Year Founded: 2017
Technology: Online service making it easy, fast and secure to set up your estate plan
Headcount: 6 employees and 4 contractors, all internal at the company’s Downtown Works office in San Diego
In the summer of 2017, San Diego State University alum Cody Barbo met with Daniel Goldstein, a longtime friend he had met years prior, to have initial discussions about potential new ventures. It was in that discussion that Trust & Will was born. They joined forces with their friend and co-founder, Brian Lamb, and the rest is history.
Trust & Will is modernizing the $170 billion estate planning industry with an easy, fast, and secure way for people to set up their estate plan online. This easy-to-use service was created with the millennial consumer in mind. In less than 20 minutes, users can complete their estate plan, having only to sign the (secure) documents that are subsequently shipped to them.
We chatted with CEO Barbo about his experience being an Aztec entrepreneur and the strong entrepreneurial foundation he was able to build for his business through leadership roles at San Diego State University and subsequently in his own startups.
We got some additional insight from co-founder Lamb, who, like Barbo, is a former Aztec and serves as Head of Product at Trust & Will; and from co-founder Goldstein, who initially came up with the concept for the company.
Trust & Tech: Trust & Will’s internal team has designed and developed all of their own software and their entire suite of products. The startup’s website allows customers to create an account where they can make a customized, state-specific, legally valid will (starting at $69) in about 10 minutes. Users can also create a trust (starting at $399) and/or guardian (starting at $39) in, more or less, a similar amount of time. Should forms need any updating, users can easily access and edit their documents at any time by simply signing into their accounts and making the necessary changes.
Planting the Seed: Both Goldstein and Barbo’s fascination with entrepreneurship started at a young age. “I’ve always been a geek at heart. I used to sneak out of class in high school to go watch Steve Jobs present the keynotes for Apple product releases,” Barbo said. This lead Barbo to work at an Apple retail store during college. His admiration of successful leaders did not stop there. The young entrepreneur recently reminisced on meeting billionaire businessman and Shark Tank star Mark Cuban 15 years ago, when he was just a child.
Goldstein grew up in a family of business-starters. “Both of my grandparents and my father were entrepreneurs, so it could be said I actually had no choice but to end up as an entrepreneur,” he said. He recalls having a fascination with business early on. “From a young age, I was hustling to build businesses, whether it’s lawn care, necklaces, rock sales, or eBay, I loved the idea I could make money. As I grew older, I was constantly thinking of ways to make money that others weren’t seeing, which led me to a number of opportunities in college and post-college to try my hand at entrepreneurship,” Goldstein said.
Lamb discovered entrepreneurship after spending his “entire career at design & software development agencies, building products for other people and brands. I love building products with a talented group of people but always wanted to have a little more ownership over what we created,” he said.
Learn & Lead: During his time as a communication student at SDSU, Barbo was heavily involved on campus. He joined various student organizations including Phi Kappa Theta fraternity, Interfraternity Council, Associated Students, and a Greek honor society called Order of Omega. At one instance or another, he held the ultimate leadership position in all four of those organizations: president. Arguably the most significant presidential role Barbo held was that of Associated Students, where he was responsible for the leadership of a $25 million organization on a campus of over 35,000 students. Barbo says that being student body president was his first experience in “a large and impactful role in terms of how many people (students and faculty alike) we worked with. This idea of helping people (at scale) propelled down the path of entrepreneurship.”
After graduating from college in 2012, Barbo founded two startups before landing on Trust & Will. His first venture was Niche, a private location-based photo sharing application that allowed users to create a ‘niche’ at any location, invite friends, and share photos. His next startup was Industry, a professional network and hiring solution for the service and hospitality industry, which Barbo built from the ground up, taking the company from an idea to millions of dollars raised to build out its platform.
Each of his three ventures has provided Barbo with a unique learning experience: “With Niche, better market validation before pursuing a company; with Industry, invest in professional coaching/leadership development for the co-founding team; and with Trust & Will, not making the same mistakes I’ve made in the past,” he said.
Aztec for Life: Although he graduated from SDSU in 2012, Barbo has continued to play an active role in the community making him a true Aztec for life. “SDSU has always had a special place in my heart, and I have always been active in mentoring other student leaders, even in the years beyond my own time as a collegiate,” he said, referring to his role as a mentor to current students as part of SDSU’s Aztec Mentor Program. Additionally, Barbo sits on the SDSU Alumni Board of Advisors, a position he received serendipitously.
“I was coming back to campus to give talks to the student government, to my fraternity, to entrepreneurs, at leadership summits, at a TEDx Talk, and more. And funny enough, one of my neighbors in my building downtown, Stacey Wolfson, actually recruited me to the board. And now, about a year and a half in, I’m serving as VP of Partnerships with some engaging initiatives in the works for 2019. I love that I can still make an impact alongside an amazing group of other diehard Aztecs,” he said.
Founding Friends: The founding trio met long before the conception of Trust & Will. “I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Daniel Goldstein and Brian Lamb for years. In the early days of my last startup, Industry, we had presented to the agency that they worked for at the time. We have stayed in touch ever since and over the summer of 2017 Daniel and I synced up to have an initial discussion around some potential new ventures, and thus, Trust & Will was born. Daniel and Brian have been phenomenal co-founders and we have become close friends over the last 15 months,” Barbo said.
When asked what drew him to build a company with his partners, Goldstein said, “My co-founders are some of the most talented people I’ve ever worked alongside. I met Cody at a pitch competition and immediately knew we would be friends. I’ve never met a better communicator, and most of being a startup is communicating a vision. As to Brian, I worked with him at an agency for almost 3 years, and our working styles clicked. He brings a level of design and organization which is the perfect complement, plus he’s the most talented designer I’ve ever worked alongside.”
Lamb shared that he and Goldstein “always had a great working relationship and had often discussed starting something together. He left the agency a few months before I did and we kept in touch, hashing out different business ideas and concepts. Cody is an experienced and talented entrepreneur and was also a free agent at the time, figuring out his next move. Daniel brought all of us together over the idea of modernizing the estate planning industry. The more we looked at it, the more opportunity we saw, and we knew we had to do it.”
Background: It’s not common to see young entrepreneurs pursue an arguably dry industry like estate planning. The trio saw an opportunity in the $170 billion industry and decided to do something about it. “In the summer of 2017, during the crypto craze, I started asking the question of what would happen to everybody’s digital assets if they died. This led me backwards into traditional assets and I was blown away by how traditional the industry still was. I noticed nobody had built a brand I would trust my mom or family to use, so we set out to help our friends and family, and in turn, all of America, with Trust & Will,” Goldstein said.
Kudos: Trust & Will has been making a buzz lately with well-deserved awards and recognition. For one, the company was named by the San Diego Venture Group (SDVG) on its Cool Companies 2018 list, a compilation of the “fastest-growing, most exciting startups in San Diego,” according to the SDVG website. Lamb shared other exciting accomplishments. “Getting accepted into Techstars (a seed accelerator) at the end of 2017 was a huge accomplishment and validation for us as founders. We were still in the ideation stage at that time and we didn’t even have a product to market yet. Joining an elite group of fellow entrepreneurs and founders who had been in business for years gave us some valuable resources and insights to move Trust & Will in the right direction.” Other achievements, like “Being a semifinalist for Startup of the Year and being featured in CB Insights have all been huge accomplishments over the past year as well. Some of the best recognitions we receive are all the positive reviews from people we’ve helped across the country,” Lamb said.
The Trust & Will team also made waves in 2017 when they won third place in the John G. Watson Quick Pitch Competition, San Diego’s hottest event of its hosted annually by SDVG and Tech Coast Angels. The win undoubtedly increased their visibility in the San Diego tech scene.
Meaningful Mentorships: When it comes to mentorships, Barbo believes they are “so important in life, but especially if you go down the path of entrepreneurship.” He has had different types of mentors, sharing “on the personal side, I connected with John Buffini, of ARC Leadership Dynamics (of all places at the gym ha ha). He has had a truly profound impact on my development over the years, so much so that he attended my wedding.” Barbo’s resourcefulness has allowed him to “have a rolodex of a few founders in my network too that I reach out to for very high-level insights. One in particular is Yinon Weiss, Founder & CEO of CarDash (who I initially connected with over Twitter). There are several others that I’ve met through the community and digitally who have been instrumental in my success.”
Words of Wisdom: Starting your own business can be a daunting task. Having been in those shoes, Lamb speaks from experience when he recommends that young entrepreneurs “Be comfortable with things not being perfect. Recognize the things that need to improve and use that as fuel to make things better. If you are building a software product, there will always be features that can be improved or good ideas and concepts that didn’t get implemented. Keep at it, learn from your users, and the next release will always be better.”
Goldstein encourages young entrepreneurs to “learn how to execute and move fast. Action and momentum speak stronger than any idea. Everybody has ideas and they don’t matter. The mark of a true entrepreneur is the person who can turn their idea into a reality.” He, like Lamb, also warns against perfectionism. “Figure out a way to move forward with the easiest version of an idea and get your product into the hands of customers as soon as possible, well before it’s perfect,” Goldstein said.
San Diego Scene: Barbo shares that he “could not be more bullish on the San Diego startup scene,” citing a “record number of financings, more companies setting up shop in town and recruiting from outside the community (SF Bay Area/LA), and the talent and entrepreneurs coming out of SDSU and UCSD.” He shares that the scene could still use some improving, “venture capital is still lacking in town, and most early stage, VC-backed companies raised money from out-of-town investors.” Looking ahead, he “can’t wait to see some of the founders and early team members of companies that exit over the next few years start companies of their own and actively angel invest in startups.
Looking Ahead: This is looking to be a big year for Trust & Will. “2019 is the year that people will know our name,” Barbo said. The startup’s team is kicking off the year with “a new site, three products in market (Trusts, Wills, and Guardian), new partnerships we’ll be announcing throughout the year, and more. Our vision is to be the TurboTax for modern estate planning and we’re only just getting started.”
Breaking Techos: Trust & Will announced on January 24, 2019 that the startup raised $2 million from a variety of investors, including Techstars and Wolfpack Ventures (which is owned by Downtown Works founder Wolf Bielas). The startup also attracted backing from Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund, Luma Launch, Halogen Ventures, Walket Capital, Western Technology Investment and a number of angel investors.
Taco ‘bout a Recommendation: Barbo currently has two taco joints dueling for his #TechoTuesday attention: “Tacos El Gordo is hard to beat, but I’ve become a big fan of King & Queen Cantina.” Lamb lives in Point Loma, “So I gotta keep it local: Mitch’s Seafood fish tacos.” Goldstein is loyal to Taco Stand.
Hoppy Place: You can catch Goldstein enjoying a beer at “any brewery in Northpark—or put it in a plastic cup for the beach.” Lamb, on the other hand, likes to kick back at Eppig Brewing in Point Loma.
Editor’s Note: AzTech is an original Fresh Brewed Tech series on San Diego State University Aztecs (current and alumni) who are blazing a trail in technology and entrepreneurship. These innovative ideas born in the halls of academia are making a great impact on our ecosystem and beyond. Don’t miss these compelling stories of passion, hard work, and problem solving by the next generation of entrepreneurs. #GoAzTechs