We Interviewed The CEO Who’s Making It Possible To Become Trees When We Die

“The one who plants trees,knowing that she will never sit in their shade, has at least started to understand the meaning of life.”


A few weeks ago, I had the honor and privilege to interview Matthew Kochmann, the Founder and CEO of Transcend, a Death Start-Up on a mission to make becoming a tree possible when we die. 

It’s interesting, because when I first caught wind of Transcend, I mistakenly thought it was already possible to become a tree when you die. 

I saw the Capsula Mundi concept go viral almost a decade ago, and mistakenly thought it to be more than a design concept. 

Turns out, it’s not (and that’s what inspired Matthew in the first place – which he’ll explain more in our interview below).

Now, back in the present day, weeks after my interview with Matthew, I’m still contemplating some of these big shifts and opportunities he sees in the funeral profession, and death industry as a whole.


Now, I have to warn you…

If you’re a very conservative, burial & black tie kind of funeral director, this interview may ruffle some feathers. And trust us, it’s a good thing to get your feathers ruffled. 

I think this profession has needed a good feather ruffling for some time now. And thus far, all feathers ruffled have led to huge innovation and adaptation to keep our profession relevant and sustainable for the future of consumers’ needs.

So without further ado, I present to you a much needed, industry-refreshing, honest conversation about the landscape of death, dying and funerals.


First off, I’m so curious about the name Transcend. Can you tell us about it?

The name was a hard one to crack. To try and come up with a brand name to help shift people’s relationships to death is a hard one. 

We talked about what word we could use to help show people how nature teaches us about the circle of life, about the continuity of life, and the immortality that exists in nature. We kept using the word “transcend” when we were searching for the name. 

Also, I’m a Vedic Meditator and a Transcendental Meditation (TM) student, so transcending and transcendence has been a big part of my journey for a while now. So eventually, “Transcend” it was.


What particular aspects of death and funerals do you think could be helpful to transcend?

Silicon Valley loves the word “disruption”. But this industry doesn’t need disruption, it needs some reflection, and transcendence. 

Like, let’s transcend misconceptions around death. 

Let’s transcend the ways in which we used to do things.

Let’s transcend fear around death. 

Let’s transcend lack of transparency around all aspects of the dying process. 

Let’s transcend our preconceived notions around the totality of death.

It’s a more proactive and optimistic version of progress than disruption, especially with the sensitivity of the subject matter in this space.


How did Transcend come into fruition?

I saw the Italian designer concept for Capsula Mundi, the burial tree pod, go viral some years ago. I immediately thought to myself “of course, I wanted to be planted as a tree”. So I told my family, “when I die, I want to be planted as a tree”. And I assumed it to be possible, and moved on. Meanwhile, I was an early employee of Uber and launched the New York office and had an entire career that had nothing to do with death. 

However, the idea to reach out to the designers of Capsula Mundi circled back around, so I did, on a whim. I asked about the status of the project, and offered to help scale it up. What became clear to me was that this was simply a design concept. Not a business. So the thing I wanted for myself, that I thought existed, didn’t exist after all. And if I wanted to become a tree, I actually had to go out and create the path to becoming one, myself. 

I would have never imagined myself within this space even 3 years ago. I believe what led me to this project was a confluence of my own personal spiritual journey into seeing death as the ultimate teacher. 


We’d love to hear more about this relationship with death you’ve cultivated.

I have had an interesting journey with death growing up. Between mental health challenges, suicidal ideations and near-death experiences, there has been a death consciousness emerging from within me and a flirtation with this subject matter that’s been present for me for most of my life.

Ram Dass was one of my biggest teachers and inspirations on death.As someone who grew up as a Jewish kid on Long Island, attending Hebrew School and Bar Mitzvahs, I suffered under a very boring version of dogma that just wasn’t resonant with me at all. It made me jaded and anti-religious.

Then later on in life, I found an idea of a higher power through Emerson, Thoreau and transcendentalism and different nature-based philosophies. Ram Dass really solidified that for me, in helping me identify with death on more of a soul level, than a body level.

Now, I  have a tattoo on my left wrist that says “It’s a rental”. It’s a good reminder not to identify too much with the egoic, physical body and really identify with something larger than myself. This helped me make a shift from “Ego” to “Eco” –  knowing I am not separate from nature. I am actually nature that’s living and breathing, and I will transform into more actual nature… if I allow myself to.


What are the greatest challenges, if any, that you’ve had to face in creating Transcend?

Because our business model is much more complicated than “we’re going to sell tree pod burials”, there have been plenty of challenges. Regulations are very intense, very strict and very state specific. I’ve learned, through this process, that there are so many layers of regulation that are completely different in all 50 states. 

Fortunately, green burial is currently legal in all 50 states. And, it’s a trend that’s becoming more popular. There is much consumer interest. But the options aren’t keeping up at a pace that makes green burial economically attractive to consumers. Especially for consumers who see money as a big factor, cremation is hard to compete with. 


Cremation is certainly a hot topic right now. What is your stance on cremation?

Cremation is tough. When I attended my first industry conferences, I was surprised that people in the funeral profession weren’t more concerned about this trend towards cremation 

(editor’s note: there definitely were initial concerns about cremation in the profession, however, we believe this worry has lessened in recent years simply due to the process of normalization). 

What cremation is actually doing is contracting the death industry as a whole. We are currently a $21 billion industry. If every single client family shifted to cremation, we would contract into a $6 billion industry. 

I see consumers not running towards cremation because they want cremation. They’re simply running away from traditional burial practices. They’re running away from egregious costs. They’re running away from being embalmed and being put in a casket in the ground. They’re running away from well maintained and mowed rows of headstones in the middle of urban areas because… how or why is that inspiring? 

Instead, they’re opting for cremation which is inherently a pollutive act, and it’s also a destructive act. For me, it goes against everything I know about and believe in. Cremation prevents us from becoming the viable nutrients we are and can be, if allowed, in and for nature. 


So you’re saying that cremation is not only unnatural, but also destructive to the environment. Can you tell us more about that?

First off, there is zero nutritional value in cremation ashes. Of course, there is some value in cremation around cost and convenience. Also, families like the idea of keeping artifacts at home to symbolize their loved ones. Let’s also consider that more than 60% of cremated remains end up in a family member’s closet. There have to be better ways here. 


Do you see harmful societal effects of cremation as well?

Yes. Cremation is very much a pushing away of death. It’s like: “Ok, someone just died and I’m dealing with too much. What is the cheapest and easiest solution for me not to have to deal with this?” That is so sad. We need to slow down. And, we really need to encourage more home funerals, and families sitting with the body for a day or two, if the law allows in the area. 

It’s important to take time and connect with the dead. Dressing them, having ceremonies. There’s so much power in that. And I worry because cremation gives people an easy out, or a fast solution to not deal with something that is very difficult, but powerful.


It seems there is definitely a resistance to these new ways, even if the old ways are harmful. What would you say to a funeral professional wanting to embrace new ways, but is scared of embracing something untraditional?

My question for them, with all respect, is, what are they scared of? In every profession in this world, it’s all about consumer choice. Take the Funeral Consumers Alliance, which is a consumer advocacy group to protect consumers, for example. Their primary agenda items these days are lobbying for deregulation in the funeral industry because the existing funeral industry has become so over-regulated to protect entrenched interests.

Ultimately, green burial is just another option. At the end of the day, local funeral homes are a community center with a retail showroom that they can educate and inspire families with. This is really a matter of offering more choice to families. If funeral homes can offer a product that creates awe with their families while also giving them the same margin they’re also receiving on some of these other offerings, why wouldn’t you offer this service? 


Is Transcend a direct to consumer offering, or are you also partnering with funeral homes and cemeteries on this?

It’s a combination of all the above. Our job is to make this wish to be a tree when you die to be possible. And we want to offer an experience where families can sign up, have the price be transparently known, and make their wishes clear. And when they die, everything is seamlessly taken care of so when they go, their family doesn’t have to worry about money, logistics, or anything else. 

This is a one-stop-shop offering, but with regulations varying from state to state, it will depend on if this is offered in funeral homes. Our goal is to make this experience as seamless as possible for the families, in a digestible, all-inclusive offering. And we’ll take care of the regulations that vary state to state, and partner with who we need to partner with, to make this happen. 


And we saw on your website that this does include an actual service, if desired. Tell us more about that.

Our intention is to build a non-denominational Nature Church in our forests to host these types of services that inspire awe and make families feel connected to the land, while also having all the modern amenities of what we know funerals, in the digital age, need. 

We learned in the pandemic that people love attending Zoom funerals, because so many more people can attend who aren’t geographically proximate. For us to build spaces to host these services, and link up digitally, that’s exciting. Families will be able to customize our venue as they’d like. And if they’d like to host something at a different location, we can help them, but our basic offering includes our space and our staffing. Anything above and beyond that would be covered by the family. 


How has Transcend been received by your audience so far?

It’s been fantastic! There’s a lot of excitement around the concept. There’s a lot of eagerness to get involved and join what we call the “Future Tree Movement”. It’s about getting the momentum rolling that “Hey, I want to be a tree when I die!”. And, proving that there is desire for this in the market. 


When do you hope to start serving families?

As many in the industry know, this is a complicated product to bring to market. My team and I are diligently working through regulatory and real estate approvals across several different states currently, with hopes of our first forest opening in 2023. 

We are not currently serving at-need families or creating pre-need contracts just yet. Folks can join the “Future Tree” movement now by purchasing a $100 founding membership. This $100 goes straight to our non-profit partner, One Tree Planted, to plant 100 trees in reforestation projects around the world, while also locking in deep financial discounts on our burial product once reservations open up. Our intended audience right now is Millennials… folks in their 30’s and 40’s… although grandparents and folks approaching their end-of-life are excited too. So we are eager to get this to market and serve those interested, faster.

But one of the most immediate ways in which we are serving families now is through our pet product. We’ve developed a Tree Burial Kit for Pets that is currently available on our website. It contains all of the materials and instructions one would need to perform a Tree Burial of their pet close to home. This is important because pets are often the first experience of death that a family encounters together, and it can be a profoundly powerful teacher for young children.


What have been your biggest lessons in this process of creating and launching Transcend?

I’ve learned that the younger generations are very excited to talk about death. There has been a bit of a cooling around the fear of death. Maybe this is because of climate change being an existential threat to our civilization. Perhaps because of the pandemic, which was a very individual threat. So death has been in our faces for the better part of the last decade. 

Also, now is a time where society is much more open to having this conversation around death. We have so much more research around trees, nature, and the “Wood Wide Web”. We are learning how nature communicates and works and we’re continuing to learn, as well.  

We hope this project helps to color and shift perspective on people’s relationship to death and mortality. Like, how we can help people flip a switch from fear to a place of possibility?



Any last words of wisdom to share with us?

Green burial and natural burial are the oldest traditions and methodologies we know around death. It’s just putting a body in the dirt and letting it return to nature. But we’ve gotten so far away from that. Even cremation is a fairly modern invention. Take ritual cremation in India for example… people think that Hindus have been performing large-scale ritual cremation for thousands of years. But truthfully, cremation in its current form came to be during British Colonialism for logistical and health concerns. These are all very new ideas. So what we’re trying to do is make what is old, new again.

It was such a pleasure and honor to interview Matthew Kochman. If you’re interested in learning more about Transcend, or want to donate to the cause, please visit their website at https://www.wetranscend.com or give them a follow on Facebook or Instagram.


Did this interview inspire you? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

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