Seattle startup Lalo is latest ‘death tech’ innovator, with an app to share and collect stories and more

(Lalo Images)

Juan Medina first considered the idea for his new startup back in 2003, after the death of his father, when his wife asked him to tell a story about his dad and Medina realized he hadn’t known him all that well. Stories, jokes, recipes and more were either lost or scattered across various friends and family, Medina said.

The idea resurfaced in the last couple years as Medina’s own daughter, now 9, said she never really met her grandparents. Medina decided to launch his startup Lalo — also his dad’s nickname — with the mission of giving people a private, digital space to connect, share stories and hold on to precious memories.

Currently operating as a small, private beta, Lalo is an app that facilitates the collection of digital content such as images, video, voice, text and more. Away from the noise and common pitfalls of traditional social media platforms, groups are intentionally kept small to foster increased trust and privacy. Imagine family members gathering to collect the best recipes in one space or share images that might have been lost to an unseen photo album.

Lalo founder Juan Medina. (Photo courtesy of Juan Medina)

“It’s a space to capture those more important family memories, the Sunday phone call from the grandkids to the grandparents where they can say, ‘Grandpa, tell me about a time … ,’  Medina said.

Lalo plans to make money by charging $25 a year for a subscription to the ad-free app, with multiple people being able to have access to a space for that price. Medina said the idea is optimized for smaller groups of 10 to 15 people and over-biased on privacy.

“You’re not going to get pinged by your middle-school friend, like, ‘Hey, join my account,’” he said.

Medina is also working on securing the permanence of the data, potentially with a blockchain solution or other ways to archive the material for the long, digital haul. He views his competitors as traditional social media such as Facebook where people are trading images and stories today, or more story-focused offerings such StoryCorps on NPR, or StoryWorth.

The idea brushes up against the wave of innovation falling into the “death tech” category, where startups are reimagining everything around traditional end-of-life and funeral industry practices with ideas involving body composting, cremation services and casket purchases.

Lalo users don’t have to focus on a recent or impending loss of a loved one, but Medina does believe the app can be a helpful tool in the grieving process.

Before trying his hand at his own startup, Medina spent a little over eight years at Amazon working on assorted tech, building things from scratch and understanding how to build things quickly. The decision to leave and start Lalo came with some apprehension.

“I’m married, I have a daughter, we have a mortgage. Walking away from that steady income that I’ve had my whole life was scary,” Medina said. “But it’s been amazing. I’ve loved it. It’s been great doing what I love, something I’m passionate about.”

And interest from different angel investors as well as funding from Lalo’s first institutional investor has eased some concerns about the long-term viability of the idea. Columbus, Ohio-based VC firm Overlooked Ventures announced earlier this month that Lalo was its first investment, and founding partner Janine Sickmeyer wrote of the startup, “No amount of technology can ease the pain of losing someone you love, but having better ways to grieve can help people cope and stay connected to mourn the loss together.”

Medina didn’t share how much money Lalo raised in pre-seed funding. The company incorporated at the end of 2020 and got moving in March after Medina left Amazon.

Lalo currently employs eight people and was among 30 startups selected for Washington Technology Industry Association’s sixth Founder Cohort Program, announced in August. The plan is to come out of beta in early 2022.

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