Willful, which provides online will and estate planning, has raised $800,000 in seed financing.
The round was led by Montreal-based venture capital firm Tactico, which makes investments through targeted special purpose vehicles (SPV). The investment in Willful included a number of undisclosed high net worth individuals who participated through the SPV. In addition to the funding, Tactico managing partner Liam Cheung will be joining Willful’s board of directors.
“COVID has the dual effect of making the Willful service even more valuable and present in the minds of Canadians.”
The round also included participation from York Angels and existing investors, including Real Ventures. Willful, notably, graduated from Real Ventures’ FounderFuel accelerator in 2019.
“We really wanted to partner with an investor who was supportive of several different options being a great outcome for Willful, not just the venture path,” Erin Bury, co-founder and CEO of Willful told BetaKit of the decision to work with Tactico.
Willful was launched in 2017 by Bury’s husband Kevin Oulds, currently the startup’s head of business development. Its online platform allows consumers to create a legal wills digitally. The estate planning services include creation of a legal will and assigning a power of attorney for personal care and/or property. Willful’s goal is to “change the way Canadians prepare for and deal with death.”
Speaking with BetaKit editor-in-chief Douglas Soltys on the most recent episode of Black Swan, Bury noted that prior to COVID-19 it was difficult to get people to think about their own mortality, especially when there is no obvious deadline to do so.
“With a will, you have no idea whether you’re going to pass away tomorrow … or in 50 years,” she said. “So [Willful] always contended with creating a sense of urgency for something that feels like it doesn’t have a deadline.”
Bury noted that almost as soon as concerns around COVID-19 started to surface online in March Willful saw an influx in customers. “COVID not only created that sense of urgency, but I think it also made people realize, ‘I need to get my emergency plans in place,’” she said.
“COVID has the dual effect of making the Willful service even more valuable and present in the minds of Canadians, while also making the incumbent’s old inefficient methods much more difficult to deliver,” Cheung told BetaKit. “Willful is very well positioned to reduce friction for Canadians to plan for their loved ones in a modern digital experience that neatly circumvents those old inefficiencies.”
Like many startups of late, the timing of Willful’s fundraise came with the difficulties brought about by raising capital amid a global pandemic. Bury told BetaKit the startup signed a term sheet with Tactico (through the SPV) at the end of February, and when COVID hit there was concern that the high net worth individuals may not take part in the deal as planned.
“The process of raising funding during the pandemic was a little bit of a roller coaster.”
“The process of raising funding during the pandemic was a little bit of a roller coaster,” the CEO said. “It went from, sign term sheet, everyone’s excited to, ‘hey, we’re not sure if this deal is even going to be able to happen now’ … to then Willful seeing this really massive increase in traffic and sales because of COVID, which then made it to the other side where the round ended up being oversubscribed.”
Willful officially closed the seed financing in June. With the round being oversubscribed, the startup has the option to raise an additional $200,000 “if needed.” Bury told BetaKit that with revenues increasing amid the pandemic Willful decided to stick with the $800,000 for now.
During COVID-19, Willful claimed it has seen a 600 percent increase in demand from Canadians interested in online estate planning; with a three times increase in revenue. Willful has also provided more than 2,500 free plans to frontline healthcare workers.
While COVID-19 has increased consumers’ interest in planning ahead, the online will and estate planning industry is still lagging behind when it comes to e-signatures. Amid the pandemic, many industries have seen the speed of digital transformation increase significantly; many Canadians are now able to easily access virtual healthcare and remote technology across sectors has seen increased interest and investment.
Bury noted that some changes have occurred for remote estate planning during the pandemic. Ontario, for example, allowed for remote witnessing of wills as part of its emergency COVID-19 relief orders.
“The conversation around digital signage and storage of will has become more prevalent,” Bury said. “The limitation is the law not technology … [COVID-19] put us on a path to prioritize how we can make the process digital.”
Willful plans to use its funding to launch new products that make it easier for Canadians to “prepare for their own legacy”, as well as products that give families the tools “to wrap up a loved one’s life.”
The Toronto-based startup also plans to use a portion of the capital to invest in its partner program. Willful has existing relationships with League, Wealthsimple, Sonnet Insurance, and CAA. Wilful’s platform is currently available to residents of Ontario, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Manitoba.
Tactico will work closely with Willful, with the startup noting the lead investor will be instrumental in leading Willful’s Quebec launch.
Image courtesy Erin Bury. Credit: Becca Lemire Photography