A $2 million capital raise by Halifax’s Dear Life will go towards developing an online platform to automatically comb through users’ raw video clips and edit them into compilations, according to company President Harrison Smith.
The funding round was led by OMERS Ventures, the venture capital arm of pension fund behemoth OMERS, which manages money for just under 500,000 public sector workers in Ontario. Island Capital Partners, formed in 2017 by a group of PEI investors and which focuses on early-stage financing and mentorship for local startups, also bought in.
Entrevestor reported Monday that Dear Life had raised money. In an interview Tuesday, Smith laid out a new and radically different vision for the company. He said a beta test that started in August showed Dear Life’s founding premise to be unworkable, but revealed demand from users for the AI tool the company is now designing.
“First of all, no one used it,” said Smith of Dear Life's original offering. “It was a terrible, very bad product.
“The cool thing was that, when we looked a bit closer, there was a segment of the population that really did buy into what we were doing.”
Dear Life was founded in April 2020 by serial entrepreneur Paul LeBlanc, with Smith and two other co-founders joining later. The team had planned to sell monthly, online subscriptions that let users create scrollable timelines of a person’s experiences.
The platform was geared towards highlighting the dead person’s interests and values using multimedia, compared to the short, prose-based obituaries that currently dominate the industry.
But in the beta test, the users who proved most enthusiastic were not using Dear Life for its intended purpose. Instead, they were using it to make tributes to themselves.
“When we started to focus on individuals, we realized that there was still this huge, huge barrier that we couldn't overcome,” said Smith. “What we uncovered was, the biggest hurdle was time.
“It just took forever to document the story of your life — all of your precious moments and memories.”
Smith’s team had a solution: they would offer a service to automatically curate video clips, saving users the inconvenience of manually combing through years worth of old footage. And based on the revealed preferences of the beta testers, they decided to abandon the scrollable timeline format in favour of a more conventional video player.
Dear Life’s founders self-financed most of the company’s growth — it now has eight full-time staff and one part-time employee — but the technological complexity of its new business model necessitated the $2 million raise, Smith said.
OMERS Ventures has previously invested in several Atlantic Canadian startups and booked a handful of exits in the region. The fund backed Halifax's Manifold, which was acquired by Snyk last year to become CEO Jevon MacDonald's second exit in less than a decade. OMERS was also an early investor in Halifax-based LeadSift, which was acquired by Boston media giant IDG Communications for an undisclosed price in December.
Dear Life, meanwhile, is hiring a head of machine learning, with a minimum of 10 years expert-level experience. The job is posted here.
Note: Entrevestor has taken down Monday’s article detailing Dear Life’s raise because it included a description of the company’s original business model without up-to-date information about the pivot.