... we didn't know each other as a team – and certainly not how our paths would lead us together. In our joint virtual work, we quickly realised that we harmonise well together and complement each other in our core competencies. That's why we quickly decided to found a company together. A blind date, so to speak, because we didn't see each other in real life. Here follows our absurd but above all personal founding story.
I had just handed in my master's thesis for the Creative Technologies programme at the Babelsberg Film University on "The Role of Digital Creative Work in the Mourning Process and the Afterlife". I dealt with creative methods of coping with grief in a digital context. This included socio-cultural research such as a qualitative survey with test persons in the age group from 16 to 90 as well as an expert interview with the renowned psychologist Prof. Dr. Verena Kast. My findings resulted in the prototypical software development of an app that enables mourners of any age and previous knowledge to creatively process their grief with the digital legacy of the deceased person through a low-threshold accessible user experience. The result was a personal memory video, in which each memory was represented by a line animation, independent of each other and yet connected to each other. Today, this topic may be quite normal, but when I started my research in early 2019, the idea was highly controversial and polarised juries of various funding competitions. Opinions ranged from "highly relevant to society" to "ethically and morally indefensible". When I contacted the young and digitally affine funeral director Lilli two days before my colloquium, I was naturally very interested in an exchange and her assessment of my thesis topic.
After working as a funeral director and completing my Bachelor Digital Media Culture at the Film University Babelsberg, I studied Leadership in Digital Communication at the Berlin University of the Arts. In my market study for the master's thesis "Death and Digitalisation - Investigation into the Digital Transformation of the German Funeral Industry", I diagnosed a massive, untapped digitalisation potential in the industry. With my initial start-up intentions based on this, I took part in courses and consultations at the Foundation Services of the Film University and that's where I first heard about Jennifer's work. I then wrote to her on Instagram and didn't hear from her for some time - message requests, I tell you! Then she got in touch with me and we arranged a video call without further ado. We talked non-stop for two hours about the funeral industry and possible future projects and start-ups. And then I just said if she couldn't imagine starting up. And just like me, she was open to it. With one reservation: if we wanted to found a company, Markus would definitely have to be there.
I am also studying Creative Technologies at the Film University Babelsberg and was still busy with some project submissions at that time. I was particularly interested in 3D virtual spaces. That's why I was involved in the project Digital Stage - a cooperation between the Creative Technologies and Acting programmes. For the 3D virtual stage, I made an essential contribution to the conception, development and realisation of a corona-compliant hybrid performance of three Beckett plays. Jennifer and I already met in the Bachelor Digital Media at the University of Applied Sciences Fulda. Since then we have been working together or in the collective fuchsteufels on audiovisual projects and installations. Due to my years of experience as a software developer and good friend, I was also involved in her master thesis as a feedback provider. The exciting thing about her thesis for me was the link between digitality and mourning. When Jennifer told me about her acquaintance with Lilli, I was very interested in the potential of this three-way constellation. In joint video calls, we could all identify with the technology of 3D Virtual Spaces and it was clear that I wanted to be part of it.
There were two start-up scholarships for us to choose from: the Berlin Startup Scholarship (BSS) at the University of the Arts and the EXIST Startup Scholarship at the Babelsberg Film University. Strategically, the deadline for the BSS was earlier than for EXIST, so we didn't want to let the opportunity pass. No sooner said than done. We would like to emphasise at this point that we as a team of founders have only been able to work together virtually so far due to the pandemic. Crazy, isn't it? But it worked out. While Markus was still working on the Digital Stage project for a short time, we attended the one-week digital intensive workshop for the Berlin Startup Scholarship application. In the course of this week, the founding idea for farvel - virtual places of farewell, remembrance and exchange - emerged from the exchange and synergy of our perspectives and experiences.
As a result, we developed the business idea together and received the Berlin Startup Scholarship 2021 at the University of the Arts from farvel for our concept and development so far. Since then, we focused on the prototype and systematically gathered feedback from the funeral industry, including the online funeral home emmora and the largest German agency for funeral orators WER DU WARST. We also networked early on with startups such as grievy, friedlotse and trauergestalt as well as trend researchers and analysts such as Stefanie Schillmöller and Christoph Bohne, who also work and research in the field of death tech. For the digital conference re:publica 21 in Berlin, we were selected for the Main and Off Stage programme with our prototype and a video contribution. We achieved media attention with radio stations (WDR, Radio 1), were guests on podcasts (Spotify Original: Man lernt nie aus, Social Cosmos and Tod und Tee) and were published due to our innovative character (Magazin Bundesverband Bestattungsbedarf e.V.).
In only half a year we have organised ourselves, developed the prototype further and recorded all further steps to enter the market. But as is so often the case, we lack the financial means for some steps. The Berlin Startup Stipendium organises very valuable coaching sessions, but does not provide any funding in kind. Due to these financial barriers, we decided at very short notice to apply to EXIST until the end of June 2021. We worked through without interruption, condensed almost all of our previous concept papers, and completely revised our financing plan. The result was an application that was convincing. After weeks of worrying about the future of farvel, we were relieved with an acceptance.
That's why we are now incredibly excited to be able to draw on a broad network together with the EXIST Startup Scholarship at the Babelsberg Film University and to concentrate on the next essential steps in our development.