The millennial-packed team at tech startup Trust & Will has raised $2 million to build the most unsexy software imaginable — tools to help average Joe’s do their estate planning online.
It might sound boring, but the startup has had impressive traction since its inception. The team got their start at a San Diego pitch competition called Quick Pitch about 18 months ago, when two guys in their twenties nervously edged into a crowded room of investors to sell them a half-hatched idea they’d just cooked up weeks prior. The competition lets new companies compete for a chance to earn thousands of dollars to grow their business. Most companies who make it to the final stage of the competition have revenue, customers and prototypes already built. Trust & Will had none of these. Didn’t matter. The company took third place at the biggest startup competition in San Diego.
What has everyone so intrigued?
The idea came to the founders piecemeal before solidifying into a startup. Daniel Goldstein, now a 30-year-old business development executive, was worrying about his cryptocurrency accounts. If he got into an accident, would his family have access to his digital assets? He shared that concern with his friend Cody Barbo, and that got Barbo thinking about the painful process of legal trusts and wills. Barbo, 29, was about to get married, and he and his fiancée were sorting through similar legal paperwork.
“I asked myself, ‘why isn’t there a TurboTax for legal trusts and wills? Shouldn’t we be able to set this up online?” Barbo said.
That was the big idea Barbo and Goldstein pitched investors at Quick Pitch. When they won their $5,000 prize, the sponsors had to write out the check directly to Daniel. Trust & Will wasn’t incorporated.
“Taking third place at Quick Pitch is really what drove us forward,” Barbo said. Angel investors were intrigued by the idea, and Ryan Kuder, the guy who heads up a popular accelerator called Techstars Anywhere, approached Barbo after the event and encouraged him to apply. They were accepted and graduated from the accelerator in 2018.
Kuder said he thinks the startup could transform the industry, and he has lots of confidence in Barbo as the CEO.
Being a 29-year-old serial entrepreneur
Not yet 30 and Barbo already has a reputation in San Diego. He was student body president at San Diego State University, and went on to found a popular tech company called Industry Careers, a LinkedIn for the hospitality industry. Industry, which Barbo headed up as CEO, gained some limelight for attracting $2.4 million in venture money at a time when San Diego software startups were struggling to raise capital. But shortly after VCs came in, the company asked Barbo, then 27, to step out. The experience shook him up.
“It was an odd departure from Industry, which was a company I loved,” Barbo said. “I was getting married in a few months and I went through this frightening experience where I asked myself, ‘is it time to get a regular job with a stable salary?’”
He didn’t. Goldstein and Barbo joined up with product designer Brian Lamb, 34, and the three officially founded Trust & Will in late 2017. Today, they employ 10 people at Little Italy’s coworking space Downtown Works.
Putting the cash to work
The company’s new funds came from a variety of investors, including early contributors Techstars and Wolfpack Ventures (the VC firm owned by Downtown Works founder Wolf Bielas). Later, the company attracted backing from Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund, the venture cap company founded by former AOL CEO Steve Case, along with contributions from Luma Launch, Halogen Ventures, Walket Capital, Western Technology Investment and various angel investors.
Trust & Will has already put the new cash to work, hiring developers and queuing up marketing campaigns and partnership deals to work on. Barbo said 10,000 users have signed up to use Trust & Will since its launch in April. Customers pay a flat fee to use the online tool to create a trust or will, and then have the option to pay an annual subscription fee that allows users to go in and modify the documents at any time. Barbo said it’s a feature he thinks customers will like.
“If you want to make a minor update to your will, for example, you will end up paying hundreds of dollars to meet with an attorney,” Barbo said. “We want to allow users to manage their estates completely online.”
Trusts range from $399 to $499 and wills are $69 to $129. The company isn’t sharing their annual subscription rate, but Barbo said it’s nominal. When asked how many users signed up for the annual subscription, Barbo said the company wouldn’t know conversion data until the product had been live for one full year.
How to disrupt an antiquated industry
Creating a trust or will is sort of a macabre task for people. Will the startup be able to rope people in for this service? Barbo said it’s not an easy sell.
“There’s a reason why half of all adults haven’t written a will yet,” Barbo said. “We know that 40 percent of baby boomers, 50 percent of Gen Xers, and 80 percent of millennials don’t have a will.”
The company is banking on the population’s increasing desire to manage their lives online.
“We’re really targeting the digital-first demographic; people who are looking for digital options for everything,” Barbo said.
They’re doing targeted social media campaigns, singling out people who’ve recently had a major life event, like getting married or having a child. They’re also targeting an older demographic that might have wills on the mind.
But a big funnel for future customers will likely come by way of partnerships. The startup is teaming up with big players already in touch with their potential customer pool. Haven Life, a subsidiary of MassMutual, is partnered with the company, offering Trust & Will’s product for free to its customers. They also have partnerships lined up with some financial institutions, Barbo said, but wasn’t quite ready to name names.
Investor Colin Greenspon, a partner at Revolution, said Trust & Will’s business plan is compelling. And by the way, he likes how unsexy they are.
“While it is always fun to hypothesize what new markets could be created due to advances in technology, the most compelling opportunities are often in antiquated industries that have been slow to innovate for various macro, regulatory and social reasons,” Greenspon said. “Trust & Will is capitalizing on this insight to transform estate planning in time for the largest wealth transfer in history to current generations and beyond.”