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This startup founder got funded by sending personalized cremation urns to venture capitalists

Eliam Medina, the co-founder of online will creation startup Willing, definitely knows how to make a first impression.

When Medina applied to Y Combinator, one of the most prestigious startup accelerators in the world, he knew he had to stand out or be forgotten. So he did something brash.

“We sent them personalized cremation urns with the partners’ names on them,” he tells Business Insider. The urns also bore a variation of YC’s motto: Make something people want.

“It doesn’t take a genius to see that YC receives 5,000 applications and has only 14 partners,” Medina explains. He needed to get the point across.

With the urns, Medina says he wanted to represent how important end-of-life issues are. There’s nothing like seeing your own urn to remind you that death is coming for everyone, and we should all be ready. Medina’s gambit got Y Combinator’s attention, and Willings was accepted into this year’s “class.” This means the company received investment and mentorship, and will participate in “demo day” on August 18-19, when they will pitch their vision to prominent tech figures.

So what’s that vision?

Medina says Willing has one goal: making end-of-life planning easier, more affordable, and more approachable. The first step toward this is Willing’s current service, which allows users to create a legally binding will online in 10 minutes — for free.

But how is Willing going to make money?

Medina says eventually he wants to pursue a “freemium” model, where higher end products like trusts would exist behind a paywall. Wills would always be free, he stresses. And another unexpected source of income has been attorneys themselves. You might think they would resent a startup trying to butt into their area of practice, but Medina says many of them have approached Willing asking to partner in creating wills for their clients.

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The ease of use and the free lower tier is how Willing hopes to compete with established players like LegalZoom and Quicken. Medina is adamant that the current system is cumbersome and confusing, that the current players feel like a holdover from the software of 10 years ago.

He found this out firsthand when his aunt had a medical emergency in 2014. She didn’t have any kids, so Medina had to help her get her affairs in order. It was a nightmare, he said. And that’s why, with little coding knowledge, he decided to try and build a company to streamline the process.

Medina enrolled in Bloc, a coding bootcamp that offered a 12-week crash course in coding. He says he spent the first two weeks trying to absorb as much as possible, and the rest of the time workshopping Willing’s first iteration with his Bloc mentor.

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During this time he connected with his co-founder Rob Dyson, who he’d known since high school. “I wanted someone I could trust,” he says. The company secured early funding from investors like Ashton Kutcher and Learn Capital, but put raising money on hold when they were accepted to Y Combinator.

But now Willing is looking to expand again. Medina has dreams of becoming a one-stop shop for end-of-life concerns. He wants to not only create wills, but help you plan all your final arrangements.

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