Johannesburg – Thabisile Sethaba has faced a battle that millions of South Africans are very familiar with.
With her family battling financially, Sethaba had to take the heartbreaking decision to walk away from her business information diploma course at the Tshwane University of Technology as she was unable to pay her tuition fees.
“I joined the Tshwane University of Technology to study for my business information diploma, but like so many of South Africa’s youth, I wasn’t able to complete my degree due to financial reasons,” says Sethaba.
It’s a reality that millions of South Africans continue to face.
Despite the setback, however, the 29-year-old from the tiny township of Kwa-Thema in Gauteng refused to give up her dream of a career in Information and Communication Technology (ICT).
So Sethaba spent months doing research to find ways of how she could continue studying and pursuing her dream of a career in ICT.
“I researched all my options and was fortunate to find an internship programme, Johannesburg Educating Digital Interns (JEDI), which offered technology training and experiential development.
“I applied and was selected, and that was the springboard that allowed me to gain industry expertise and work at a huge company which was implementing game-changing technology.”
Now her hard work and determination has finally paid off.
Today Sethaba is the proud owner of her very own game-changing technology.
In May this year she, along with co-founder Zolani Matebese, launched the world’s first full-service funeral arrangement app called Sendoff.
The new app aims to change what it calls the current “broken” way of arranging funerals in South Africa by digitising the entire experience.
The app, which is free to download for all Android and iOS users, allows users to plan funerals for their loved ones in their entirety with the push of a few buttons.
While there are already apps and websites that allow one to write obituaries, look up grave sites or send notifications, Sendoff is the first full service digital funeral arranger.
“Sendoff is an app for users to book and manage funerals and other related services. We’re digitising the death care process, providing convenience, information, and a 10 times better customer experience,” she says.
“We’ve built Sendoff with heart as a better way to do anything funeral related.”
Sethaba says the app targets those aged between 35 and 45.
“We are targeting the late Gen X/early millennial (35-45). As our population trends younger, these are people who are being thrust into the role of funeral arranger, having never done it before. This is also a generation that is expecting a technology solution to any of life’s problems.”
Some of the features of the app include being able to order funeral policies and full funeral/cremation packages, ordering flowers and groceries, booking catering and transportation, selecting and ordering a headstone, ordering cleaning services and selecting and ordering funeral/memorial streaming services.
The app also offers one the option to book access to mental health and trauma debriefing services.
“We’re also introducing a feature this quarter which helps users to crowdfund a funeral and have the funds sent to an electronic wallet held by one of the big four banks,” says Sethaba.
The app comes with checklists detailing all the steps needed to properly plan a funeral and links to Sendoff’s website with a wealth of data around how to do anything related to a funeral.
She believes there was an urgent need for an app of this nature as the current system is “broken”.
“We feel that the process of death care is broken. It is inefficient, costly, traumatic and opaque. Users operate with information asymmetry, are denied convenience and frequently exploited and re-traumatised.
“If you think about what happens in practice when someone dies: you call and have to visit one or more funeral parlours in person, relive the trauma of the recent bereavement by explaining what has happened and what your wishes are and be funnelled and pressure-sold into whatever service makes sense for the funeral parlour at that time. You never really know if you’re doing all the right things, how to compare offerings for value and it is a vulnerable, scary and traumatic process.”
Sethaba says the app wasn’t developed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and spike in deaths.
The app was in concept stage from late 2019 until May 2020 and in development until March 2021.
“Covid did not spark the idea. My co- founder was actually helping with a funeral and he thought ’there has to be a better way to do this’. What we found, though, is that the pandemic changed the landscape of who could attend a parlour and make decisions as well as introducing a safety dimension. People don’t want to go to the funeral homes right now.
“They can collaborate through using Sendoff and looking at available options on the app. Also, as Sendoff removes the need to visit a funeral home and puts the process in a user’s hands, it was an extra dimension and feature that we had not initially considered.”
So far, the app had more than 400 downloads, something that Sethaba is incredibly proud of.
“We launched in early May and have had over 400 downloads in three months. That is fantastic for us given the industry that we operate in and the stage of our company. What we are even more enthused about is the level of engagement in the app. People are really engaging and getting value from Sendoff.”
She says the app is also very easy to use.
“Sendoff operates on “User First” principles which prioritise User Interface (UI) aesthetics and simplicity in presenting information and task completion. Sendoff also provides a management layer which project manages all tasks generated from a user based on the project management body of knowledge and ensures user satisfaction with the job to be done.”
Sethaba expects the app to blossom over the next few years, even when death rates drop and the Covid-19 pandemic becomes more manageable.
“We didn’t develop Sendoff because of Covid but rather in response to how broken the existing process of arranging funerals is. As such, we believe that it will not impact us significantly when the pandemic ends or becomes more manageable. Our target market expects a technology solution to their problems and that is unlikely to change.
“What we are trying to do, ultimately, is change the way people approach deathcare. We have therefore positioned Sendoff as the ’go to’ option for anything funeral by creating products within the app that our users will frequently be using , such as shopping for and claiming from funeral policies, buying flowers, headstones, groceries and catering.”