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Five Burning Questions with New England Based Innovators: Gentreo CEO and Founder, Renee Fry

Updated: Apr 19

Technology is supposed to level the playing field by giving consumers easy access to services once reserved for the wealthy, such as sophisticated investment tools. While the “digital revolution” of recent decades has accelerated that trend, pockets of the economy have resisted change by making it cumbersome – and in some cases prohibitively expensive – for everyday people to participate.

Renee Fry and her sister, Julie, identified one sector where technology hadn’t made things easier or more affordable for folks – estate planning. They set out to create an online service that provides software and other digital tools that makes it feasible for customers to prepare for life’s milestones, and protect their loved ones.

Startup Boston caught up with Renee to discuss her Boston roots, how she started Gentreo, and her vision for its future.

What brought you to Boston, and why did you decide to build your business in the city?

I came to study at Harvard Business School in 1997 and fell in love with Boston. I've been involved in multiple projects here since 1999, including a number of software startups and companies going public. It's a great atmosphere to grow a company.

For starters, the people here are exceptional. Whether it's the business, technical or scientific leadership you’re looking for, you have a fantastic combination of the right people who are doing the right things with the right resources to back them up.

And fast forward to your current company, Gentreo, how would you describe it? Is it a fintech company, a professional services firm? What are its origins?

We're fintech – all software.

The background is that our parents paid $10,000 to do their estate planning. My sister and I walked right out of the meeting and both said, “Someone should start this company…we should start this company.” It was just such a hefty price tag for normal people who really need protection.

That’s how Gentreo was born. It’s a woman-owned business, and the name means “three generations,” because there are a lot of folks like myself who are caring for their parents and their children. Juggling those responsibilities is complex, and we’re providing a service that helps people throughout the stages of their life, including getting married, having a baby – all these different life inflection points.

We're about connecting people and staying with them across their lives for when they need us most. It's something you want in your back pocket so that you can hit the button to access your medication list, your health care proxy, etcetera. Too many people think estate planning is just about death. It’s so much more than that.

My sister is one of the co-founders, and was head of marketing for the National Association of Home Care and Hospice, out of Washington, DC. She met lots of folks going through so many of the same issues and is really passionate about making sure families have the resources to protect themselves.

Is educating people about the importance of estate planning a big part of Gentreo, or do you expect people to know what they want when they join?

Education is important, because people may have an idea that they need to do estate planning, but don’t know how to go about it. We have an extensive library of blogs, videos, and other tools for folks to learn, because so many people go through the same kinds of things like caring for that aging parent, although it's unique to you. Being able to educate yourself and learn from those blogs and videos is something that we're passionate about, because people need to be able to apply the situations to what they're going through.

For example, health care proxies became very popular during Covid, and a lot of families started discussing their options and sharing information. We give people factual information they can trust so they can have real discussions, rather than just searching the internet and finding random pieces of information.

Wealthy people have financial advisors and lawyers they can turn to. But with technology, we can create apps and other resources for everyday people, where they can enjoy the same services that only the very fortunate used to receive.

You mentioned the Covid pandemic, which must have had a huge impact on your business. Has your strategy changed since the outbreak?

During the pandemic, we educated a lot of people about wills and health care proxies. It was interesting in the beginning because people really didn't know what they needed, but they started hearing stories about the importance of a health care proxy. And sadly, a lot of people saw others passing away without wills.

So we try to help people understand the importance of spending a half hour on a will so they don’t end up in court. There are a lot of misconceptions about those topics. A lot of people think, “I'm married, I don't need any of these things because my spouse can make all these decisions.” And that's really not the case, especially today where a lot of us don't have joint bank accounts or joint credit cards.

And what are your plans now that we're for the most part out of the pandemic and the economy is changing?

We partnered with a number of companies that want to offer Gentreo as a benefit to employees or their customers – the B to B to C approach. For example, credit unions and banks want to provide Gentreo as a benefit to clients because Covid alerted people to the importance of estate planning. And some of our benefits are geared to help employees and customers. For example, we have a feature where, if you’re caring for your aging parent, you press a button and instantly have their health care proxy, their medication list, their doctor's information. This feature allows people to share this information with whomever they choose, and they can change their mind whenever. We try to teach people that estate planning isn’t one and done. It's not just about having a will that's done. It's really about making sure that you're managing all of the assets and family relationships, and putting all that into one place.

About the author: Randall Woods is a former editor at Bloomberg News and currently is a Senior Vice President at SBS Comms, a PR agency for technology companies and startups.


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