The startup digitising death

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Finding out about the death of a loved one or friend is a harrowing time, and figuring out how to send your condolences can be difficult.  That’s why five Egyptian entrepreneurs joined forces to launch ElWafeyat.com – a platform for announcing deaths “in a decent and efficient way”, as well as providing digital condolence tools.

Speaking to Disrupt Africa, Omar Hamdalla, co-founder and marketing manager at ElWafeyat.com explains the platform is intended to make coping with the death of a loved one or acquaintance an easier experience, through a range of tools to help those notifying their social networks of a death, and for those wanting to pass on their wishes to a grieving family.

“ElWafeyat.com which is a digital space for announcements and notifications when someone passes away to the family’s wider community of friends, colleagues and acquaintances in a decent and efficient way,” Hamdalla says.

“Also we provide friends and acquaintances the tools to easily pay their respects and send their condolences in a way that really honours the person who passed away.”

ElWafeyat’s services fall into three main pillars. The platform sends out notifications of the daily newspaper obituaries to the platform’s subscribers and also allows users to create online announcements when someone passes away. Second, the platform allows users to pass on their condolences in the event of a death through online, in-app and telegram-based tools.  Finally, the platform provides full guidance on what to do in the event of a death, and has a full listing of relevant service providers.

Launched in August 2014, the platform already has over 200,000 users in Egypt, and a further 15,000 users registered for the daily obituary newsletter.

According to Hamdalla, it is time obituaries and condolences moved away from the traditional newspaper channels, into the digital era.

“People rely heavily on newspapers as a medium for announcements because it’s the only platform available. But newspapers are dying and it costs a lot to publish an obituary. It’s only natural for a new platform that’s more efficient and affordable to emerge,” Hamdalla says.

Perhaps contrary to assumptions, Hamdalla says use of a digital platform in the event of a death actually makes the notification and condolence process more personal.

He says the capacity of a digital platform to provide instantaneous and targeted information to a network of people makes the online sphere much better suited to dealing with difficult situations in a more personal and supportive manner.

“Our goal is to help people support each other in times of hardship. Hence ElWafeyat is all about instant notifications and sincere condolences, whether they are virtual or non-virtual, being there for your loved ones is what really counts,” Hamdalla says.

ElWafeyat provides a number of methods for sending condolences. Users can submit a message for the family of a deceased person, which is posted on the platform, and is also sent to the family in the form of a telegram.

Currently, users can also manually send donations for a given charity or cause in memory of someone who has passed away through the platform.  This is an area which the startup intends to develop further.  The startup is working to roll out a functionality allowing an initiative to be created on the platform, asking grieving family and friends to crowdfund a target sum for that initiative in memory of a deceased person.

The startup is also hoping to integrate social mapping features to make death notifications more efficient.

“We are developing a system that maps out people’s social graph to automatically and instantly notify them when someone in their network passes away. That’s an added value that’s not present anywhere in the market right now,” Hamdalla says.

According to Hamdalla, the startup is focused on growing its user base rather than on monetisation.  He admits marketing is the startup’s biggest challenge, “given how sensitive this might be for some people”.

At the moment, users are charged a fee to send condolences, and a subscription service will be implemented at some point down the line.

In the meantime, ElWafeyat.com has launches planned in at least two countries in the Middle East by the end of 2015, and is eyeing further launches around the Middle East and Africa in 2016.

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Inspired and excited by the African tech entrepreneurial scene, Gabriella spends her time travelling around the continent to report on the most innovative tech startups, the most active investors, and the latest trends emerging in the ecosystem.

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