Founded by Drexel grad Rachel Zeldin, the former Baiada Institute company is touted as the "TripAdvisor of funeral planning."
Rachel Zeldin, founder of online funeral planning resource I’m Sorry to Hear, LLC, has found a new home at 801 Market Street in Project Liberty’s Digital Incubator.
The incubator is located in the same space occupied by Interstate General Media (IGM), the parent company of Philadelphia Media Network (PMN), publisher of The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News, Philadelphia SportsWeek and Philly.com — which means that Zeldin will have the opportunity to work with PMN’s suite of publications to find ways to share her website’s content, search and review technology with a larger audience.
Project Liberty’s mission to grow the digital media startup ecosystem in the Philadelphia region signals a paradigm shift in digital media — the confluence of news and other Web resources to provide more value to readers (and more users for sites like I’m Sorry to Hear).
“It’s a great opportunity for exposure and integration,” Zeldin says. “IGM sees us as a way to improve some content on their sites. They look for companies who can bring something new to their media outlets. They are looking at ways to integrate the technologies of all of us on Philly.com.
It’s content generation. People go to Philly.com to research so many topics. So we have a ton of content on our site that we can incorporate on their site as an educational component.”
A Different Kind of Angel
Over the past year, Zeldin ’06 established herself as one of the most vocal and esteemed voices among the stable of startups incubating in the Baiada Institute, earning a reputation as willing mentor to other fledgling companies.
Her eastward exit for Project Liberty is more than a success story; it’s a signal to other service sites and startup founders that you don’t have to build an app or work in the tech sector to scale a business.
I’m Sorry to Hear, which hopes to do for the funeral industry what Yelp and TripAdvisor have done for the hospitality sector, might sound like a morbid affair — but Zeldin’s passion for her work, as evidenced by an almost permanent grin and contagious laugh, is downright cheerful.
“I have embraced the fact that I am the funeral girl,” Zeldin says.
“The topic makes it harder to sell what we’re doing because death isn’t sexy. So we work to use an emotional appeal. We have to say: ‘Look, we are all going to die. Why don’t we recognize this and plan for this?’ We are educating people.”
Currently, Zeldin is broadening the scope of I’m Sorry to Hear. What began as an online funeral planning community and resource has now found an audience with industry professionals, including hospice social workers and financial advisors and planners.
“The hospice professionals are saints. Angels. Grossly underpaid,” Zeldin says. “And they have told me the work I’m doing is amazing. And that I am helping people. It’s amazing. It gives me chills.”
As her business grows, Zeldin is looking for angels of a different persuasion: Investors.
Over the past year, two of Zeldin’s well-funded competitors went out of business.
“I might not have the funds they had or as many users as they did, but you know what?” Zeldin says. “Users don’t matter when you don’t exist. It’s about persistence and passion. Because what I’m doing is impactful. And if I’m not the champion of this, than no one will be.”
*** Project Liberty is hosted by Interstate General Media (IGM), operated by Ben Franklin, and funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.