What happens to a person’s Instagram account after he or she passes away? These days, people leave a huge number of subscriptions and accounts behind when they die. It takes their next of kin an enormous amount of time to close and edit these accounts, because, until now, there was no hotline service to do it for them.
Econometrics student Graciëlla van Hamersveld, too, saw first-hand how much pain and discomfort people around her experienced following the passing of their loved ones.
After all, each phone call may remind you of your loss. And why notify thirty individual parties when you can notify just the one? “We were thinking: this administrative hassle is something no one should ever have to go through. But we were also thinking: there must be a way to streamline this process,” says Graciëlla.
Which is why she established the Closure start-up with Chantal van der Velde, a fellow Econometrics student.
From public transport chip cards to Second Love
The Closure agency provides a service designed to make the surviving relatives’ lives easier. When a surviving relative contacts the agency, he or she can indicate which of the deceased person’s subscriptions or contracts must be terminated. The changes can either become effective at once or enter into effect at a later stage – for instance, if a car must be sold before its insurance policy can be cancelled.
“An average person has about thirty accounts, such as insurance policies, Facebook profiles, public transport chip cards, or ANWB [roadside assistance – ed.] membership. But we’ve even come across Second Love,” says Graciëlla.
The surviving relatives are then asked to provide certain information, whose nature depends on the nature of the account that must be closed. For instance, women’s magazines typically only require an address and a death certificate, while banks or insurance companies such as ING generally ask for more proof, such as ID.
Every customer opening a Closure account is provided with his/her own dashboard, where all communications are centrally handled. For instance, if you wish to put a subscription in a new name, you can sign the new contract here straight away. “In other words, you’ll never have to make a lengthy call to a helpdesk again. Since some companies do not have a phone menu, surviving relatives sometimes had to listen to cheerful music on hold for thirty minutes. In order to prevent insensitive things like that from happening, Closure handles the whole process on their behalf,” says Graciëlla.
Complete overhaul of strategy
Graciëlla and Chantal hit on the idea of establishing Closure during the final stages of their degree programme. “Of course people will often have ideas they’ll never realise, but we decided to give it our all at once. We quit our part-time jobs to do so.”
Graciëlla and Chantal decided to offer bereaved people around them the service of closing the deceased person’s accounts on their behalf. “We assumed at the time that cancelling these things was a lot of hassle for the surviving relatives, which was true. We often had that horrible music inflicted on us. We were also told, ‘Well, enjoy your new provider, then’. It was confirmed at once that there was a problem.”
After doing this type of research for a while, they established conversations with companies to ask them whether the process could be streamlined in any way. “Which was when we discovered that companies were badly in need of our services, as well, since their customer service costs were very high, and also because grave mistakes were being made. For instance, in early December 2018, we were told about a widower who was still paying the service costs for his wife’s debit card seven years after the wife’s death.”
This is when Graciëlla and Chantal decided to completely overhaul their start-up’s strategy. “We started out as an agency providing services to survivors and ended up becoming a link between two parties with the same need.” Within half a year, they were collaborating with parties such as Ardanta (the Netherlands’ largest provider of funeral insurance) and KPN (a major telecommunications provider).
No large bank account
“I did stop to think that I didn’t have a particularly large bank account that would allow me to invest hundreds of thousands of euros in Closure, but I hadn’t really considered the entire investment process. I hadn’t expected us to deal with KPN so soon, either. That first nudge turned out to be the most important one. After that, things started to snowball.”
In 2018, Closure won the Philips Innovation Award and was a finalist in the TedxAmsterdamWomen competition.
“Winning the Philips Innovation Award and getting so much attention from the media wasn’t just really cool. It also helped us in that we, a new start-up, were taken more seriously. Although I do have to admit that the Econometrics degree programme has a good reputation, as well. It taught the parties we were negotiating with that we’d found a career we were fully committed to, despite the fact that we could have found high-paying jobs elsewhere,” says Graciëlla.
Econometrics is related to the entrepreneurship involved in Closure in several respects. “Obviously, I have an affinity with data because of my degree. If not, I would never have taken up this case,” explains Graciëlla. “In a way, this start-up is a huge intellectual puzzle. Maybe that sounds weird in this context, but in my own way, I’m making the survivors’ lives easier quite efficiently.” In Closure’s back office, Graciëlla is now automating the way in which parties are notified and integrating new partners into the system. “I understand the technological aspects of what we’re doing, and I still benefit a lot from that knowledge.”
Poke bowl food truck
That Graciëlla would become an entrepreneur after completing the work placement that was part of her graduation project did not come as a surprise. She took the relevant courses during her Bachelor programme and also took part in the Australian Entrepreneurship Challenge. During her Master programme, she considered starting a poke bowl food truck business with a good friend. “I enjoy starting up projects, seeing how they progress, and learning a lot along the way,” is the conclusion Graciëlla herself has drawn about it.
It does require great adaptability and perseverance. “At one point we began to refer to the repeated complete overhauls of Closure’s strategy as ‘whiplashes’. In the long term, we found a greater balance in responding to learning moments.” Graciëlla’s advice to the entrepreneurs of the future is, among other things, to refrain from wanting to do everything themselves, and to agree on a clear division of tasks.
“That said, I do recommend that all students become entrepreneurs and learn by doing. Particularly since becoming an entrepreneur while you’re still a student is relatively risk-free,” opines Graciëlla. “You don’t have a family to support, and you’re not sacrificing a salary. As I said before, everyone has thousands of ideas, and I’d advise everyone, but particularly students, to do something with those ideas. Think big! The biggest risk you’ll run is having learned a great deal a year from now. I’ve never regretted my decision. Moreover, DUO is the most risk-free investor you’ll ever come across in your life.”
This story was made in cooperation with Babette Kleine Deters