Mita Carriman is the Founder and CEO of Adventurely, a mobile app she created for solo locals and solo travelers to discover engaging activities and spontaneously find activity partners to join them in New York City.
She’s also the Founder and CEO of Sunsetting, a new website that assists families in efficiently organizing the arrangements of loved ones who have passed. In our interview, she speaks candidly about how to build a tech company (a mobile app and a website), the arduous effort it takes to try and raise capital, going through nine accelerator program final interviews, and coping with the death of loved ones.
AP: You practice law, but how did you get into tech?
Mita: I think the question is, how did I get into law? Maybe that’s the first thing. So I had this book – I can’t remember the name of it – where it showed how you could be a million different things when you grow up.
I used to obsess over this book. It was like, you could be a doctor, you could be a ballerina, you could jump out of a plane, you could do all these things. And I realized that, I kind of, on some level, started to embody that as an adult – maybe on a subconscious level.
I wanted to go into theater when I was in high school, but I come from first generation immigrant parents, and there’s definitely these sort of ambitions they put in you: “We came here for you to have the American Dream and go for it.” So there was this sort of expectation that I would be some sort of a formal professional.
I tried out the whole doctor thing and it really wasn’t for me. I was pre-med, but it didn’t work out. And I liked writing, which was sort of close to theater and reading. So I was like, “Okay, well I can be a lawyer.” It was more like, “Okay, that’s the profession that seems to make the most sense with family expectations.”
The start-up thing just came out of, or at least, the first start-up was … I had a pain point I wanted to solve. The second one came the same way. I had a pain point I wanted to solve. And I don’t like to sit around and wait for things to happen.
AP: I remember your first startup, Adventurely. I love the concept. Why did you decide to walk away?
Mita: I haven’t quite walked away. I would say it’s on the back burner. We self-funded the build, my co-founder and I. We tried to fundraise. We made it to the final round of nine tech accelerators, but they didn’t accept us for whatever reasons.
The way we built our MVP wasn’t designed for us to start making money right away, because we were trying to fundraise so we could do that next step. So it just came to the point where we were beyond saturated with what we could do without funding. We were sort of like, “Okay, we’ve gotta take a timeout from this.”
We haven’t removed it from the app store. It’s on the back burner, maybe some time this year we’ll take it down, and maybe there might be a second wind. But for the time being, we’ve done as much as we could do for now.
AP: How do you know when it’s time to walk away from an idea, or to just put the idea on the back burner? Especially after self-funding and going through so much – through nine accelerators and making it to the last round, but not being accepted?
Mita: My co-founder and I made an agreement as to when we would walk away. That was December of 2016, and I kept pushing until March of 2017.
The last real effort for funding… I remember, the last tech accelerator we made it to the interview round for March of 2017. That was three months past what we did. At the time, my co-founder was sort of like, “I’m not sure. Are we gonna do this?” But I was like, “I have momentum. Let me carry this. Let me go forward”, and it didn’t work out.
“I can walk away and say, ‘I gave that my blood, sweat, and tears.’”
But each time you do it, you refine the idea and you make it better. So whether we pick back up on it some time or not, I can walk away and say, “I gave that my blood, sweat, and tears.” If there’s an opportunity to come back that makes sense, I can come back. But I feel proud of myself to walk away from it, if it’s a formal walk away right now.
AP: How long did you work on building Adventurely?
Mita: I started by myself in August of 2014. That’s when it was in the napkin stage, when I was just scribbling down ideas on a napkin. I didn’t know anything about building out a tech startup. I didn’t have any advisers.
I met with the first co-founder in November of 2014 and formally signed her on in February 2015. Then she left in July of 2015. We didn’t have a product yet. I had to go and try to find a new co-founder, found another co-founder in September. Formally signed him up in October. We launched December 2015, and the agreement was December 2016.
We had one full year of having it live. We got up to 3,400 users in New York. We got a whole bunch of press. I’m proud of what we did. I’m proud of what I did. Hipmunk said we were a top four app. Skift said we were one of the boldest travel startups for 2016. So, yeah, we did a lot with it.
AP: What did you learn during building and pitching your startup? going from napkin to product? What did it teach you about yourself?
Mita: I think I learned that I can endure a lot when I make a personal pact with myself, as it pertains to outlining what I plan to endure. Instead of just going at this without any sort of sense of when this may end or not, but saying, “Okay, I’m going to give myself five months. I’m going to commit to this, and if I have some extra gusto left over, I can go further.”
“I learned that I can endure a lot when I make a personal pact with myself…”
I’ve talked to other co-founders and founders, and they all agree with that too. The ones I’m seeing, who have been getting traction, they constantly make these new pacts for themselves. It just, sort of, it gives you direction. It gives you a start and a finish, and it doesn’t make you feel like you’re just wandering around in the middle of nowhere.
AP: You said when you built the MVP, it wasn’t enough to sustain itself from the beginning. Did you know how you wanted to make money from it?
Mita: Yeah, but it just required more time. My CTO and I both worked to sustain ourselves because we didn’t have financing. I worked as a lawyer and my CTO worked as a contract developer.
We knew what we could do given our limited time and finances, so we got it to a functioning stage one. To do the functioning stage two, to start to scale to other cities, and to put in the processing back end, and all those other things, we were like, “Okay, we could do this, but…it’s not going to be sustainable as is.” That’s why we needed to fundraise to do that.
These things seem so easy, but when you start putting in payments, working internationally, and working in different cities, all those things get a lot more complicated. But that’s also the sign of a good app. If it seems seamless to the user, then they did a great job. But on the internal side, there’s a lot of stuff going on.
AP: What did you learn during the pitching process, in getting Adventurely out there?
Mita: Well, I think it shows with my new startup, that it’s not the wisest idea to start a business with a goal of fundraising.
AP: Why do you say that? Most people start off knowing they’re going to raise money for their startups.
Mita: I think a lot of people go into it, but there are a lot of people who aren’t getting fundraising. I would just be very… I mean, look, I’m not gonna tell anybody not to go chase your dream. But for myself, me, this is advice to me.
“I’m not gonna tell anybody not to go chase your dream. But for myself, me, this is advice to me. I wouldn’t launch another business, personally, that relied so heavily on fundraising.”
I wouldn’t launch another business, personally, that relied so heavily on fundraising. This new business I started, the decision for me to start was because I could potentially do this on my own, and definitely without any outside financing.
People should do what they feel is right for them. I just like to be able to do something without having to wait on other people to come through. It was so frustrating that we saw this vision with the last startup. It was like, “Oh my God, if we only had this one last piece, we’d able to do this.”
Now I’m in a position where I don’t need that, and it feels really good. I can take my time. A lot of people I grew close to, who are also founders and who did institutional fundraising, impressed on me that, “Look. Not all money is good money when you’re taking it from an investor.”
I’ve had some friends whose businesses have not gone in the best direction, because they felt obligated to take the direction their investors impressed upon them. And it just completely, it just destroyed the brand and the business model. And it ultimately was not a good idea.
“A lot of people I grew close to, who are also founders and who did institutional fundraising, impressed on me that, “Look. Not all money is good money when you’re taking it from an investor… I’ve had some friends whose businesses have not gone in the best direction, because they felt obligated to take the direction their investors impressed upon them. And it just completely, it just destroyed the brand and the business model.”
Investors nowadays, especially in New York, want to turn everything into a SaaS model. But it’s like, not everything is meant to be a SaaS model. It’s okay for something to just be consumer if that’s what it is. Why are you going to destroy that brand equity, just because, “If you have a SaaS model, it’d be easier to sell.”
If that’s not the talent of the team and not really the core value of the original product, then why do it? Just to say you’re doing it?
AP: Tell me about your new tech startup, Sunsetting.
Mita: Sunsetting is a website – it is an elegant way to use a web page on the site to invite your network to end of life services for someone who has passed away. And also invite them to contribute financially through gifts or through crowdfunding.
I lost two of my parents over the past three years. This was during the whole start and finish of Adventurely, starting with my father and then my mother, who died in April of 2016. And as a founder, you have to sort of give this appearance to the outside that you always have it together. You have to kind of push yourself to say, “Okay, I have it together.” But you know what? Sometimes you don’t always have it together.
I also just didn’t feel very comfortable letting my network know how vulnerable I was in the time when I lost my mother. People were very supportive, and warm, and were there for me. But on the practical back-end side of dealing with a loss like that, there was a lot.
When my father passed away my mom was still alive. And Mom was sort of the one in the family who, whenever there was a funeral, or somebody died, Mom would take care of everything. Even though my mom was sick at the time, she still was the one who was the pinpoint for everything.
When she died, it was like, “Whoa. Now there’s no mom. How do we do this?” My grandmother lived to be 97-years-old. I never thought I’d be in my thirties, and Mom would be gone and I’d be trying to figure out how to do this.
“I thought, ‘Why isn’t there something similar to this for funerals? I really wish I had this. I think this will make a lot of people feel a lot better. And I’m gonna go for it.’”
My mother’s funeral’s costs… There’s the funeral. There’s a wake. There’s a burial. There’s a casket. There’s a repast. There’s programs. There’s clothes. There’s a lot of stuff that goes into it. I won’t say the exact price, but it went well over $30,000. It costs a lot. It can easily add up, and you have to have these things done pretty quickly. A lot of funeral parlors, they won’t accept a body until the payment is made upfront. There are some people who delay funerals for weeks, sometimes a month on end. But it’s not the sort of thing that you can wait out six months after somebody passes away.
Then to start the process of adjusting to life without this person anymore… It’s also not uncommon nowadays, when somebody dies, to see a GoFundMe campaign. They don’t only do funeral campaigns, it’s for any sort of thing. Whether, somebody has a sickness or needs some sort of repair done on their home.
I’ve noticed, with the funerals, that it tends to be used for some sort of catastrophic loss. Such as, “Oh, there was a car accident where all five family members died,” and it’s just a completely chaotic situation. That’s not to say that my family situation wasn’t chaotic. It wasn’t to that extent.
My mother was sick for several months and then passed away. My father was sick for several months and passed away. It’s not uncommon for people to lose their loved ones in the same manner. I just didn’t feel as if GoFundMe was the venue I would want to overtly let my network know if I were in need of assistance.
And there’s nothing wrong with it – if somebody uses it, there’s nothing wrong with it. I’ve contributed to many GoFundMe campaigns for funerals. But when it came to me, I wanted a different option. I wanted something a little bit more subtle, something a little bit more honoring of the memory, and not just about, a transaction. Something that’s a little more beautiful, because this is your last event physically, on Earth, when you die.
I sort of, on some levels, compare this to your wedding day. Do you want to announce your wedding on GoFundMe? I mean, you could say you’re raising money for a honeymoon, but there are other websites out there like, Honeyfund. So I thought, “Why isn’t there something similar to this for funerals? I really wish I had this. I think this will make a lot of people feel a lot better. And I’m gonna go for it.”
AP: How were you able to pick yourself up in the middle of losing both your parents, continue building and pitching Adventurely, and then start Sunsetting?
Mita: Step by step. Knowing that in talking to other potential users, other people who’ve lost someone, hearing people say, “Oh my God…I wish I had this at the time. This would have made me feel so much better.”
You still feel this pain, and you may have a day where you almost forget it’s even there. So it kind of goes in waves. And I read a lot of books on grief. I talked to a lot of friends who lost someone close, and just bid my time. I mean, I’m still dealing with it.
“Grief is love with nowhere to go.”
The startup is actually helping me work through a lot of the grief, with Sunsetting. I read this great quote about grief. Somebody wrote: “Grief is love with nowhere to go.” Where you want to just share your love with someone, but you can’t, because they’re not there.
I was trying to think, “What did I really want to do?” I wanted to be the one that paid for Mom’s funeral and give her this beautiful thing. It was another family member who stepped in and mostly took care of everything, but I wanted to do that. I wanted to give that. And that is that love with nowhere to go.
I thought, “Well, what were the options at the time?” It was GoFundMe, but I thought, “I would never do that.” So I thought, “What could I have done to have at least felt better about that?” My mind started to have the wheels turn. And I think off of the experience of my first startup, I was quickly able to just map it out.
I took about a couple weeks to map out the idea. Then in April, I started meeting with different developers to figure out the right one. In May I picked a developer, and they worked on it through late June. And we announced right before the Fourth of July.
AP: Walk me through Sunsetting: Say I just lost a loved one, and I visit Sunsetting. What will I find there?
Mita: You’ll be able to set up a page for your loved one in five steps. It starts with a message to your friends and family – we have messages that are pre-made if you’re not even sure what to write out yet. Then you can upload photos of your loved one – it’s a sliding gallery with up to five photos. Then you can add up to five different services.
In terms of sharing the information for my mom’s funeral, I had some people who were on Facebook, some people were on text, some people were on email, some people were at work. It was just all over the place. I remember thinking I wish I had one central location where I could quickly share everything.
So on your Sunsetting memorial page, you can add up to five different services and the information. You can receive guest comments. People can come and leave beautiful testimonials if what they want. And you have the option to just keep your page as just that alone. It’s free.
If you want to receive gifts, you can add a button for people to send a gift, or if you want to crowdfund a specific amount. You can receive the money at any time up to one week or up to four weeks, and you can start immediately receiving the funds once it gets loaded up. We take an administration back-end fee of 5%.
AP: What advice do you have for people wanting to launch a tech company, or any company?
Mita: Make sure that there’s a real pain problem. Make sure it’s a problem you’re super passionate about. And make sure it’s a problem that a lot of other people are passionate about.
“Some people want to have a startup, just because they want to have a startup. I’ve never launched anything just ‘cause. It’s because I feel like I’m being pulled out of my chair to do this, and if I don’t do this, it’s actually more painful for me not to…”
Some people want to have a startup, just because they want to have a startup. I’ve never launched anything just ‘cause. It’s because I feel like I’m being pulled out of my chair to do this, and if I don’t do this, it’s actually more painful for me not to…
Not only that, but there will always be tough times, challenging times. And if it’s not something you’re really legitimately geared up to do, then if you don’t have the money and you’re not raking in all the money, you’re just not gonna have the stamina to keep going. And then, to sort of validate it, there has to be a lot of people who feel like, “Yeah, this is a problem, and we don’t have a good solution for it.”
AP: How important, do you think, perspective is in our lives?
Mita: I think perspective is what directs our lives, on every level. And I think learning other people’s perspectives will better serve us to understanding where they’re coming from.
AP: I can’t imagine what you’re still going through, but what books did you (or do you) read to cope with the lost of your parents?
Mita: The Power of Your Subconscious Mind. Seven Spiritual Laws of Success. You Can Heal Your Life, that’s from Louise Hay.
AP: What did you take away from any one of those books?
Mita: Just letting go…and that trying to pretend a feeling doesn’t exist probably doesn’t do the best to serve you. Trying to pretend you’re in a different state of mind, maybe it can help on a superficial level, but if you’re really trying to clear things out, then maybe it could help to just sit with what you’re dealing with for awhile. And for me, that, what I was dealing with was grief.
“Trying to pretend you’re in a different state of mind, maybe it can help on a superficial level, but if you’re really trying to clear things out, then maybe it could help to just sit with what you’re dealing with for awhile.”
So, trying to walk around like, “Oh yeah, I’m 100% boss lady. I’m ready to go!” Sure that works great if I have to step into a meeting. But when I had a lot of down time, and everybody was home for the holidays, and I wasn’t stepping into a meeting, when it was just me I’m like, “Okay, I really have to sit and deal with this from the most base level and try to clear it out.” Or at least work on clearing it out.
I actually watched a lot of YouTube videos, also. Tons of inspirational YouTube videos of just thought leaders on dealing with grief, and managing grief, and how to pick up the pieces when things seemingly fall apart.
AP: What advice would you give your younger self?
Mita: What advice would I give to my younger self? Listen to your inner voice. There’s gonna come a point where you just exhaust, become exhausted, trying to ignore who you’re supposed to be. It’s not that people change, it’s that people become more of themselves. And just don’t try to resist it. Don’t try to fit into a box.
“Listen to your inner voice. There’s gonna come a point where you just exhaust, become exhausted, trying to ignore who you’re supposed to be. It’s not that people change, it’s that people become more of themselves. And just don’t try to resist it. Don’t try to fit into a box.”
It’s not like my parents were like, “Oh, you’ll be disowned if you don’t become a lawyer, or this, or that.” I could have, in theory, done anything I wanted to do with my career. But I wish I had not felt so obligated to try to live up to a certain ideal that I thought they wanted to see. So you just listen to that inner voice. And that’s what I do now, as an adult.
AP: What are three beliefs that guide you?
Mita: Be kind, be honest, and be genuine.