Victory Lap | A Conversation with Simple PrePlan’s Lee Smith

Blog July 15, 2021

Posted by Harrison Crerar

Victory Lap | A Conversation with Simple PrePlan’s Lee Smith Featured Image

“A mother was dying in Penticton, but her son was in Seattle. He had to drive up to Canada to prepare for her funeral at Kettle Valley Memorial before returning to the States. When she passed, he and his family had to travel back to Canada,” Lee Smith, founder of Simple PrePlan, recounts after I asked her what problem she was looking to solve with her startup. “If we can alleviate the stress of those decisions, the time, and the financial burden of making multiple trips, then we can make a difference.”

Lee often saw these difficult moments like this firsthand. In addition to founding Simple PrePlan, she is also a co-owner and partner at Kettle Valley Memorial. This grants her the opportunity to witness the struggles that families experience. Recognizing herself as a deeply empathetic person, she wanted to improve the funeral planning process.

I had to pivot and make it something that was valuable to both funeral homes and customers if I was going to succeed.

Lee Smith

Founder of Simple PrePlan

Simple PrePlan, an online platform where people can plan, select options and pay for their funeral arrangements, was created to relieve the emotional burden of funeral planning. But, if those plans aren’t made early, it means that family members are stuck trying to figure out what their loved ones would have wanted. These aren’t decisions easily made while grieving someone’s passing.

The online service connects with funeral homes and provides a comfortable, secure, and accessible solution for funeral planning.

Introducing Simple PrePlan to the funeral industry—one notoriously slow to adopt new technology—was not a simple process. “When I first pitched the idea for Simple PrePlan at Techstars Startup Weekend, it offered comparisons between funeral homes. After some customer discovery, I learned that funeral homes didn’t like this concept,” Lee recalls. “I had to pivot and make it something that was valuable to both funeral homes and customers if I was going to succeed.”

I was scared that I couldn’t build the company on my own.

Lee Smith

Founder of Simple PrePlan

In addition to gaining buy-in from the funeral industry, Lee was wrestling with her own internal challenges. “I’m a perfectionist and a little bit of a control freak, so I just think that everything should always be going up. But there were as many downs as ups. I didn’t know what to do a lot of the time.

“When I was starting Simple PrePlan, I found a partner because I was scared that I couldn’t build the company on my own,” Lee explains when I ask how it impacted her growth. “If I could share any advice with other entrepreneurs it would be to look at their options and understand what they can and can’t do. If you need to find a partner or seek investment, take the time to research people, find their references, past work and reputation.”

Lee’s original partnership has since dissolved, but she is quick to tell me about the learning opportunity it presented her. “Now that I’m on my own, I don’t need to seek feedback or permission from other partners. I can follow my intuition. I’ve also learned that I don’t have to rely on myself and try to do things that I don’t know how to do. I can hire staff and surround myself with professionals that know what I don’t.”

If things weren’t going perfectly then I assumed I wasn’t doing it right.

Lee Smith

Founder of Simple PrePlan

In addition to gaining buy-in from the funeral industry, Lee was wrestling with her own internal challenges. “I’m a perfectionist and a little bit of a control freak, so I just think that everything should always be going up. But there were as many downs as ups. I didn’t know what to do a lot of the time.

Engaging with the Venture Acceleration Program is something that has benefited a lot of founders. But, what makes Lee’s journey unique is that she went through the program twice. “When I first went through, I felt like I wasn’t ready. If things weren’t going perfectly then I assumed I wasn’t doing it right. Leaving the program early encouraged me to get my sh*t together so I could enroll again,” Lee explains. “By the end of my second cohort, I was more confident in the business. I also had the benefit of receiving advice and perspective from two of Accelerate Okanagan’s Executives-in-Residence. Sheldon Gardiner helped me in developing the framework for the business itself, while Crystal Henrickson helped me tap into my strengths as an individual.”

While she is grateful for the unique opportunity, Lee is quick to add that she doesn’t think other entrepreneurs should necessarily follow in her footsteps.

Between pivots, dissolving partnerships and self-doubt, Lee had gone through quite a few hardships while building Simple PrePlan (all while still operating a funeral home, I’ll remind you). It should come as no surprise that there were moments where she wanted to wash her hands of the situation entirely. But her unique perspective of the industry and empathetic nature pushed her to continue. “I’ve cried, 100%. But there was a burning desire in me to get this out there and see what happens with it. Sometimes I wish I didn’t have it so that I could escape, but the connection I have with the families we serve shows me that it’s needed.”

We don’t have all the answers, but you can surround yourself with people that know what you don’t. Take it one step at a time, one day at a time, and trust yourself.

Lee Smith

Founder of Simple PrePlan

Apart from introducing more funeral homes and expanding to additional provinces, Lee’s ambitions for Simple PrePlan stay modest and true to what inspired her to create the business. “I would love to see almost everybody have a preplan in place. I want it to be tied with people making their wills online. It’s really about making sure that people are honouring their loved ones in the right way.”

Having experienced more 1:1 coaching and mentorship than most early-stage entrepreneurs, I was curious to hear what Lee’s advice to other founders would be. “Listen to your intuition,” she quickly replies. “We don’t have all the answers, but you can surround yourself with people that know what you don’t. Take it one step at a time, one day at a time, and trust yourself.”

Entrepreneurs like Lee are experiencing failures, victories, and daunting obstacles. The risk is high but so are the rewards. This is the nature of startups, this is the nature of building something out of nothing.

Connect with Lee to learn more about Simple PrePlan.

Connect with Alanna to learn more about mentorship for startups.

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