as “The Death App” is the beginning of his career as a serial entrepreneur.

“I believe that in two years we’re going to have enough in this to walk away and be well off,” says Di Pietro. “And I will do this again.”