What Happens When Two Creative Geniuses Join Forces to Build a Better Experience for Families Dealing with a Death?
Today we’re talking to Keith Crawford and David Odusanya of Solace, an affordable direct cremation company serving Portland, Oregon, Seattle, and now Los Angeles. In 2018, these two former senior Nike executives partnered up to found CO-Lab., a creative agency focused on design strategy for companies. Then, as a result of personal experiences, they leveraged their decades of design and branding expertise to help families in a very difficult moment. They launched Solace in 2019 with a passion for service and a big vision, and they’re here to tell us about what inspired their journey and what they hope to accomplish.
You both come from outside the death care industry, so creating Solace was a real change for you in terms of focus. Keith, you were at Nike for 17 years, holding executive creative director and senior design positions in Jordan, Basketball, Women’s and Team Sports. And David, you held several executive creative director roles at Nike, including VP Design Global Football and VP Global Brand Design. Could you talk about that transition a bit? What drew you to this space from the world of design and athletic apparel?
Keith: David and I met at Nike and in 2018, we left to set up our own creative agency. In those early days, we had time to talk about what we wanted to design, ideas we’d always wanted to launch. We were already close friends but bonded even more over our shared experience of losing a parent. I lost my Dad in 2013 and went through a traditional—and mediocre—funeral home experience. David had lost his mum and had a similar negative experience. We began wondering why this industry remains seemingly untouched by modern thinking and hasn’t changed or evolved in decades, if ever? We were also intrigued by the fact that there really is no brand in this space and, being brand guys ourselves, wanted to take on that challenge. Our core principles for the Solace brand are “simple, modern and honest”—values that families are looking for and values that we both wished had been available to us.
What was your biggest challenge in starting the company and launching your services?
David: We came from a design, brand building background, putting consumers in the middle of the conversation. The biggest challenge was clearly coming into an area that we knew very little about outside of our personal experience of each losing a parent. After spending time with death care experts and people who have experienced losing loved ones, we quickly realized there was a big opportunity to serve families and disrupt this industry that hadn’t been disrupted in so many years.
How do you see things changing within the death care space since you've launched Solace, and what changes do you anticipate in the next few years?
David: We came into this understanding that we are living in a digital age and the funeral industry is stuck in an analog age. We believe, and validated particularly now with the COVID pandemic, the idea of going into a funeral home to meet people is quickly becoming a thing of the past. The digital experience is here to stay. With the death positive movement, It’s inspiring to see other digital companies trying to disrupt an industry and make a difficult time easier for people.
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What have you found is most important to the families you are serving? Cost? Service? Something else?
Keith: Everyone enters this “moment” differently and we see all types of families in our day-to-day business. Some are cost-conscious and others want the easy experience—and we are proud that our pricing is fair and transparent and our process makes everything easy. But what we are most proud of is the incredible service we provide. We have more than 50 5-Star Google reviews and that is a testament to our incredible Funeral Director and Care Team. Serving families is our No. 1 priority. We never set out to just create a cold, digital, tech solution. Modern technology is a way to make the process simpler and is the way people are interacting with the world already. We realize that this is a tough time for people, therefore, we obsess over each and every family we serve to ensure they receive the information, communication and peace-of-mind they are looking for.
How has creating Solace changed you as individuals? Does it change the way you see the world or your relationship to mortality?
David: Life is not guaranteed and death could come tomorrow for all of us. The truth is, death is a scary thought for most, and nobody really wants to talk about it. One of our goals is to help people be more comfortable with talking about the inevitable. After all, talking about it doesn’t mean you’re going to die. We believe that not fearing death will help you live life. Personally, when life is not balanced—spending too much time working and not enough time with my family—life is a challenge. Life is short and we need to find joy in everything we do.
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You're currently serving the Northwest part of the U.S. Where do you see Solace expanding in coming years?
Keith: We started in our own backyard, Portland, Oregon, in April of 2019. We wanted to make sure we got the process right before expanding. Building on our success in Portland, we then expanded to Seattle in early 2020. And we’ve just launched in the Los Angeles metro area and are looking forward to helping families in the largest county in the U.S. We want to continue growing, but only at the speed by which we can continue to deliver excellent service to families. Beyond California, we have a plan for growth that continues across the U.S. We ultimately see Solace as a truly national, perhaps even international, brand that people recognize as a great solution for end-of-life care.
As founders, we know you're always busy, but is there something you do to keep yourself sane or a hobby or interest you pursue in your "free" time?
David: Keith and I still have other design projects with Co-Lab to keep us sane. I also enjoy spending time with my family … at the beach—it’s free and liberating, it’s the simple things in life.
Keith: I love to spend time with my family outdoors (skiing, hiking/camping, tennis).
Do you have any advice for entrepreneurs considering a business idea within the death care space?
David: Like any startup, and this space is no different: make sure to have a strong idea, a product people want and a team to fulfill the vision. Most importantly, know the consumer you are serving. The deathcare space isn’t for the faint of heart, but be sure to have passion for your idea, because the space itself is really hard to break through.
What's something about each of you that most people wouldn't know?
Keith: I enjoy crafting and writing screenplays.
David: I love the theatre (I should have been an actor).
Learn more about what David, Keith and their team are building, and follow them on Facebook for the latest.