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Erin Bury and her husband, Kevin Oulds, are on a mission to ensure that more Canadians have wills and powers of attorney.
They co-founded their direct to consumer company,
Willful, in 2017. The idea came after Kevin’s uncle passed away without a will that specified his wishes for after-death events like cremation vs. burial or what sort of memorial he preferred.
“We thought, we have all these great digital tools–yet there’s no tool that actually helps you facilitate those conversations with loved ones, then also stores your wishes,” Erin says.
“The product is kind of like TurboTax for estate planning,” Erin says. “It’s a simple solution and it’s affordable.”
For individuals and families who have a straightforward, simple estate–like kids, a pet, and basic assets–Willful is a great option that allows them to set up their will and power of attorney themselves in under 20 minutes. Once someone prints their will, they must then take the proper legal steps of having it witnessed and signed in person.
“We’re taking this really uncomfortable thing that no one likes to think about–and that can be very cost-prohibitive and inconvenient–and making it a more accessible, affordable, easy thing to check off your list,” Erin says.
Plan costs range from $99 to $249.
Rather than marketing via fear tactics or doom-and-gloom messaging about the inevitability of death, the Willful team markets their product around major life events. They also segment their audience according to these events.
“It’s about legacy and peace of mind,” she says. “It’s about leaving your family with a really good set of plans”.
“Everybody dies, but we can’t mass market with that message. So we focus on a few key audiences, and all of them are people going through major life moments.”
Willful’s audience segments include:
Erin says Willful’s best marketing strategy is through affiliate partnerships. The company partners with family lawyers, mom bloggers, personal finance professionals, mortgage brokers, or any business that communicates with people during transitional seasons of life like those listed above.
In addition to affiliate marketing, Willful leverages PR, Facebook, Instagram, Google Ads, and influencer marketing (creator media). Influencers tend to be very open to working with Willful, according to Erin.
“Over half of Canadian adults don’t have a will,” she says, “so one in two influencers we reach out to either doesn’t have a will, or they have a story about how they paid a ton of money for it. Or they have an out-of-date will because they’ve had kids.”
Erin’s team has even partnered with a dog spokesperson to talk about planning for pets in a will.
Venture capital investors have a tendency to overlook opportunities based on geographical considerations. While Willful is revenue generating, they operate solely within Canadian markets which has made it challenging when engaging US based VCs.
“We’ve really focused on raising money from angel investors,” she says. “We also went through an accelerator program, and we found it difficult to raise capital outside of it” .
Entities such as Clearbanc have “become the great equalizer,” according to Erin. “They don’t care whether you’re a man or woman, and they don’t care where you’re based. All they care about is whether you’re selling something–and whether they’re confident they can get their money back because they see your growth.”
Erin advocates growing a business slowly over several years, using revenue from the business to build rather than taking on VC.
“You can always go raise a series A five years in the future–no one’s stopping you. But if you take $1 of VC today, you have to be scaling and giving a return to investors.
“When I was a journalist, I was guilty of reporting on funding rounds like they were something to celebrate. Unfortunately, we don’t celebrate the founders who don’t take a dollar of anyone’s money. They’ve bootstrapped, they grow slowly, and when they stop, they keep 100% of that.”
On average, venture-backed founders only own about 7% of their business when they sell.
When it comes to scaling a company, Erin recommends focusing on building products and services that people like and use, then building on revenue over time.
“There’s nothing wrong with scaling slowly, keeping your burn rate low, and being thoughtful about the type of money you take on. Not every business has to be a VC-backable business.”
As a direct-to-consumer business in a relatively small niche, Erin says Willful has benefited greatly from collaborating with businesses that might normally be considered direct competitors. Because wills and power of attorney laws change based on country, province, and state, it doesn’t hurt Willful’s bottom line to work with competitors.
“We have become such good friends with our competitor in the U.S.,” she says. “We have calls with them once a month where we share marketing tips."
“We’ve been very fortunate in that sense. A lot of other consumer products aren’t that close with their competitors because they’re just worried they’re going to launch in their markets.”
To view the conference notes from the Commerce & Conversations Edition of influenceTHIS,
This article was originally published on the influenceTHIS site. It has been reproduced with permission.
MNP recently partnered with influenceTHIS, Canada’s leading digital marketing conference series, to highlight the key companies and trends that are making waves in 2020. The following article highlights Willful, a direct to consumer estate planning service that’s revolutionizing how Canadians formalize their final wishes.
Interested in learning more about raising capital and growing your business? Reach out to Saad Shaikh, CPA, CA at 416.263.6923 or
As a Partner in MNP’s Technology Media and Telecommunications group, he works one-on-one with private and public sector clients on matters such as revenue recognition, raising capital and tax and statutory compliance.
Saad understands his clients’ unique business needs and provides sound advice on their complex accounting, tax and business issues, helping them achieve success.
Related Topics:Entrepreneurs; Estate Planning
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