A work colleague from the agency space approached me in 2015 with a start-up concept she had, around making an online tool for the management of End of Life events. As someone who is caught in the U-shaped phase of my life — caring for both young children and older parents, I was immediately compelled by this idea. I was brought on as the Creative Lead to help define the UX and product offering.
Researching the Landscape
We started by conducting a series of qualitative interviews around the space, on the topics of end of life planning, document storage, family dynamics as well as the minimum and maximum potential user base. We talked to lawyers, doctors, therapists, and families about what their concerns were, and how we could create a product that would give peace of mind to families during a wildly stressful time. We also quizzed colleagues and friends around different concepts, and we could make a product that would fit into the lives of the average user. Concurrently, a brand was developed that would communicate what we were discovering people yearned for in the product domain — welcoming, non-judgmental, and optimistic.
Building an MVP
I brought a trusted developer friend on to the team, and we started rapidly iterating on product concepts, eventually landing on a managed front-end dashboard and a secure backend database management system for storing crucial files, along with an integrated system for vetting, validating, and getting across the finish line end-of-life paperwork. We also experimented with gamifying the experience, making the usually-depressing topic of end of life planning a little lighter by using badges and nudges to urge users to complete their profiles and share with their loved ones.
Expanding the Vision
As we began running multiple different product discovery sessions with future users, we recognized the deep yearning for a full-service suite of product services for end-of-life and long-term-care. Surprisingly, the full vision of GYST requested wasn’t just an app, or even a platform — it was, potentially a full service experience. The term we came up with was “AAA, but for humans”. The vision, while deeply compelling, also brought us up short. As a small team of developers and product thinkers, we very clearly had stumbled upon something that may be only a small piece of a larger puzzle.
Making an Exit
Eventually, the leadership at GYST decided acquisition was the smartest way to go, and GYST was acquired by Cake in 2018. I still hope that Cake will implement some of the long-term white-glove end-of-life services that we brought to their product team. It’s an idea whose time has come.