Since Emma Payne lost her husband sixteen years ago, she has learned a lot of about grief. How it works, how it affects those mourning, and also how it affects the friends and family of the person who is mourning a loss. She found that often people weren’t quite sure what to say or how to act, causing pain, embarrassment and guilt on all sides. So the serial entrepreneur decided to create a service that would provide support to those grieving – something a friend could purchase for another friend in need – a support system that lasts longer than flowers. Today the Seattle, Washington-based mompreneur is growing Grief Coach, especially in the wake of COVID-19 and taking pride in the comfort she is helping to provide to others.
Payne’s story, as told to The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project:
The idea for Grief Coach came to me on my flight home from a friend’s funeral in 2015. Gordon and I had been friends since we were teenagers. I was flattered to have been asked to speak at his funeral, but I was also nervous, because Gordon was the best friend (and second cousin) of my husband, who had died by suicide over a decade earlier. So I knew there would be lots of people at Gordon’s funeral who I hadn’t seen for a long, long time. As I took my seat at the funeral, the woman next to me in my pew immediately asked how I knew Gordon. When I told her my name, her face collapsed. “Are you Barry’s widow?” she asked. She was visibly shaken. “I’m so sorry I didn’t reach out back then, Emma, I’ve been wondering about you all this time. How are you? Did you re-marry? I don’t know why we didn’t call you,” she explained. She was ashamed and apologetic.
Over the next two days, I had dozens of similar conversations and heard an outpouring of regret and embarrassment. On my flight home from the funeral, I reflected on what had been an emotional, but also eye-opening, weekend. I thought about the fear and discomfort that had kept people from reaching out. I thought about the pain that their distance had caused me — but also the pain that their distance had caused them. For over a decade, people I cared about had been carrying around guilt and shame. It all seemed so unnecessary. I knew we could do better. I had 20 plus years experience in mobile and online development, so I used my flight home to map out what would eventually become Grief Coach.
My goal is that no-one should ever have to grieve alone. Every time a grieving person finds our text messages helpful, I know that Grief Coach is succeeding. Every time a hospice is able to extend their bereavement care to more people, using the Grief Coach platform, I know that we’re succeeding. And my favorite successes are when we hear from supporters who say that our texts are helping them be more patient with their grieving wife, for example, or that our texts are helping them know what to say to a friend whose baby was stillborn. I feel successful each time we hear from these courageous caregivers, who are staying present for their grieving loved ones.
In terms of our consumer product, our coverage from NBC News was a huge win, and an exciting day for the team. From a B2B perspective, our biggest success to date was securing a multi-hospice partnership in Ohio.
This is my 6th start-up, however it’s my first time launching a business since becoming a Mom, so the stakes are much, much higher than in the past. As a single Mom, my biggest challenge has been to balance ‘good’ risk-taking with the need to be very rigorous with the business and always making sure that bills are being paid. I think of it as keeping one hand in the stars and the other in the soil, and that has helped me to think big while also being grounded. I structure my weeks that way, allowing myself some time for big ideas and blue sky meetings, in exchange for days focused on the bread and butter of the business, and making sure that every single one of our subscribers is getting the grief support they need.
I draw wisdom and inspiration from so many people. I’m lucky to have mentors in many different areas, including sales, partnerships, and of course entrepreneurship.