Cloudflare TV

💡 Founder Spotlight: Emily Cisek

Presented by Emily Cisek, Jason Kincaid
Originally aired on 

This week is Cloudflare's Founder Spotlight on Cloudflare TV, featuring dozens entrepreneurs from across the tech industry and beyond!

This session features Emily Cisek, co-founder and CEO of The Postage. After witnessing how difficult it was to wrap up the details of a loved one’s life, Emily knew there had to be a better way. It was then that she decided to create The Postage, a solution for people who wanted to manage their information and effectively control the aftermath of life. She has been recognized by the Houston Business Journal as a honoree on the 2021 Women Who Mean Business list and as a finalist on the Top Founders Under 40 for the Houston InnovationMap Awards. Prior to founding The Postage, Emily was the Director of Sales at Integrate Agency, a full-service digital and traditional marketing agency, specializing in technology, energy, and real estate throughout Texas. With her extensive experience in leading, developing, and launching robust marketing and communication programs, she led efforts for a number of clients across various industries to build out their digital initiatives.

Visit the Founder Spotlight hub to find the rest of these featured conversations — and tune in all week for more!

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Founder Spotlight

Transcript (Beta)

Hi, folks. Welcome back to another episode of our Founder Spotlight series here on Cloudflare TV.

I'm really excited to have Emily Cisek here with me to talk about her company, The Postage.

Emily, thank you so much for joining us. Why don't we start off, if you could tell us a little bit about yourself?

Sure. I'll get started with talking about why I started The Postage and a little bit about that story and how my story led up to that.

But really, a few years ago, I ended up losing both of my grandmothers and my cousins, 13 -month-old, and ended up being in an experience where I got to see the differences on how families were organized and how really super pre-planned families, how they thought about things and how we were able to celebrate life versus, on the other hand, one grandmother who was organized but still had some things where we had to do a scavenger hunt.

And then my cousins, 13-month-old, passing away, while there's different sets of things that go on with losing a child, it just made me really understand that there had to be a better way for families to kind of organize their affairs.

So that is really the story of how I ended up founding The Postage.

And so really, throughout my career, I knew that I wanted to do something that changed the world.

And so The Postage was kind of that.

And I'm able to carry on my family's legacy and friends' legacy through that.

And so, yeah. Well, that is an inspirational starting point for the company.

And as you said, I know this is something that a lot of people have, it's just a challenging issue, something people don't generally like talking about, that sort of thing.

And we'll come back to that in a little bit.

I'd love to hear a little bit more about your journey sort of leading up to becoming a founder.

So take us back a little bit. What were you doing sort of immediately prior to this?

And then going further back, hopefully we can talk a little bit more about sort of, you know, was the seed planted at some point way back when, and then later on, it sort of bloomed?

Yeah, no, absolutely. So I was actually the director of sales at a digital marketing and PR firm in Austin.

And so had this idea during that time.

But really when my story related to entrepreneurship started is about 10 years ago, I moved down to Texas from upstate New York, without a, on a whim.

I didn't have a plan. I didn't have a job. I had some family friends that lived in the burbs of Houston and said, you know what, come down here, the economy's a little bit better.

And ended up starting my first job at the Houston Technology Center, which was an incubator for startups.

And so that's, today it's known as Houston Exponential.

And really got my start there.

And in six months later, ended up meeting founders of this energy company called Bounce Energy that was doing retail electricity different than anybody else.

So we didn't have the door to door.

It was all that digital experience and acquiring customers online.

And so I ended up starting to work there at 22. And by 23, we ended up being acquired by the biggest energy company in North America at the time.

And so at 23, I was thrown in doing all the digital communications for 11 brands and 800,000 customers, totally faking it till you make it kind of thing.

And really got to earn the trust of some of the founders of Bounce and ended up working with them at three or four different companies until I had the idea for the postage at Integrate.

And what that did is, I told my mentor at the time, who was the CEO, hey, I've got this idea.

And he sat me down and said, well, I'll take you seriously if you write a 50-page business plan.

I know not many folks do the full business plan, but I did.

Summer of 2019, I sat down and fourth of July week, took that time off and wrote that business plan and ended up getting funded in April of 2020.

And so that kind of led into the journey. So it has been throughout my career that it's kind of building up to this moment.

And my parents joke, my kindergarten psychologist said to my parents, she's going to be successful someday, but you're going to have to live with her till then.

So I think that the kind of initial phases of that leadership and entrepreneurship and really drive and assertiveness started very young.

So I think that's kind of peppered in throughout my life.

So take us back there. Were you the kid running the lemonade stand?

Were you like, so where was this? Tell us a little bit about that. So upstate New York, I was the girl who played hockey, lacrosse, very intense, but also an apple polisher in school.

But also as soon as I could work in New York, you can start working at 14 with a limited kind of hours.

I was worked at Dunkin' Donuts.

I was a sandwich artist at Subway. I was always hungry. And while I didn't have to do that, I wanted to, I always wanted more and I wanted more for my life.

And I wanted to have an impact both today and really think about how I could set myself apart in the future and always really creative.

I'm a lefty. And so I thought about different ways to do things and yeah, it's kind of, kind of all of it has ended up to where I am now.

Let's talk a little bit about this business plan. So, you know, I've been around startups a fair amount and like you hear about business plans, but it's pretty rare that someone says like, I wrote out a 50 page business plan.

And maybe that's just the part they leave out of the story, but I'd love to hear a little bit more about, you know, what was that process like for you?

Did it all sort of just like come out of your head at once?

You're like, Oh wow. Like I really have been thinking about this.

Or is it more of an iterative process where you're like, well, I still have to figure out some of these questions.

And that process was helpful in thinking through them.

Sure. So I think I had thought about the idea for like a year and a half or so.

So I had some pieces of research and at the time there really wasn't anybody in the doing that.

And then when I finally sat down and did it, I did it piece by piece and really thought about, okay, I can look at the competitor section and really think about this.

I'm going to get to this section and, Oh, you know what?

I don't know who my full team is, but I bet you my mentors and the group around them will help me fill in some of that stuff.

And so I did that and really iterated on it while it started in July.

I'm sure I had, you know, seven to 10 different versions that I iterated on as I got more feedback, as I found my CTO, as I filled in sort of those things.

And, and frankly, though, I don't think, I think you're right.

Not everybody does a business plan. But I will say that when I reflect back on it, while I don't think about it on a day -to-day basis, when I reflect back, a lot of those things that I set the stage for then have come true, or really have set the direction of my roadmap and all of that.

And so I think it was something that was very helpful. Did investors really look at it?

Probably not. Did they read that document? Not all of them did. But I think they appreciated that I took the time and effort and really thought about, okay, this is the next five years.

This is what it's going to look like. And really a lot of it has, has come true.

So it sounds like your advice to founders might be, go through that exercise, because even if you're not going to, the investors aren't going to read through the full, the full thing, the process of just thinking through that, it's sort of a forcing function where you really have to think through some of these questions that otherwise you might just kind of shrug off or figure I'll deal with this down the line.

It sort of reminds me, I have no idea who's quote on butchering, but it's something along the lines of like planning for really a company, even a well -established company looking out however many years, do things tend to actually work out the way you saw them?

Not so much, but the exercise of going through it can be where a lot of the values comes in.

That's very interesting.

So I'd love to talk a little bit more about the company itself, the postage.

So why don't we walk through a little bit, what else is there out there for folks who death is awaiting for all of us, or so I hear?

And if I wanted to get my things sorted, what would I typically do?

I'd call up a lawyer and what is this?

Is this sort of like, I don't have to deal with a lawyer or do I have to deal with a lawyer?

Like walk me through sort of what are the alternatives and what is this startup offering?

So really we're a place for all your plans to be in one place.

I think family's data is continuing to change. You've got passwords, you've got documents, you need a will, you need a trust, all of that sort of stuff.

And so what this does is really effectively acts as that operating system for the family.

And so what is out there today, there's the, oh, shit binders I've heard about.

There's the shoe box where I have all the family photos and family recipes.

There's the lawyers and estate planning, which frankly is very expensive and time-consuming and confusing.

So if we could make that simpler. And then there's the passwords.

And I don't necessarily mean as a password manager that you're going to use for every single item.

We may have an integration like that later, but what this is, is really, oh, here's the safe, here's the safety deposit box code key.

This is where all this information is not only for kind of later on, but today, you know, if you're at the doctor's office and something comes up and you need to pull it up, if you are, you know, in a situation where you need, you know, one of your, one spouse pays the mortgage and for whatever reason, somebody else needs to log in, it's allowing you to kind of do that on the go.

And we've got a mobile app as well that allows you, you know, if you get an insurance policy in the mail, if you get, you know, at Thanksgiving, your aunt is making that secret family recipe, you can capture it, upload it and share it with the people you want to.

And it really gives you the control to do that.

And so while we're not replacing estate lawyers or financial planners, what we're doing is really democratizing that process where you can have a place where people like that can integrate into, and we'll do, you know, certain levels of wills and what have you.

But if there is, you know, a really complex situation, a more complex situation, allowing them to have trusted professionals that are recommended by us is also a way that we become a lead generation tool and help families as well.

So they don't have to parse through, oh, I have to think about this, I'm in this state.

And so really it is that one place for all your plans.

So a related question is, you know, my impression is that there are a lot of people out there who have not even thought about this a little bit.

There's no will, there's nothing.

And if we were to say to those folks, like, go sign up for this service, does it get like sort of a foundation in place for in the event that something happens, you know, they at least have gotten, you know, I don't know if you can offer the will, but I'd be curious sort of like, if they're starting from nothing, they don't have any other bases covered, what do they get by signing up for your service?

Sure. So there's kind of the product features, our will and wishes.

So they can create a will in 15 minutes. It's really simple, straightforward.

And it's $75 for an individual and 125 for a couple. So really, really affordable.

And then what we do is depending on what we know about them, we say, okay, for your wishes and the things that you are thinking about based on your, you know, you're in your thirties, you're in your forties, these are the other planning things you need to be thinking about.

And so what ultimately my greater vision is to be this meld of legal tech and FinTech where we allow and coach them through, hey, these are these 10 things you need to think about in the next five years so that you have that basis.

I think it's really daunting to look at something and say, oh my goodness, I have all these things to do.

Well, let's break it down and make it bite-sized chunks.

So if you're in your thirties, maybe a longer term kind of product is, oh, you're getting married is, you know, you have this level of assets.

You should think about a prenup. Oh, you know, you are making this decision and now have kids.

These are different things that you need to be thinking about.

So we're really there for families no matter what stage they're at.

And it ultimately serves as a better protection for the future that we also kind of steward through with families on, okay, here are the next steps and here's how we can help and how it eliminates that scavenger hunt and makes one of the worst experiences that we have to go through as humans more manageable so that families can really process life and legacy.

And what's great about it is you can today think about, okay, I want to set these steps through for my legacy.

Because when you think about that and you think about your mortality, you actually, there's a thing called mortality salience, and you actually live a more fuller life with intention if you're able to kind of work through that.

And so if we can coach people in a very consumable and easy way to do that, we're doing our job and really helping, you know, the 98% of population that can't just make a phone call to somebody when something goes wrong.

And I imagine that's sort of a tricky, from like a messaging perspective, like how do you raise awareness without kind of invoking feelings of like, oh, I don't want to think about that, that kind of thing.

So what's been interesting is we have also, sorry, I didn't continue on our features.

We have a messaging and memories feature.

So where we're seeing a lot of excitement is you can actually send like PSI love you messages.

So after you pass, you can actually create these family memories to deliver them when you want.

And so what we're seeing is that's the reason 55 plus women are really excited.

They want to share with their families, their legacy.

They want to share and have a place for all that information.

And so coming, bringing them in through that, which is very touchy feely emotional, and then coaching them to, hey, here are all these other things, you know, our digital vaults, you can start storing things there.

And that's where people have these things sometimes, and they don't even realize it, but it's a shoebox.

It's a, their families can't find it. And so if you can pedal through that with your certain audiences and talk through what's really interesting to them, while it may be different by different age groups and backgrounds, that's really how you get them to kind of use our product and talk about our product.

And I don't know about you, but could you imagine getting an email saying, hey, so and so sent, you know, important document for you to view later, and you not accept that invite, you would, you know, if your aunt Joan said, hey, I'm, I want to share something with you, you're going to sign up and, and participate as well.

So it has that built in network effects that it really becomes a family thing versus a, oh, this is about death thing.

Interesting. I think that's a smart approach.

Sort of a related question is, you are, the company is sort of at this, this very challenging, important part of life and death, obviously.

And trust, I would think has to be sort of like the number one or way up there in terms of people are going to potentially be giving you access to things, or at least leaving the credentials in on the service.

There's also this expectation that like, when I log into the site, that I'm not going to be upsold on a bunch of random thing, it's going to be sort of like a something that seems appropriate for the moment, right?

If I'm getting this, this message from from my aunt that she wrote before she passed away or something, and I logged onto the site, it would feel sort of weird if it felt like a LinkedIn kind of thing, or it's like, hey, sign up for premium, blah, blah, blah.

So how are you approaching the trust element, both from the user experience, and from security and that kind of thing?

Yeah, so I think the number one thing when we thought about building out our platform was security.

And so my CTO has, he's in his 50s, he's been at five different successful startups.

And so he built the platform from the ground up. And we use a technology on Microsoft Azure called Blazor.

And we were actually featured in the .NET conference last year and the keynote because of the way he's built it out.

It makes it, I can't say the word impossible, but makes it very difficult to actually get at any information.

And when you do, it's encrypted and really in separate buckets, if you will, of information so that if you got into one piece of information, you'd never be able to tie it to anybody else, and the rest of the system would shut you out of it.

And so that was so important when we thought about building it out and why, you know, really our first year was focused on our product, our security and getting that right before it was time to scale and grow and raise kind of our next round.

And then, sorry, the second part of your question?

It was, you know, you certainly addressed it. I was also sort of wondering, in thinking about the user experience, like I logged into the site, how do you make that experience, especially for maybe someone new to the site who's got some really terrible news recently, like how do you make sure that their experience on the site is engendering trust and is sort of comforting in some way?

Or, you know, you're like, I'm glad this site is here. I'm glad it's providing me this information, that kind of thing, without following down the, you know, there are many examples of websites where you load it up and it's like you're under attack from their upsells and their notifications and so on.

So I'm just curious how you think about that. So really, our dashboard is curated and persona based to actually deliver specific messages.

So when you land on the dashboard, it looks like a life cycle, if you will.

And so there's five things where we focus on, here are things that you need to complete based on where you are in your planning process.

Right now, we are not doing kind of lead generation in that way where we have financial planners or other kind of ads there.

That's not really the purpose of why I started the site. While there may be situations later where people tell us, hey, I'm looking for this financial planner.

Hey, I'm looking for an estate attorney that is really has this extra special kind of scenarios and cases that I need to do, then sure, we will help you do that.

But we're not going to be a place where you're just going to have ads show up that don't make sense to you.

It's really going to be about gamifying the experience.

So it feels really genuine on what you're completing for you and your family, not because we want to upsell you on on different things.

Got it. And you mentioned funding.

And I believe I heard that you're working on crowdfunding, a new round, you want to talk a little bit about that?

Sure. So one of we ended up launching our will product in August in Texas and ended up now we're in 14 markets.

So we are covering 50 percent of the population. The rest of the platform is nationwide.

And so what we decided to do to really gain exposure and get a lot of users in quickly is to launch a crowdfunding campaign really to allow non -accredited investors of all levels to really be a part of this movement because it's them and their families who are going to get the most out of this tool.

So why not have them be part of this journey?

And so that's really where we are. And it is a bridge leading into kind of in the in 2022, we'll be raising a larger seed round, but really wanting to get this out there to really get usage in, get people of all walks of life kind of being part of our journey.

And then we're so excited about it.

Interesting. So for the crowdfunding, if I'm a member of the crowd and I contribute, do I get like any service or sort of what what might I get out of that?

Sure. So I believe if you invest, so investments start at a hundred dollars and then there are certain perks at 250 and beyond.

So you can get a free will, you can get access to the platform.

You really need to, because of SEC rules, I can't like divulge all of the offering information.

So you go out and check us out on the postage.com.

There's a tab for investors. It'll take you to the micro ventures platform and you can see all that information, but there are a number of levels of perks that are included in, in kind of your investment.

And they're also getting really, you know, inflation proof investment.

So if you will. Understood. Understood.

So I want to turn things back to sort of your own journey a little bit more.

And one of the questions that we're, we're actually asking all the founders who are joining us is if you had a time machine and you were to go back in time to when you first started the company, what might you, what kind of advice would you give yourself?

Be yourself.

I think a lot of the times you can get caught into what does this investor want?

What does this person want to hear? And, or even like how I'm dressing, how I'm approaching everything.

And I think being really true and authentic to yourself is super important.

Well, as a first time founder, you're still figuring out things all the time.

I, you know, there's not a day that I don't make a failure, make a mistake, but failing gracefully and being myself is something I would have told myself.

Cause I think there's a lot of pressure. And I think even more so on female founders to know the numbers, be this person, you know, not wear this, not do that, not act like this, not.

And I think I got a little caught up in that.

And now reflecting on that, you know, if you looked at my first headshot from when I started the company, even compared to now, it was like, oh, I'm going to smize and I'm going to look like this.

And, and that really wasn't true to me.

And you look at my most recent one, it's much more authentic. And so being true to yourself and, and being confident enough to remember, Hey, like you have the skills.

Maybe you didn't go to school in a certain place, or maybe you're not in the Valley and maybe you're not in New York city, but you still have something to offer and you're special.

And that's, what's going to make you different, not trying to be what you think people want you to be.

Absolutely. I think those are wise words.

And smizing is when you do like the squinting thing with your eyes, right?

All right. I just want to make sure I got that. Yeah. So sort of a follow-up question to that would be what is your favorite part of being a founder?

Gosh, I think the best part is being able to help people and make this experience better, but also my team and watching, empowering them to really carry out our mission.

I, I don't think there's a better moment than when you see somebody really flourish in a new role.

Maybe they don't, you know, just like me as a founder, there are some things that they're just going to have to figure out and, and watching them do that and be able to flourish.

And I can't wait till, you know, the next thing and seeing all the success that they can, they can have based on just starting here.

I think that's both of those things are so rewarding and so grateful for all of them.

Yeah.

And so you started the company, Ryan, when exactly you, you, you first started the company?

I started full-time April 1st of 2020. So the pandemic was, was getting into.

Yeah. So I literally decided to move 15 days earlier because I was the younger single, one of the founders to move back to Houston from Austin.

So I had a 48 hour period where I moved my condo, my office, and moved all at the first of the pandemic.

And then was like, okay, well now I'm doing this full -time and, uh, okay, we're on lockdown and, oh, we're going to hire, oh, we've got to figure out all these things that I didn't anticipate, um, having to deal with.

But I do think some of the silver lining is that families and businesses are thinking about planning life, health, all of this stuff a little bit differently than they were.

And so really pushing forward parts of parts of our mission, uh, were definitely a blessing in disguise.

However, you know, being a first-time founder and having to navigate, oh, well, why do I make an HR policy or how do I make this work?

Because in your first year, when you're building the platform, it's really important for tech and business to be communicating well and, and in the same room.

And how do you facilitate that during a, during a pandemic?

And so, yeah, it's been a, an interesting ride for sure. And I'd be curious, so what are some of the ways, so how many employees do you have now?

Um, so we're six with a couple interns.

And so we actually, where I am now, I, Houston, there's no zoning.

So I have a three-story townhouse where the first floor is conference rooms.

The second floor is open concept desks, and the third floor is actually where I live.

And so on the second floor, we made it every single desk was six feet apart.

Um, everybody has masks. We have Clorox hand sanitizer, all of the things at each desk and station.

And so we took that really seriously when we were building the product.

And now that it's live, we've gone to more of a hybrid model where, um, people are come in when they want to a couple of days a week and work remotely.

Otherwise it was just that first six months, eight months that it was important to draw things out, have those ideas, have being embracing that as a team, um, to really help with our culture, but also make sure our product was, um, what we all have envisioned.

That makes sense. So we've only got two minutes left or so.

And so I want to give you a chance. Is there anything that I haven't brought up that, uh, you might want to speak to?

And if not, I have some other questions. Um, I don't think so.

Other than I'd love for people to join our mission and be a part of our crowdfunding campaign.

I think that's about it. Got it. Well, here's the other question.

We're talking about culture and my understanding is you have sort of a, well, because of the space you work in, you have a somewhat unconventional, uh, culture, this, this deck you have.

Do you want to talk a little bit about that?

Sure. Yeah. So there is a deck called the death deck and what it does is it asks certain questions about, Hey, I want to leave these her looms or, Hey, have you thought about this scenario?

And what, what would you choose? And so every team meeting, I start with a death deck question because what it really does is it brings the team to be an emotional, transparent, vulnerable.

And when I mean, I'm big into that, let's be open and embrace each other's differences and, and, um, be true to who we are because that's only going to make our product better.

Um, but also let's put ourselves in the shoes of our customers because the first time they land on our site, while we're softening some of that messaging, the first time they see, Oh, Oh, I want to think about wills or, Oh, I got to think about, um, a funeral, or I got to think about this, that, and the other thing we want to understand how they're feeling.

And so we can emulate that and create a safe space where people can kind of work through that mortality salience and, and really start focusing on their legacy.

Then that's the kind of culture I want internally, but also our product to deliver to our customers.

Well, it sounds like a creative and an important approach.

Um, so well executed on that. Uh, we've only got 10 seconds left, Emily, let me say, thank you so much for joining us.

This has been an absolute delight. Uh, and it sounds like you're working on some really important problems.

So thank you.

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