Meet the Founder

Meet the Founder Q&A: Phil Zeidler, co-founder of DeadHappy

Leah Montebello
January 25, 2024

Leah Montebello talks to Phil Zeidler, co-founder of DeadHappy: a life insurance company with an overwhelmingly happy attitude towards death.

Where did the idea for DeadHappy come from?

Phil: There isn’t a short answer to this question, but I will try and keep it brief. The story starts back in 2005 when I was working in insurance. I’d had several small businesses in the motor/home and SME insurance field and I had built another in white labelling, which was quite successful. Then very unexpectedly I got taken ill and was taken into intensive care in a coma and very nearly didn’t survive. Obviously, I did and I’m still here! But when you go through something like that, you pause for thought.

I was a fit thirty-eight-year-old with no real health issues and it was an internal infection that I now know can be deadly if they aren’t picked up (it develops into ‘overwhelming sepsis’ or septic shock). It can happen to anyone, and if I hadn’t been so fit, I probably wouldn’t have survived. If this had happened, I would have left behind a wife and two very young children, and you start to think what would have happened to them? I was lucky because I had life insurance and a will because I’d worked in the business, but when I reviewed them and looked to change them, the first thing that really struck me was that I couldn’t! I had to cancel and take out a new one.

When you go through something like that, you pause for thought.

From a customer perspective, this didn’t feel right. Having been in the DI space for a long time, I am naturally curious, so I started to look into all the other things that didn’t look right. When I dug deeper, I realised that I’d been overpaying all these years, and I had to cancel because they wouldn’t change it. I felt really irritated, so that was the genesis to make something better.

Why did you think that life insurance fintech needed to be disrupted? Why did you feel that it wasn’t fit for purpose?

Phil: After seeing life insurance wasn’t fit for purpose, I didn’t actually start DeadHappy for a few years. However, I still had this niggly thought in my head. It wasn’t until I met my co-founder Andy in 2013 that it all came together. He had a similar experience to me (not a near-death one!), but he had really struggled to get life insurance and couldn’t really understand why. His background is Brand and Digital Marketing and he said it’s all so depressing – it’s like you’re dying just trying to get this stuff and so morbid!

Let’s break it down. If the product (life insurance) is for people aged 25 and 50 – this is when you have the highest dependencies and the least assets – why would you buy a product that was so inaccessible? When we looked into it, we found 8.5 million people who have dependents don’t have life insurance. This is for lots of reasons, but mainly because it is so bloody difficult to get! The product is not innovative, it’s structured poorly and it’s unlike any other insurance product. There is a massive need out there for it to be done better and that’s why DeadHappy exists!

What would ‘mission accomplished’ be for DeadHappy?

Phil: Like all goals, I am not sure whether we will achieve our full mission or purpose. The purpose of our business is to actually try and change attitudes towards death. What we mean by that is that death is one of the last taboos. People often talk about sex, drugs, racism… all those things people didn’t talk about 30, 40 years ago. However, now these topics are good conversation. But death? Oh no. Even though that’s the only thing that is definitely going to happen. But given we know it’s going to happen, isn’t it completely illogical that we avoid even thinking about it? We want to make it simple and easy for people just to think about it and talk about it and plan for it and then go and live their life to the fullest.

Suck out the marrow of life and live life on the edge and if something happens it will all be fine because the people you leave behind will know what you wanted to happen. While they will have to grieve the loss of a loved one, they won’t have to deal with all the other chaos you have to deal with – the arguments and nonsense that often come with it. People are sometimes in financial ruin – it isn’t just grief. We want to diminish that pain as much as we can.

We want to make it simple and easy for people just to think about it and talk about it and plan for it and then go and live their life to the fullest.

Do you think people’s attitudes to death have changed over the past year?

Phil: I’m not sure it has really changed. People are a little more aware of their mortality but there hasn’t been a material shift in attitude. There has been a shift towards businesses like ours from a trading level – a shift to digital that is. My idea of hell is going out to buy stuff. I want to buy everything online, whether it’s food or shoes – even my financial products. This is even truer for millennials – they get what they need sorted, done and dusted in 10 minutes. It was this mindset that we really wanted to build into our product and facilitate to make it so intuitive and fun- opening up access to young people. The whole world seems to be shifting that way, so why wouldn’t you also do your will or life insurance in that simple way too?

Are there options that DeadHappy offers to users that they wouldn’t necessarily know about or be available to them in a traditional life insurance plan?

Phil: The challenge we have is that we’ve changed everything and are completely different from anyone else. We have fundamentally changed the product – you don’t buy it for a long fixed-term – who honestly knows what they want in 25 years’ time? So why do we buy insurance like that? We sell a ten-year product but it’s flexible and you can move it up and down when you need it. The radical bit is that we contact you every year and ask if your needs are still the same and if they aren’t, you can change it. We always give you ten years, so will check in at 9 years. If you get lung cancer, it may not kill you straight away, so what we try and do is give you a decent amount of cover if the worst happens; we gave a guarantee of cover for whatever happens and we won’t change the rate because you have lung cancer.

The radical bit is that we contact you every year and ask if your needs are still the same and if they aren’t, you can change it.

The pricing is also different because we price it from your age today and then every year it goes up a little. This is different from everyone else who charges the average age over the full length of the policy, so basically you are overpaying for the first 10 to 15 years and then underpaying for the last. However, that makes no sense because no other insurance does that. Also, it makes no sense because when do you have the most money? It isn’t when you’re young and in your late 20s! Therefore, we always come out cheaper.

The pace of getting a policy is also so much faster and we only ask 4 questions. The reason why we do that is because we are only insuring you for ten years, so we need exponentially less information. It is also all digital and we don’t even have phones. We won’t phone you and we won’t try to sell it. We think people want to buy it and it’s our job to make it clear enough and good enough that we don’t have to have a high pressured salesperson.

Can you tell us about some death wishes, particularly any memorable or unconventional plans that users have made with DeadHappy?

Phil: We don’t ask people what kind of life insurance they want because most people don’t know the answer to that. Instead, we ask people what they want to happen when they die, and then we give them all the options (like paying off a mortgage, planning a funeral, kids’ education, and then more novel ones.) Some of them are really special and some of them are very rude – we get all sorts that we probably can’t talk about here!

But you do get some really touching ones who want to leave a bunch of flowers for their partner on the day of their death every year (it gets emotional). I think it’s amazing and so thoughtful the way we think about life insurance: it’s shit that you’re gonna die and nobody wants to deal with it, but you can also show a level of thoughtfulness through our system that most people have never even dreamed about. I just try and imagine how that must feel having lost someone.

Above: Deathwishes taken from DeadHappy’s Facebook

If it’s not too personal to ask, do you have a death wish with DeadHappy?

Phil: I’ve planned for my children to do some really special things because it will be pretty shit… it’s shit for me because I’m dead. My daughter always wanted to see the quokkas of Perth in Australia so that’s one death wish; my son has also always wanted to go to the Ashes. Another is to send my mates to Las Vegas to remember me by. I know they are frivolous, but it does illustrate the power of what you can do. One of our favourite ones is that you can send your ashes into space, so if you have children or grandchildren and you say, look up in the sky and see them, they really are up in the sky among the stars.

It reimagines and tailors the product. Suddenly life insurance is a bit of me and it isn’t a certificate that you don’t even remember getting. You suddenly get some clear wishes that describe exactly what you want to happen. So we are not only prouder of making a better product, but also making the death wishes so fundamental that it doesn’t matter how good that product is.

One of our favourite ones is that you can send your ashes into space, so if you have children or grandchildren and you say, look up in the sky and see them, they really are up in the sky among the stars.

Did you ever worry that being so open about the reality of death in your advertising would be perceived as controversial?

Phil: Interestingly we haven’t had any backlash, which probably means we haven’t gone far enough! We get a few bits on Facebook, where people think it’s wrong but it is very limited. Hopefully, there is an element that we’ve got the balance right – clearly, it’s an oxymoron and I think the majority of people recognise that and we are dealing with a topic with humour and people appreciate that because sometimes it’s the best way to deal with it.

In truth, some death is funny…it just is. And people have been laughing at it for generations, so let’s not pretend. However, we do recognise there is a time and a place so in many ways we probably need to go a little harder. We are setting ourselves up to be a bit different and we won’t be for everyone, we get that. We definitely don’t want to offend anyone and I think there’s definitely a whole cohort of people who see life the way we do – it’s about seeing life this way and living it to its fullest. In our view, we are all going to die so let’s make sure we pack in as much as we can before we do!

Find out more about DeadHappy’s life insurance here.

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