In Conversation with Adelle Archer of Eterneva
Describe your business in a few words?
Eterneva celebrates remarkable people and pets by turning their ashes into diamonds. It’s an intricate eight-month process to create these soulful remembrances, so we’ve created a journey as special as the diamond itself. From interactive video packaging to hand-written letters, to a courier service that hand-delivers the diamond, customers experience a level of thoughtfulness they’ve never seen before, which brings brightness to their grieving. We’re not just a diamond company, we’re a grief wellness brand.
What made you take the leap to start your own business?
In 2015, my mentor Tracey was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer and given three months to live. She was only 47 years old. A senior executive at a tech company in Austin, she had already accomplished much yet really was just getting started. She was afraid that she would die before having had the chance to create a legacy. What she didn’t know was that she had already made her mark on the world. When news of her diagnosis spread, people wrote to her with stories of how she had personally impacted their lives. Tracey died knowing that she had left the legacy she always wanted.
As a guardian of Tracey’s ashes, I was looking for a new way to memorialize her remarkable life, however found the memorial options for ashes to be underwhelming. I learned about turning ashes into diamonds, but the options available weren’t very transparent. I ultimately ended up teaming up with my business partner Garrett Ozar to create a more meaningful experience, one grounded in the concept of reconnecting with your loved one. It was quite the journey of building a business around grief wellness, while actually grieving, but I was able to bring my first-hand experience into the foundation of Eterneva. In the end, I chose to have Tracey’s ashes turned into a black diamond to capture her sparkling spirit, and ensure that her legacy lives on.
What was your background prior to starting your own business?
Prior to founding Eterneva, I received my MBA in Entrepreneurship at the Acton School of Business, considered the ‘navy seal’ program for entrepreneurs. From there I spent four years as a Product Marketing leader in Tech, launching major products to market with partners like Amazon, Ebay, Square, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
I’ve always been an entrepreneur in nature, but my actual first chapter was actually in politics! I’m a very mission driven person and strive to feel whatever it is I’m doing is driving a greater change in the world, which is why politics seemed like a good fit at the time. However, that experience taught me I was more of an outside-in disruptor. I wanted to make something from scratch, which is what attracted me to entrepreneurship, to create an experience that didn’t exist previously. You can create so much good through a business mechanism and I was able to pivot but keep the mission driven focus of what drives me daily.
Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?
It’s funny when you think about marketing in deathcare because a lot of the industry doesn’t do any marketing – it’s mostly word of mouth and a difficult topic to talk about. One of the most important truths that became a part of our brand early on was that it’s not about us, it’s about the remarkable people that are behind every single one of these diamonds and their stories are inspiring and relatable. We celebrated the fact that they were heroes whose stories we should be telling and we loved helping share what made these people incredible.
One of our earliest customers was Bryce Fleming, who lost his daughter Calista. Bryce wrote us a letter about who Calista was and he launched a website where he would share incredible legacy projects of her. She was an avid photographer so every year he has a photography contest for underprivileged kids. He’s written a book all about Calista that we have on our office coffee table to this day. It’s an amazing tribute to who she is and the life she lived – showcasing a beautiful father-daughter relationship and it made me think of my relationship with my father. They were such special people. He had two of our largest red diamonds made so he and his wife would have matching diamonds because she was their hearts, she was everything.
People can see their mom, dad, sister, life partner, etc., in these personal stories. You can see the dad who coached his kids sports team for 15 years or the mom who was a badass career woman who taught her daughters they could accomplish anything. When you hear of someone like that it reminds you of someone you know and for us, celebrating the lives of these remarkable people helped keep them with us and also showcase what it is we do at Eterneva.
We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?
When our first diamond machine arrived (a completely custom piece of equipment that weighed 6 tons), we went to unload it into our facility only to realize it was loaded into the freight truck sideways, and we couldn’t take it out with the forklift we had rented. This was a problem because the truck driver was effectively stuck in Austin until we could figure out how to get our diamond machine off his truck!
We cold-called every company in town with forklifts, pulleys, and industrial moving equipment to see if anyone could help us. We finally found a place with the right equipment, then had to negotiate with the trucker’s company to allow him to drive “off route.” After a lot of cajoling and creative problem-solving, we got our diamond machine off his truck and into our facility. The lesson learned from this comical incident is “trust, but verify.” We trusted our supplier’s preferred logistics companies knew what they were doing, so we didn’t verify ahead, “All we need to get the machine off the truck is a forklift — right?” This verification step can save you a lot of headaches when unexpected inevitably happens!
What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?
Starting Eterneva is by far my greatest achievement, because it couldn’t be more aligned with the vision I drew out for my life: to create something that helps someone through a difficult period in their life and will continue to have a lasting impact after I’m gone. But what makes Eterneva all the more special is that it’s also been the vehicle through which I get to keep Tracey my mentor’s legacy alive, because she’s the life that started it all, and I get to talk about her every single day #RememberRemarkably
When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?
I love asking potential new hires “What about our mission resonated with you on a personal level?” It’s my favorite for us because it’s important for someone to have a persona “why” no matter how talented they are. What we’re trying to do is change a culture around grief and death. If every member of our team isn’t invigorated from our mission then we won’t be able to reach our goal of shifting that culture. If everyone has a personal why as to how this resonates in their soul, their motivation comes from a different place and ultimately when obstacles arise they end up tapping into a greater reserve of motivation. We want to make sure every person who walks through the door deeply believes in what we do. Actually, the first activity we have every new hire do is write a blog post about their why.
As far as hiring tips and strategies, we are big believers in the behavioral assessment Culture Index. We have a profile of what we want in a role and when candidates take the assessment it creates a two-way conversation between us. It’s a tool that allows us to place people in roles that they don’t have to behaviorally flex to fit, moreso ones they are wired to already do and plays to their strengths.
How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Everyone has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in some way, but we saw a true struggle in the funeral-home service as many loved ones weren’t able to physically gather and celebrate the lives of their loved ones. This past year Eterneva has been focused on helping the funeral-home service industry shift and survive during the pandemic by bringing innovation and technology to the death care and grief space so they can do what they’ve done for centuries: help the bereaved honor and memorialize their loved ones. We launched digital Dedication Pages to allow customers to share updates and celebrate their loved one’s diamond journey with friends and family as they lean into a positive legacy project together. At a time where people can’t gather for funerals, Eterneva is one of the only options for a community to have a digital-first grieving experience and a positive outlet to celebrate someone’s life.
What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years? What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?
We’ve loved working with the local communities through funeral home partnerships and helping them modernize their services. As we continue to grow, expand our internal team, and continue these thoughtful partnerships, people can expect to see additional offerings from Eterneva to memorialize their loved ones and pets. If 2020 has taught me anything, it’s to use your power for good. We have been able to do that with so many beautiful partnerships this year and I’m thrilled for what the future holds.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?
I have learned, and love sharing with others, to not waste your time on bad opportunities. It’s worth being patient, and testing and evaluating a lot of different business models before truly committing to one. It’s a LOT of work to build a company, and you need to put yourself out there from a finance and reputation standpoint. Nothing is worse than realizing three years in that customers don’t really need your product so it’s a hard sell, or your business is completely at the whim of Google changing their algorithm!
How have you managed to stay grounded this year?
I genuinely know I’m changing a person’s relationship with loss and that means the world to me. Knowing my job comes with an enormous responsibility keeps me grounded; this year especially.
Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?
I believe in work/life integration – it’s less about strict rations and more about overall values. One of our core values at Eterneva is to “make it count on and off the field.” We’re always looking for our employees to bring their values into the company, practicing and living their values every day. When you show up every day with energy and enthusiasm, there is ultimately a drive to do great work. Since we work hard, we also want people to work just as hard off the field by recharging their batteries and focusing on their relationships and their personal lives. We want to ensure there is intentionality for how we’re nurturing work, life, and values.
What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?
My first job was as a waitress, which is where I learned to work hard, think on my feet, and sell (it’s also how I became a wine snob – you’ve got to know wine to sell wine!) Going way back though, every summer I ran an upscale lemonade stand at the local Country Club, camping out at hole 9 and selling pricey ginger lemonade, mint iced tea, and homemade banana bread. We were little middle school hustlers and made thousands of dollars each summer doing that!
What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?
- Start with a game plan – I think it’s important at the beginning of the week to lay-out the top focuses and then re-center on this list every day. I also love asking myself “what’s the one thing I really need to get done today” and focusing on that first thing in the morning.
- Block your time – I’ve found a lot of value in block scheduling my day and holding myself accountable and using that time with intention. If I give myself one hour to get something done, I will solely focus on exactly those needs for that time before moving onto the next item.
- Turning off notifications – The distractions double the time it takes to do something. Take a break from the slack notifications and silence your phone. It’s incredible how much more productive we become once those distractions are minimized.
What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?
It means finding your fire and figuring out what topics you could give an impassioned speech about to nail-down what that entrepreneurial journey will look like for you. It also means learning and gaining knowledge wherever you can get it. Some best wisdom even comes from conversations with your customers and/or audience. And every great Entreprenista is a stellar observer; paying attention to the shifts in culture, society roles, and values.