Marco Billmaier (on the left in the photo above) and Daniel Mack (right) met at the end of primary school and quickly became friends. They stayed in contact during the years since. Retrospectively, they would say there were always interested in earning some extra money by selling stuff to classmates or finding work during the holidays.
Marco went on to earn an electronics degree but always stayed connected with his art and creative nature. Street art (graffiti) became his passion. Meanwhile, Daniel studied physics and later added an MBA. Over the years they met on a regular basis. Having their own business was always a topic – the only thing that was missing was the right idea.
It was Marco who first came up with the spark. He was walking in town and passed the storefront of a funeral director. He recognized immediately that his street art could add something new and different to burial urns. After a little market research, Marco and Daniel finally decided to start their business.
What do you sell and to whom?
Mementi Urnen sells unique, handcrafted and hand-painted funeral urns from several artists online direct to consumers and to funeral directors.
What is the dramatic difference you offer your customers?
Looking at our home market in Germany, the funeral urn business is dominated by a few players. Cost is the only driver in the existing market structure. While this may be fine for all involved companies, customers are faced with a very narrow choice of repetitive designs. It is inevitable that not all are satisfied. Furthermore, the cost of an urn for such an important event is often of secondary importance. Marco and Daniel viewed the market from an alternative perspective and asked, “What does the customer really want?” Then they created unique urns before setting the price.
What compelled you to start your business, and how long have you been in business?
A loss in the family started the thought process. It took another year until Marco came up with the plan of combining his street art with funeral urns. The company started three years ago as a side hustle. It grew quickly and now takes up a considerable amount of time. In addition to the founders, three people are working part-time time in the company and there are more to come soon.
What aspect of your business life causes you the most fear and trepidation, and how do you keep your fear from overwhelming you?
Fear was never part of it – concerns and worry, absolutely. Since both founders are employed full-time, risk is minimal and investment hasn’t required debt. It’s a comfortable position from which to build. Growth is funded from cash flow. By keeping financial risk low, we’ve little to fear.
What about your business is the greatest source of personal pride? Why?
Making a notable footprint in an existing market is definitely a source of pride. Starting as outsiders in a closed market is only simple on paper. Constantly adjusting our strategy and keeping an open mind is part of success.
What are the smartest and dumbest things you’ve done in business?
The dumbest thing we’ve done is offer marble urns. For reasons unknown, in Germany, nobody is interested in marble urns. We made a significant investment in inventory, and sales are non-existent.
The smartest thing we’ve done is ignore our personal taste. If you think you really know your customer, you are either ultra-smart or stupid.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Start your company earlier.
If you could ask your true business peers one question, what would it be?
How did you get your first sale?
What does success mean to you?
Living independently from reliance on an employer.
What is the one tool you can’t live without, and how do you use it in your business?
Marco can’t live without his spray can. It represents creativity and personal time combined with a sense of freedom. It’s also important in the design and production of our funeral urns.
I depend on Excel. I’m a numbers junky, and I use spreadsheet models all the time. The business use is obvious but also it is calming and relaxing to create graphs and analysis as a basis for our next business decision. I own a coffee mug with, “I love spreadsheets” printed on it.
Where do you go and what do you do to really unwind?
We founders are friends and like to relax during the evening together over a bottle of beer. It’s simple but this maintains the bond we need to run the company together.