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Mike Belsito of eFuneral

Meet Mike Belsito, founder of eFuneral:
What is eFuneral?
eFuneral is an online platform that allows families to quickly find, compare and select a funeral provider. The process begins after an individual submits basic funeral planning requirements on eFuneral.com. A notification is then sent to funeral providers in the eFuneral network that meet the individual's needs -- and those providers are given an opportunity to submit a quote. The individual is then able to review all available quotes as well as verified user ratings and reviews that have been left for the providers by other families that have used their service.  
eFuneral is free for individuals to use, and free memberships are also available for funeral directors to join the eFuneral network. eFuneral generates revenue through marketing fees and premium memberships that funeral homes may purchase.
How did you come up with the idea?
Over a year ago, my family experienced a tremendous loss when my cousin unexpectedly passed away. Because his death was so sudden and unexpected, my family was not well prepared for planning his funeral services. We knew that we wanted to have a funeral service near where he lived -- but there were 12 funeral homes within just two miles. We were trying to find out which funeral home provided the best service and which could work best with our budget, but we had a difficult time finding this information out.
My father came to me to see if the Internet could be helpful in comparing these funeral homes. I assumed that there would be services that existed to help us compare the cost and service quality elements of nearby funeral providers, but I quickly found out that no such services really existed. We essentially just picked a home in the area and were fortunate to receive a good service. That said, it bothered me that our decision was made with such little information available.  
I began meeting with area funeral directors to try to understand better how they market their businesses to families like mine -- "undecided" families. I learned that they spend, in aggregate, nearly $1 billion annually on marketing and advertising. Yet, the means that they used were mostly traditional methods -- television ads, newspaper ads, bus ads -- and very difficult to track.
At that point, my partner, Bryan Chaikin, and I became determined to create a solution that could solve the problems we found for both individuals and funeral homes alike.
What advice would you give to somebody starting a company here:
Be sure to research your idea as much as you can before you take the leap. If you end up deciding to quit your day job to launch a company, it's important that you've done as much homework as possible to determine if there is even a market for the product or service that you're selling. Try creating a "Minimum Viable Product" first and testing whether customers are even willing to pay for it.  Typically, you don't need extensive financial resources to create and test an MVP -- just a lot of planning, patience and perseverance.
What resources or organizations did you work with or take advantage of and how did they help?
There were several Ohio-based organizations that we worked with who helped us along the way:
  • The JumpStart Entrepreneurial Network connected us to individuals that helped us think through and better articulate our business model.  They also recommended other organizations within their network that we could potentially work with.
  • The Innovation Fund of Northeast Ohio provided us with a grant that allowed us to continue customer development research by creating a prototype and testing it with potential customers.
  • The Ohio New Entrepreneurs Fund provided us a grant through the 10xelerator program, as we were a part of the inaugural class of startups within 10x. This full-time, 11-week intensive program gave us the chance to actually quit our full-time jobs and take the leap into starting eFuneral.  
Where did you find your first employee?
One of the employees that we hired in the beginning of 2012 was hired based off of a strong recommendation from Robert Hatta, a friend who leads the entrepreneurial talent division at JumpStart. Robert has become the go-to person in Northeast Ohio when it comes to adding entrepreneurial talent to startup organizations. The second person we hired actually worked at JumpStart immediately before we hired her. Therefore, both employees had strong JumpStart ties.

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