By Thomas A. Parmalee

Rehan Choudhry, 44, might not be a household name … but if his app, Chptr, takes off the way he hopes, he’ll bring the stories of thousands of deceased loved ones to homes throughout the United States – and create an entirely new revenue stream for funeral homes and their television station partners.

Already, the company has raised $3.6 million in funding as it has rolled out the app, which is designed to give users the opportunity to share and hold onto the memories of lost loved ones. The app has more than 6,000 users who have created more than 3,000 videos – and it has the potential to transform how funeral homes, families and media companies think about obituaries.

The revolutionary aspect of Chptr is that for the first time, television stations have allocated dedicated air time to run the local stories of community members who have died, Choudhry said. “And the reason they have done that is because the cost to produce those videos have gone down so much … we have created an inventory to memorialize a person on TV, and we have done it in a way that everyone benefits without gouging the customer,” he said.

The app is free, but users can add on services for a fee, such as having a video professionally produced and paying to have service details aired on television – or to air the entire video on TV.

A few dozen funeral homes in three different markets – Binghamton, New York; Springfield, Missouri; and Burlington, Vermont are working directly with Chptr, which recently announced a partnership with Gray Television.

Choudhry is hoping to multiply the number of funeral homes he’s working with substantially in the coming months. “If a funeral home is interested in starting right away (regardless of whether there’s a TV station in-market or not), we can get them up and running in less than 30 minutes. It’s super easy,” he said.

As funeral homes sign on to offer Chptr to families, the company plans to develop new partnerships with additional television stations and networks, creating “a direct pipeline for funeral homes to be able to send customers and their content to their local station,” Choudhry said.

While funeral homes that use Chptr are not given market exclusivity, the first firms to become customers will get “a ton of support” and receive “all the benefits of being first in line,” he said.

Rehan Choudhry, founder and CEO of Chptr, aims to bring a new obituary model to funeral service.
An Unlikely Entrepreneur

Choudhry, the founder and CEO of Chptr, may seem like an unlikely candidate to introduce a new obituary model to the death-care profession, having honed his professional skills in the casino industry. From there, he leveraged what he’d learned to launch a music festival.

In fact, those who knew Choudhry earlier in life may be surprised that he’s enjoyed any success in business at all.

“I had chronic sleep apnea, and it wasn’t diagnosed until I was 35,” he said. “It destroys your short-term memory, and it destroys your attention. So, when you are not diagnosed, it looks like you have a learning disability.”

As a result, for the longest time, Choudhry could not focus or perform well in school, he said. “At one point, a college counselor said instead of going to college, I should drop out and become a plumber,” he said.

Looking back at that experience, he said, “I think when you’re dealt a hand like that when you are really young, you train yourself to be able to overcome quite a bit, and you develop a level of resilience that helps in entrepreneurship.”

As the father of a 3-year-old and 5-year-old, he hopes to use what he overcame to help them as they encounter their own challenges, he said. “When I grew up, the assumption was that I was lazy or dumb,” he said.

But as a first-generation American whose parents – both doctors — came here from Pakistan, Choudhry, who was born in Chicago and raised in Iowa and Virginia, had a chip on his shoulder. “I wanted to prove something,” he said. “When I believe in something, there is nothing that will stop me from seeing it come to fruition.”

Despite the challenges he faced, Choudhry pushed through and graduated from the University of Tampa with a degree in computer information systems.

As far as how his mind works Choudhry calls himself a “generalist at my core,” which has helped him throughout his career as he’s passionate about solving problems – especially those that impact communities.

“I started my career as a systems developer for the Department of Homeland Security as a contractor right after 9/11,” he said. “We developed emergency response systems, and it was some of the most meaningful work I have ever done.”

But “sitting around in a bunker” wasn’t the future he saw for himself, and left something to be desired, and so he ended up going to Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management in Nashville, completing his MBA in 2007. Then Caesars Entertainment Corp. came knocking on his door.

“The CEO had created an incubator of sorts,” Choudhry said. “There was a leadership development program … the focus I really wanted to pursue was analytical marketing.”

Although he’d never set foot on a casino floor, he was deeply interested in the company’s loyalty program. He joined eager to push that forward, but the Great Recession of 2008 hit shortly thereafter, changing everything.

He quickly realized that he needed to pivot or become one of the hundreds of people his company was laying off. “And I realized that nobody really invested in the local Atlantic City community anymore. Many casinos were just raking in cash, and no one had created community programming – and I thought it was desperately needed,” he said.

He also knew that during a recession, people do not gamble as much – nor do they buy homes or as much clothing. Purchasing overall declines, but the one expenditure that tends not to be hit as hard is spending on entertainment. “People still spend money on movies and theatrical shows,” he said.

So, Choudhry got to work designing programming that was more lifestyle focused and that had nothing to do with gambling in the casino. Through that work, he sought to bring value to the community.

“We wanted to create a new narrative for the company,” he said.

As a result, he introduced Caesars first arts festival in Atlantic City as well as its first LGBTQ festival. Fashion shows and other events rounded out the programming.

While the initiatives did not save the company from the devastation of the recession, they did “make a dent,” Choudhry said. And his work got noticed.

The owners of the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas were opening a resort, and they decided they had to have Choudhry on their team no matter the cost.

They wanted someone untraditional “and I accidentally became that person,” Choudhry said. He was hired and moved to Vegas in 2010, becoming head of entertainment for the property.

Chptr can offer funeral homes and television station partners a new revenue stream.
A New Beginning

Once in Vegas, Choudhry was somewhat appalled by the focus on Cirque du Soleil shows at the expense of everything else.

A touring band had not played in Vegas in ages. “I built an entertainment strategy that brought in touring bands,” he said.

Eventually, however, Choudhry retired from the casino industry and in 2013 founded a music festival called “Life Is Beautiful,” which was eventually acquired by Rolling Stone.

The three-day music, arts and culture festival was born as part of a major transformation of downtown Las Vegas, a historically underserved neighborhood.

“I wanted to create a festival that had an impact theme,” Choudhry said. “I wanted to create an environment that was supportive.”

The festival hosted 44 nonprofit organizations that focused on a wide range of health topics, and it became one of the top five music festivals in the world, he said.

A few years later – in 2017 – he founded Emerge Impact + Music, which became Las Vegas’s largest live music event, spanning three days. The event reimagined the conference and festival experience by blending a progressive lineup of top next-generation musicians with inspired speakers and relevant social impact themes.

“It was a great idea and a fun event for everyone who attended, but it was really hard to build a large-scale event around emerging talent,” Choudhry said in reflecting on why he stepped away from the venture.

When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, however, he found himself in a different place, which was the result of going on a blind date a few years earlier with a television anchor.

After six months of dating, she ended up moving to New York city after receiving an incredible job offer.

“Basically, I faced a decision,” he said. “Stay in Vegas and continue to live there … or chase this girl,” he said.

So … he packed his bags and went chasing.

As a result, when everything started to get locked down, he didn’t only find himself married but with a child on the way as well.

And there he was, someone in the entertainment industry, which was completely shuttered.

“My wife was doing news shows live from our living room,” he said. “I rethought my life … I knew I didn’t want to spend my life running festivals.”

With time on his hands – after all, people could hardly leave their homes – Choudhry indulged his pensive mood. “I was trying to come up with something new,” he said.

He started a blog about modern-day fatherhood. He considered writing a book. He was grasping at straws, pretty much, trying to find something that would spark his attention.

And then he found it … right in his living room.

It was his wife, who began making 60-second videos of neighborhood residents who had lost their lives in the pandemic.

“The approach that she took to tell these stories was different – I had never seen it before,” he said.

She tracked down all the friends of colleagues of the person who had died and treated them the same, whether it was the person’s mother, father, spouse, best friend … or their baseball teammate from high school or the colleague who may have only worked with them for six months.

“Historically, we thought of them as being on the outskirts, but she saw the memories that they had about a person were incredibly strong,” he said. Moreover, the narratives she created about those who had died by looking at their lives through such a lens ended up being incredibly powerful.

In some cases, the loved ones of those who had died learned about a side of the deceased that they had never known about.

“I thought, ‘Why can’t everyone on the planet have these experiences?’” Choudhry said.

Not everyone could be interviewed by a news anchor, but he reasoned that they could tell these unknown stories and record their memories.

He’d finally found that spark he’d been seeking … and so, he rolled up his sleeves and threw himself into the fire.

In 2022, he launched the Chptr app.

Shaking It Up

In creating an app that allows everyone to record their memories of someone who has died, Choudhry hopes to shake up the written obituary space and replace it with a living memorial of digital content – content that can be packaged into short videos and shared with the world through partnerships he’s been inking with television stations. Along the way, he’s sharing revenue with funeral home and television station allies.

He’s also working with newspapers, but taking a slightly different path there, focusing on different milestone-type events.

“Ultimately, we want Chptr to be a celebrations company,” he said. “So, for newspapers, we are working with a newspaper group in the D.C. area – InsideNOVA (which is owned by Rappahannock Media, a multimedia company that publishes a number of newspapers, magazines, websites and niche products throughout Northern and Piedmont Virginia). They launched graduation celebrations, and we are doing that with them.” In the future, Choudhry envisions doing more in the wedding, retirement and birth arenas, he said.

But it’s the obituary space, which accounts for 95% of Chptr’s business, where he thinks he can make the biggest impact. One day, he hopes that his work will pave the way for videos and television stations to replace written obituaries and newspapers as what he calls “the default solution” of announcing someone’s death.

Unlike an obituary, the stories shared via the app are not meant to be a summary of someone’s life and achievements, he said. Rather, they allow someone to look back at the time they may have gotten stuck in the rain with the person who died, or to relive the day they were cut from the basketball team with the deceased when they were in middle school.

“It’s not about posting, liking or commenting … the platform is about engaging with the community that you normally lose after 90 days,” he said.

Making Funeral Homes and Television Partners the Priority

As far as how Chptr will make its money, television stations and funeral homes are at the center of it all.

“We are the only ones working with TV stations,” he said. “We are not trying to take away newspapers from the existing guys – they still have value, and there is an art to that. We would love to see the existing companies that are out there continue to do well despite the declines in obituary sales.”

Already, Chptr has captured the attention of media companies across the country, which are seeing a decline in obituary sales, he said. “The industry is destabilizing,” he said. “However, the demand for memorials has not waned – it’s just shifting. And not to social media, but to video.”

The problem, however, has always been that television stations simply cannot produce memorial content at scale, and so they have been shut out of even thinking about sharing individual stories of everyday people with a larger audience.

“We are the solution to be able to do it,” he said. “We can help people through the toughest time of their life in a way that feels natural … that feels like a community conversation.”

The Chptr app is free for people to download and use, and advertising will never appear via the app, he said. “We will never sell user data, ever,” he vowed. “That is a hard line we will not cross, and it’s built in to every deal we strike.” He added, “There is nothing more offensive than someone stumbling across their person’s obituary on a website five years after they passed not knowing it was placed on a website with dog food ads and flower ads – it’s just awful … and the benefit of being on the outside of this is I get to see some things kind of clearly because I am not tied to a business model that was designed 25 years ago.”

Choudhry’s dream, he said is to build “a global storytelling platform,” so that every single person’s story gets captured not just when they die but for years later in the same way stories were told orally when we lived in smaller communities.

As far as turning a profit, that’s not at the forefront of his mind, he said. “We’re building an enterprise,” he said. “If I can build a company that the public trusts to be able to share these memories, then I have done something.”

Rehan Choudhry, who may seem an unlikely entrepreneur, has already raised $3.6 million as he’s rolled out Chptr.
Breaking Down the Business Side

Since no advertising is shown and since the app is free, however, the revenue has to come from somewhere.

And that’s where an optional suite of services comes in, which can be sold through the funeral home in many cases and create an additional stream of revenue.

“We are not selling the ability to memorialize,” he said. “But we are enabling brands to be able to able to sell inventory on the air and on their website to promote the lives of people they want to promote,” he said. “We have the ability to make sure everyone’s story gets told. We are able to create memorial videos at scale – and we price them incredibly low.”

How low?

A one-minute video professionally produced with audio, a voiceover and music costs $250, which includes basic service details being aired on a television partner’s website. A family can also opt not to have a video produced but to air basic service details on a TV station for $99.

As for what a funeral home can earn from selling such a video to families, it is significant: The funeral home and television station would split $218.75, which comes out to $109.38 cents each, Choudhry said.

The funeral home realizes an additional benefit through the branding that goes along with the video, which includes the funeral home’s logo, Choudhry said.

As a result, instead of a one-time notice being listed in a newspaper at a substantial cost to the family (and one that results in no or little revenue for the funeral home), the family can end up getting the service details of their loved one aired multiple times by their local television station (and the funeral home earns some revenue, too). “If it posts a week out, you will get air time several times a day with the listing,” he explained.

As to how Chptr can take such a small cut – 12.5% — Choudhry explained that the platform he’s built is based on artificial intelligence that compiles content from user-generated material, allowing it to be cost effective.

“We’ve built the YouTube for memorialization,” he declared. “When YouTube came out, companies were spending billions of dollars on servers to host their video content, and they had to purge their content. But YouTube came along and said, ‘We will hold it all for you and charge nothing.’ All we are doing is introducing a modern model. We will charge what we can reasonably ask for … if we sell a $250 video, we are not sending camera crews out. We have a system that does all of this and produces broadcast quality content, which is why television stations are willing to run it.”

Funeral homes can reap larger rewards, however, if they sell more than the one-minute video or the basic listing.

For $850, the family can have the one-minute video aired in its entirety on television instead of simply airing basic service details. Again, the funeral home would split that fee with the TV station after Chptr takes its 12.5% cut.

So, in this example, Chptr would earn 12.5% of $850, or $106.25.

The funeral home and television station would split the remaining $743.75 or earn about $371.87 each.

Families could also opt for a three-minute video that would be aired in its entirety on a local television station, which costs $2,500.

In this example, Chptr would receive $312.50, and the funeral home and television station would split the remaining $2,187.50, which would be $1,093.75 each.

“We are a platform, and we take a small percentage at the point of purchase, and there are no other fees,” Choudhry said. “Almost 90% of the revenue goes to the partners.” He added, “The idea that 350 words in a newspaper will cost you $500 is insane. With us, for $250, you get a beautiful video that you can share, and the memorial lives forever and can include an unlimited amount of content.”

Whether you invite two people to share content about your loved one on the Chptr app or 2,000 people, it’s free, he said. “You can share, and you can continue to share – you can connect with people and make those connections,” he said.

The videos have been selling well, and in ways that might be surprising to some funeral home owners. “What we are seeing is that instead of two people spending $400 on flowers, they may come together and buy the three-minute video for the family,” he said. “A lot of what we sell is gifted to the family.”

If a family only buys a one- or three-minute video through the funeral home and there is not a television station in the market, then Chptr gets its 12.5% and the funeral home gets the rest, as no television station is involved. A television station could also sell a video and air it without the involvement of a funeral home, in which case it would keep almost 90% of the revenue.  Choudhry, however, anticipates that about 90% of sales will involve revenue sharing between funeral homes and television stations.

“This is the first time that television stations have offered this … funeral homes have access to television for the first time,” he said. “There is no real conversation going on about how we make money without the other because there is upside for both – this is a new revenue stream for the television station and the funeral home, and everyone is happy.”

As of now, Choudhry believes that traditional newspapers are only serving about 25% of people who die each year through the printed newspaper. “The other 75% are thought to be price sensitive,” he said.

Through his app and with his model, however, he hopes to help a huge segment of people who’ve lost loved ones share their stories with the larger community at an affordable price – one that can help him grow and sustain a viable enterprise while also helping funeral homes and their television station partners breathe new life into their businesses.

Contact Rehan Choudhry at Chptr.

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