Q&A With Sue Kemple, CEO of My Last Soundtrack

1. What is your business My Last Soundtrack all about?

We are the coolest online legacy site on the web. Ultimately, our mission is to help people change the conversation around death – using music and telling the stories of our lives to approach death with a little more courage and a greater sense of humor. By giving people a platform to upload their playlists, create video slideshows, and tell the stories that mean the most to them, they are empowered to leave the legacy they want to leave when they die, instead of just leaving that legacy to their families, or to chance.

2. What gave you the idea for your business and how did it start?

Our founders, Carl Hammerdorfer and Joe Cannon, were out riding bikes one day, when the subject of the funeral of a mutual friend came up. Realizing that the music played at his service didn’t at all reflect the richness of his life, and wanting to ensure that the music at their own funerals would be more aligned with who they were in life, they founded My Last Soundtrack. Besides, Carl had always had this thought run through his head when he heard a song he really liked: “That song is so good, I’d want it played at my funeral.”

I came on board about six months after they founded the company. Originally, it was all about the music. But we found that people wanted to tell their stories in more dimensions. So we added photos, a video slideshow, and numerous storytelling features. We plan to continue to iterate as we get more feedback from our users about what’s important to them.

3. What’s your favorite thing about your job?

I love everything about my job, but the best part is that it makes me think about my mortality every day, which puts everything else in my life in perspective.

4. What are your keys to making yourself productive?

Routine is the foundational key. I get up early, focus on knocking the first three (and most challenging) things off my list before I get up from my desk, then benefit from the flexibility to connect with people in my network – or those I want to include in it – throughout the rest of the day and evening. I also change my scenery – taking advantage of a dynamic open work space a few times a week, and writing from a coffee shop for a few hours on a Friday.

And probably the most important key is shutting everything off and getting away from the grind on a regular basis. It seems counter-intuitive, but it’s usually while taking long hikes in the woods, driving on back roads through the countryside, or listening to live music downtown – in other words, when I’m not focused on work – that the best ideas come to me. You have to reset and recharge.

5. Tell us one long-term goal in your career.

To launch My Last Soundtrack into the hands of as many professionals as possible who deal with clients facing end-of-life issues, and make it a household name – one that helps people cope well with the notion of their inevitable mortality.

6. What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned through the course of your career?

Learn to let go, and don’t be too possessive of the work you do. The things of which I’m most proud in my career are projects that continue but are no longer run or owned by me. Others have taken them over and taken them in new directions (for better or worse!) But once you’re able to let go, you’re free to move on to the next thing you’re meant to do.

I find this work in the death space makes me very cognizant of this fact. I mean, we’re all only here for such a short time, we can’t hold onto anything in this world, and when it’s time to move on, others will take your place. You know, circle of life and all that.

7. What advice would you give to others aspiring to succeed in your field?

If the field we’re talking about is startups, the best advice I can offer is to get away from your computer, quit looking at your smartphone, and get out in the world. Talk to people face to face. Don’t hide behind technology, which is increasingly how people interact these days, both professionally and personally.

It’s less fulfilling and less productive, and it doesn’t allow you to effectively test your hypotheses and assumptions so that you can pivot and iterate quickly. We all need more handshakes and eye contact – this is true in life, and in business.

8. What are your favorite things to do outside of work?

I like to hike and fish, I’m an amateur sculptor and drummer, and I’m a third generation Giants fanatic. Not just a fan, a fanatic. I never miss a game, and my adult sons usually join me for them – so it’s bigger than football, and it means a lot to me.

9. Name a few influential books you’ve read and/or websites you keep up with that you’d recommend to readers.

This is tough, there are so many good books. But to name just a few… When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi is one of my recent favorites in the death and dying sphere. The Lean Startup by Eric Ries is a must read for anyone starting a business. And I always try to keep up with what’s going on in TechCrunchBusiness Insider, and the Washington Post.

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