Adelle Archer is the CEO & co-founder of Eterneva, an innovative company that honors the lives of remarkable people and pets by turning their cremated ashes into diamonds. In 2019, Eterneva was named Consumer Startup of the Year by the Stevie Awards and was featured on Shark Tank, receiving investment from Mark Cuban. Adelle has been featured on both Inc and Forbes coveted ’30 Under 30′ lists. Prior to founding Eterneva, Adelle received her MBA in Entrepreneurship at the Acton School of Business, considered the ‘navy seal’ program for entrepreneurs. At only 23, she graduated valedictorian of her class. She 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.
Where did the idea for Eterneva come from?
When I lost my close friend & mentor Tracey Kaufman to cancer, I quickly learned there aren’t a lot of good memorial options when you lose someone special.
Urns, caskets, funeral homes – they all feel uninspiring and morose. And although cremation rates are skyrocketing (50% of the US chooses cremation today!), ashes don’t last – they usually get thrown out after a generation. We wanted to give people a better way to eternalize their loved ones and celebrate their lives so we pivoted to creating real diamonds from the carbon in ashes, and Eterneva was born.
To this day, we’re blown away by the moving stories of our customers, and have come to learn this isn’t something you do for just anyone. Behind every diamond is the story of a remarkable connection, and an incredible life that should never be forgotten. From husbands, to kids, to beloved pets – we hear about the most heroic beings to grace the planet.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
There really isn’t a typical day for me! I work a lot on the front lines of the company to tell our story to the world. Eterneva is a legacy project for my mentor Tracey, and I do everything I can to spread our message and get others on board. The death care community is vast and so welcoming. Outside of that, I’m often talking with investors or customers. Our goal is to bring our entire supply chain in house so that folks can come in and see every single step in the process in person –– right here in Austin, Texas. To do that, we rely on investors to help us raise that capital. Diamond growth machines and R&D are not inexpensive!
When talking to customers, I’m often trying to figure out how to best position something or getting their feedback on a new idea. Our customers tell 20 people on average about us, and so many of them feel so incredibly passionate about what we do. So, I work with them to help us make ourselves better with their feedback and input every step of the way.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Well, first I hire well and make sure that everyone on board agrees with our mission. For Eterneva, that is to remove the stigma surrounding grief in the U.S.
To do that, we want to transform the way our society thinks about grieving. We want to give those left behind the space to both feel the pain and celebrate the relationship and all the emotions in between.
We also want to open lines of communication around grief, so as a society we can better engage with those who are grieving and avoid making them feel isolated and misunderstood. It’s not something we’re generally taught growing up, so many will tip-toe around the topic or unknowingly say something insensitive. No one likes to see a friend suffer, so it would be extremely powerful to develop tools to lean-in rather than turn-away. This entails two things: one is talking about their loved one! Not how they died, but who they are as a person. Two is being patient and a great listener. Grief cannot be rushed.
We also hope to share the wisdom of Eterneva customers with the world – because they model an empowering approach to grief. We’ve learned so much from these extraordinary people, and the one thing we’ve noticed is that every one of them channels their pain into purpose.
They celebrate their loved one’s life unapologetically (see #thisisflorian on Instagram for a recent example) and find causes to get involved in that would make their loved one proud (see Stephen Youngerman’s campaign to walk seven 60 mile Susan G Komen walks in his wife’s honor).
At their lowest lows, they allow themselves to feel their pain and be vulnerable and honest about it with others, but then slowly shift their focus from sorrow to service. This approach won’t “heal” or “cure” – the pain will always be there – but it gives someone a sense of contribution and growth, which gives new meaning to their life.
The third movement we want to inspire is celebrating and documenting a life well-lived. There are so many remarkable people to grace this earth, who live rich lives and have outsized impacts on others with their words and actions. And yet only the ultra-famous lives are properly documented in biographies. We think it’s a shame to have a rich life forgotten or reduced to a terse obituary. We believe our loved ones deserve better, so we want to be the enablers of really capturing the details and stories of who someone was, so future generations can “know” them too.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The fact that more and more women are getting into the death care professional space! Historically, the taking care of our loved ones after they passed –– washing them and dressing them –– was women’s work. These days, there are so many women getting into the field, from female funeral directors to those starting tech companies to help in end of life planning and grief. It is just so amazing to see this coalition, of sorts, put a stake in the ground and say, “Enough!” The U.S., in particular, has very few if any grief rituals. We don’t do a lot to prepare people for the end, or make sure that their end is something they would have wanted –– if we can control that at all. And then, on the grief side, we treat the grieving experience as something to be solved, not something that must be nurtured and lived with. All of that is changing, and fast, and I really, really think it’s because a lot of women have stepped into this more male-dominated industry at least on the funeral business side and are paving a new path forward for us all.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I have a daily gratitude journal I use every morning that really helps to set my mindset up right for the day. Beyond that, I believe strongly in delegating and elevating, which is figuring out what you are good at and what you like to do, and elevating those are your most important priorities. Luckily, for most of us, we are all so different. We are all good at some things, and not at others. It is important to be honest about your strengths as well as your weaknesses, and let other people take on the important, necessary work when something is a weakness of yours. Otherwise, you risk bottlenecking the company –– which is the exact opposite of productive.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Lean into community earlier and better. I am part of an EO forum and the insight and advice, both personal and business, that I receive there is life changing. It helps keep me focused and on track. With Eterneva, we have a private Facebook community for all of our customers, and the conversations there really bring light to those who are active in there. We all know that community is helpful. Studies have shown that those with strong community bonds even live longer. And yet, there is so often this underlying tone of “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” which seems to mean “do it by yourself” in our culture.
Nothing is done by yourself. Lean into community now, as soon as you possibly can. Relationships, like so many other things, compound. The sooner you build them, the more return you get in terms of happiness and inclusion down the road.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
One of the most common investor questions we get is “how can you shorten the lead-time?” because our customer’s diamonds take 7-8 months to create. What they don’t realize is that people don’t mind waiting that long – in fact it’s a huge value add. We send them pictures, videos, and updates along the journey and really make it an experience they can lean into and savor in the wake of a tough loss. Many of our customers draw parallels to the time it takes to have a baby – it’s a rebirth. They don’t want their diamond in 60 days with expedited shipping – that’s not the business we’re in. We’re in the business of celebrating a life well lived and supporting someone over a grief wellness journey!
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Journaling –– it keeps me sane. My mind goes a million miles an hour with a ton of big ideas and then small tactical execution thoughts, and it just never stops. Journaling helps me figure out what it is I am actually thinking, and helps me balance my moods and address my emotions so I can be a better leader. It’s incredibly uplifting, too, to see that journaling helps so many people who are grieving, too. It is one of those hobbies and habits that you can take with you into whatever situation you are facing, and it helps. Plus, you’re creating content for your grandkids, too!! Future generations may read it one day, and what a gift to them to see the inner workings of their grandparents or ancestors and to recognize that the human experience is the same across generations.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Customer feedback! I started the company based on my own need, but grief can be so different for people. So, I’ve set up a customer advisory board and we run just about everything by them before we launch anything. It is super important and so helpful because they understand us, love us, and know what we are trying to do. But, something you miss things –– and the details in our business really, really matters. We can gauge with these folks what matters most in terms of what we are doing, and how to phrase it. It helps us prioritize and, ultimately, innovate.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I’ve entered into toxic business partnerships and made bad hires in the past and it all comes back to not doing enough due diligence. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to do your backchannel references (not the ones they give to you) to get the best holistic picture. A lot of people interview well, but you want to hear the full, unfiltered perspective before bringing them into the fold. We now use backchannel references as a key part of our hiring strategy and also Culture Index, which is a behavioral assessment tool that helps us see how someone is wired and ensure they’re going to be great in the role we’re hiring for / compliment the others on their team.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I donated $200 to our GoFundMe campaign that’s raising money for Covid19 PPE gear for funeral homes. We put together an industry coalition with other organizations in the deathcare space to help raise money for N95 masks because we kept hearing the heartbreaking stories from funeral home partners about having no gear, no support, and no backing as they show up every day as frontline workers. They’re the unsung heroes of this pandemic, so it felt really good to support them and hear how much it means to them to be acknowledged and supported.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I absolutely love Canva! It was the main tool I used to start the business, and we still use it today for social media graphics and email templates. It’s amazing how it can grow with you, but also amazing that it works so well and easily that anyone can make a business that looks professional from day 1 with it.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
There are so many, but recently I re-read The Seven Habits of Effective People. It’s amazing how re-reading books at different times in your life and under different circumstances can really change the lessons you learn from a book.
This time, what resonated with me most was that humans have a special gift –– and that is the gift to be able to choose our response to situations. It isn’t a gift given to other animals. For them, something happens, and they respond. Humans do that too, but we also can make a choice. We can choose to see what happens, take a moment, and then decide how we will respond to it. It’s self-consciousness. And it’s a responsibility for us all to take on. In fact, responsibility is really just a response and ability combined.
It’s a great chapter in there that felt particularly relevant for our times right now.
What is your favorite quote?
The mantra that rocked my world is, “Life doesn’t happen to you, it happens for you.” It’s SUCH a powerful reframe. I tell myself this anytime I’m in a state of stress, period of uncertainty, or facing an obstacle or hardship. It gives me a sense of ownership over the challenge and makes me appreciate that on the other side, I’ll be a stronger person.
This quote is evergreen for me, but one time it was particularly relevant was when we had to go through the process of buying a business partner out. There was a tremendous amount of uncertainty around how to go about it, how everyone would respond, what would come of the business, etc. At the time, it was one of the most emotionally difficult things I had faced, but rather than focusing on fear or being a victim, I reminded myself this was life happening for me, and calling for me to step outside my comfort zone and show myself what I’m capable of. And it couldn’t have gone better for everyone involved.
- Make smart hiring decisions, and find people who are invested in the company mission. Always do your due diligence!
- Set goals and milestones to make sure your ideas stay on track in the long term.
- Customers don’t mind waiting for a higher quality experience.