It’s not every day you hear the term “death tech” being used, especially in the context of Malaysia. In our country, the topic of death is still rather taboo, or pantang as some of us might say.
Changing this, however, is Bereev, a local death tech company that we’ve spoken to before.
Bereev is a death preparation app designed to make sure you and your family are on the same page when it comes to your passing.
The idea for Bereev came from a very personal place, which Izumi shared in our first interview with him was his grandparents’ passing, and the two very different experiences in their respective aftermath.
“When my grandparents died, it was a traumatic experience,” Izumi shared. “It changed my life. Not just personally but professionally as well.”
He then started Bereev at 26 to ensure loved ones wouldn’t have to endure the same trauma he did when a family member passes, and he hasn’t looked back since. That was in 2018.
Today, Bereev has expanded its scope to go beyond the technical preparations.
A while back, Izumi came across The Death Deck whereby players are invited to explore death in a light-hearted way. He found it intriguing, but his friends? Not so much.
Given that The Death Deck is a party game, it’s pretty hard to play it when your friends aren’t interested. So that got Izumi thinking about how he could take the general concept of the game and scale it up.
“Instead of people struggling to find others to play with them, we can connect all of the people around the world who are already comfortable with having the conversation, and we build a safe space for them to engage in that conversation,” he explained.
And that’s how the Death Convo Game began.
Every day, the game asks you a death-related question. Some examples of the questions asked are:
If you were to die today, what’s your biggest regret?
Or something arguably more fun, such as:
What type of music would you like at your funeral?
Initially only supposed to last the month of May, thanks to positive feedback, the Death Convo Game has been extended to June 14, and Izumi already has some ideas for future iterations of the game, such as a deck involving grief.
“I realised even in the most [death]-positive Asian family, there’s a struggle to talk about grief,” Izumi said. “There’s the idea that we need to bury and move on with life. It’s too much practicality. We’re not addressing the experience, we’re not addressing the trauma.”
With the Death Convo Game, Bereev is pushing aside the perceived taboo of death. However, that doesn’t mean that the app is trying to invalidate or dismiss the fear of death. In fact, Izumi himself struggles with it.
“I myself am afraid of death, more so now than before,” he admitted. “I don’t want us to be a company that encourages planning by telling people not to be afraid.”
Instead, Bereev is engaging with a clinical psychologist who specialises in hospice and palliative care in order to insert mental health support throughout the app. They’ve heard of users who enjoy the app but found it to be overwhelming and even depressing to use.
“While we encourage death positivity, we don’t believe that you don’t have to be afraid of death either,” Izumi affirmed.
With that in mind, it’s clear that Bereev isn’t just for people who are open to the topic of death—it’s also there as a platform for those who need a bit of guidance and a helping hand.
Killing two birds with one stone
Death Convo Game aside, the core product for Bereev is still for death preparation. The app’s main goal is to help support you and your family when it comes to your passing.
But why should we plan our deaths?
Well, there are two parts to that answer. First of all, it helps maintain your dignity and autonomy, even in death.
“You live your whole life the way you want to live,” Izumi said. “But at the last point, when you die, suddenly you lose all the power.”
Especially when it comes to people who have converted their religions, people may end up going through customs and rites they don’t believe in. Bereev wants to help inform your loved ones and next of kin about what you really want, and ensure that it’s carried out to the best of everyone’s abilities.
The second part of the answer involves your loved ones. By preparing for your death, you can help ease the burden and trauma for your family. It may lighten the load of paperwork they have to go through, which can also cause additional trauma.
According to Izumi, a lot of people crumble under the pressure of having to deal with all the admin work on top of their loved ones’ passing. He pointed out that research by the World Health Organisation had shown that 30% of the bereaved actually experience PTSD symptoms.
“It’s not just a small burden. It can be a very traumatising experience for the people you leave behind.” Izumi said, adding a personal note, “When I die and go to heaven, I don’t want to put my loved ones through hell.”
Livening up the industry
While Bereev is now steadily growing, Izumi actually resisted the idea for a while when he first thought of it.
At the time, he thought, “Who the hell wants to use a death app?” He didn’t want to spend time building a solution to help people only to have them turn their backs on it. Izumi was convinced that no one would ever entertain the idea.
And he wasn’t all wrong. When Bereev was fundraising as an early-stage startup, it had been a struggle. “I cannot tell you how many doors were slammed in my face,” Izumi said.
An insurance company even suggested that the team should change the brand name to something less confrontational.
If you’re wondering why death tech startups are so rare in Malaysia, here’s the answer: that kind of mindset and perspective on death stops entrepreneurs who have ideas around death tech solutions from doing anything about it.
A lot of the institutions who dictate the conversation on death such as will-writing services and insurance agencies also place a heavy focus on assets and not losing them. Izumi believes that this isolates people who feel that they have nothing to leave behind.
“Death is not for the rich or the upper-middle class,” Izumi argued. “Death happens to everyone.”
However, as the conversation on death is typically entangled with wealth, the end-of-life space becomes difficult to navigate. Hence, there needs to be a change in the conversation altogether.
On top of that, there’s also a lack of precedence, especially in Malaysia. Entrepreneurs will typically look into the ecosystem of what industry they want to enter. With death tech being a new industry still, entrepreneurs may feel inclined to sit on their ideas and wait until it becomes more stable.
However, there are those like Bereev who have decided to take the plunge and be a leader instead of a follower. Before Bereev, Malaysia had produced other death tech companies such as HeavenAddress, but it has since been merged with Memories, an Australian company that provides online memorial services.
Looking at greener pastures
Speaking of Australia, Bereev is eyeing the country down under as their next port of call. In fact, they’re already setting up shop there.
One of the reasons why Bereev is pivoting to focus on Australia is because the government legislation and the market there are more receptive to its services. According to Izumi, the Australian government has a lot of initiatives when it comes to death.
For instance, the New South Wales government has created a system called the Australian Death Notification Service (ADNS), a more efficient and centralised way to notify multiple organisations of a loved one’s death, instead of visiting the deceased’s institutions one by one, which can continuously re-traumatise relatives.
Izumi noticed that the organisations there are less avoidant of the topic. On top of life insurance, insurance companies there also offer funeral insurance. This is an experience that’s not paralleled in Malaysia.
While Bereev had struggled to fundraise in Malaysia, once the company announced its intentions in Australia, it closed its pre-seed round within a month with three Australian investors. For now, Australia definitely seems readier for Bereev.
With that said, Bereev isn’t just going to leave Malaysia behind. In fact, the death preparation app is in partnership with Nirvana, a funeral service company in Malaysia.
The work done by Bereev and other death tech companies overseas has proven that dying doesn’t need to be this untouchable, distant thing. We are unfortunately not invincible and invulnerable to death, and avoiding discussions about it doesn’t change that fact.
In actuality, we should be talking about it before it’s too late. Preparation is key, even when it comes to death.
Featured Image Credit: Bereev X Nirvana