‘Mom’s on the Phone Talking About Caskets Again’

Winter 2022

In this digital age, customization is at the forefront of the consumer’s mind. Why shouldn’t that extend to plans for the afterlife?

Illustration by Stuart Bradford

As the Siegel family wakes each morning, they think about death. 

It’s on the mind of Liz (Baker) ’02 Siegel as she climbs out of bed, readies herself for the day, and gets the children, Claire, Caroline, and Eli, off to school. Soon, she’s dialing funeral homes and buyers, suggesting the elegant Orion, a glistening steel model with a plushy crepe interior. Both the head and foot of the Orion can be adjusted, and there’s a rubber gasket and locking mechanism. “It’s just this beautiful, dignified thing,” Liz says, “and we’re always looking to honor our customers and their loved ones and treat them with dignity and respect.”

The Orion is a coffin.

Josh Siegel ’01 is also pondering the afterlife in between calls in his home office, where he works as CPO of RealSelf, a health care marketplace. He later joins Liz in the morning meeting for their joint direct-to-consumer company, Titan Casket. Billed as “the Warby Parker of caskets,” the company, founded in 2020, offers made-to-order resting places for purchase online. From sports team themes to plain pine boxes, Josh and Liz aim to provide a variety of affordable choices to those planning funerals. 

The duo aren’t just entrepreneurs filling a hole in the massive end-of-life industry (everyone dies, after all). Liz is a lawyer by trade, and Josh holds an MBA from Columbia with a 10-year term at Amazon on his résumé. With their combined law and e-commerce acumen, they’re able to make analytical decisions to run a successful company. Plus, their business partner, Scott Ginsberg, has more than two decades of experience in the casket industry. Together, their goal is to disrupt Big Casket, offering options more in-line with today’s tech-savvy buyers. “Historically, you pick a venue, the funeral home, and then the rest of your planning is based on what that venue has available,” Josh says. “But this next generation … that’s not their expectations when they come into any event. They’re going to want to personalize this event to how they want to be honored, or how to honor their loved one.”

Navigating that industry can be opaque for consumers, and making death decisions for loved ones can be pressure-filled. Often, when someone dies, the consumer will purchase a casket directly from the funeral home. But, those will usually come at a steep price, according to the Siegels. Because of this trend, Titan often cites the Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule: “When you purchase a casket from a third party, the funeral home has to treat it as though it were a purchase they had made themselves,” Liz says. “They have to accept delivery, they can’t make it burdensome for the customer.”

That rule has allowed their business to boom: In addition to the Titan website, which offers a build-your-own-casket customization option, the company also sells through Amazon, Sam’s Club, Walmart, and Costco. Their supply of coffins ships from four warehouses across the country, and they sell thousands of caskets each year. 

Because the family business is run at home, talk of post-death plans isn’t off-limits when the kids are around. In fact, it’s encouraged. “For them, it’s not that big of a deal, because they just see it as ‘Mom’s on the phone talking about caskets again,’” Liz says. “They both get to see their parents working together and building something,” Josh adds. When he and Liz hosted a five-child learning pod in their suburban Washington State home at the beginning of the pandemic, the children overheard the adults taking casket calls. And, “there might just be an urn just casually resting somewhere,” Josh jokes. 

Titan Casket has also supplied coffins for TV productions, such as Castle Rock and The Plot Against America