Taylor Swift used my company's casket for her 'Anti-Hero' music video. We saw a huge spike in traffic and thank her profusely.
- Joshua Siegel cofounded Titan Casket, a direct-to-consumer casket seller.
- It sold a casket to a production company, which Taylor Swift used in her new video for "Anti-Hero."
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Joshua Siegel from Bellevue, Washington, about his direct-to-consumer casket business. It has been edited for length and clarity.
Scott Ginsberg founded Titan in 2016. He had been in the casket business for 20 years as a manufacturer and a seller: He listed caskets on Amazon, knowing that they would sell directly to the public.
Scott was looking for somebody at Amazon who could help him improve his business. He found me because we'd both gone to Columbia Business School at different times.
I'd been in e-commerce for a decade by that point. I'd seen the rise of direct-to-consumer brands like Warby Parker and Casper. When Scott described the industry structure to me, I immediately saw the opportunity to create a direct-to-consumer business selling caskets.
We brainstormed what a fully formed business could look like. I recruited my wife, Liz Siegel, to run all our customer- and operations-related sectors. We started in earnest in the summer of 2020 by launching our website and doing traditional digital marketing.
We've learned every part of running this business from scratch
In 2020, you could — with tools like Shopify, Airtable, and Zapier available — wire together a business and start testing in the smallest increments possible, all with an equally small team. We started spending $100 a day running Google Ads, writing content, and building a Shopify store.
We opened our first warehouse in a flexible space, where we only paid for the space we used.
That was important because when we launched, I still had a full-time job. I'd left Amazon to work at for Realself, a healthcare marketplace. Liz and Scott ran the business full-time, and we brought on an intern from the University of North Carolina for the summer of 2020.
When we did that, we organized daily stand-up meetings for 15 minutes every day at 7 a.m. Because we were all at home during the pandemic, these meetings helped us get together and make progress.
Because funeral caskets don't constitute a highly competitive space, we could book Google Ads without much competition. We have a broad selection, we have lower prices than funeral homes, and right away we saw sales.
But the hard part about the business — which took us a long time to figure out — is shipping large items
The shipping industry has been built for small parcels. Every order that came in for us was a very manual process: We called the customer, made sure the details were right, entered it into the system, and tracked it. We had to develop packaging to make sure the caskets we shipped arrived in flawless condition.
Anyone who's ordered a TV or a piece of furniture lately understands it's not always a perfect process. But in our business, we have to be perfect.
We brought on freelancers and agencies to provide first experiments in the first six months in each of these disciplines. We had a paid-search agency, an SEO agency, and a Shopify agency. Each of these contributed enough to get us out of the gate that first year; they let us see that this can be a real business.
This business is round the clock: Families need you all the time. But I was also juggling two jobs and three kids, which required a real blend of work and life.
The moment I decided to leave my full-time job came last fall. We decided we should fundraise and try to scale faster. I approached my colleagues at RealSelf and said: "Hey, I think I've got to go do this." I discussed a transition plan and left in April.
At that point, Titan Casket had five full-time employees domestically and four contractors in the Philippines. We had three warehouses. We were in Sam's Club, Amazon, and Walmart, and were about to launch in Costco. We had several thousand orders already. It was starting to really move.
Now we're twice as big. We closed a $3.5 million seed funding round in June, which was timely given inflation and rising costs in nearly every part of our business.
We've made three marketing hires, which enabled us to bring things like SEO in-house, and try other channels. We've added two more warehouses and built up inventory and stock closer to where customers are. We sell to thousands of customers a year.
We've started a B2B business working with funeral professionals.
On October 21, we woke up and saw Taylor Swift had posted her latest music video for her song 'Anti-Hero'
One of our employees is a big Swiftie, and of course she watched it. She thought it was our casket and sent around a link. Liz remembered we had sold that exact casket to a production company in July. We called them and they confirmed that yes, that was the one; it was an exciting moment.
We haven't seen a huge spike in sales because people don't need caskets on a whim, but we have seen a huge spike in traffic. Taylor Swift has a huge following, and several of her followers post the products featured in her videos.
One posted about us. What we're most excited about is there's now who-knows-how many people who are aware of their rights to get caskets outside funeral homes.
We expect over time that will not only help our business, but also will help families have better outcomes because they know they have options.
We want to be within one day's travel of every major metropolitan area in the US; you don't want to be flying caskets around. We think we need at least three more warehouses.
We're trying to build a responsible business where we can keep prices low and have unit economics that enable us to scale without taking on a lot of debt or doing 20 rounds of fundraising.
We'll start in one state with one funeral, get it right, then do 10 more. Then five more states, and expand that way.
Taylor didn't know it, but when she emerged from the casket in that video, she really helped begin the drive in industry reform with how people plan funerals. We want to be at the heart of that reform.