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ASCEND EXECUTIVE INTERVIEW SERIES

Sit-Down in the C-Suite with Adelle Archer, Eterneva CEO

How customer experiences are transforming the death care industry

By Ekaterina Konovalova, Chris Perez and Vanessa Le

FEBRUARY 6, 2020 | TECHNOLOGY

At age 29, Adelle Archer lives life to the fullest. She is a proud member of Forbes’ 30 Under 30 club and appeared on Shark Tank in 2019, where she and Eterneva’s co-founder Garrett Ozar secured investment from Mark Cuban. 

Her company, Eterneva, serves in the death care industry, yet Archer and her team are actively changing the way people remember life.

Eterneva uses cutting-edge technology to make diamonds from ashes, and these diamonds are accompanied by a heavily personalized customer experience journey that spans over the eight-month process. Custom jewelry and customer journeys go hand in hand at Eterneva, and the company’s emphasis on grief wellness has transformed the way customers honor lost loved ones.

We sat down with Archer to get an exclusive look behind the scenes of Eterneva’s “ashes to diamonds” process at their headquarters office in Austin, Texas. Archer shared her story of co-founding Eterneva in 2015, and it is her humble attitude toward serving customers that has built a vibrant, authentic community around “remembering remarkably.”

Ascend: Why did you launch Eterneva?

Archer: Originally, I was going into politics — my undergrad was in political science and economics. I think what was interesting about that first chapter was that I went into it because I wanted to make a difference in the world, and I really saw there were a lot of big problems to be solved. My hypothesis was that’s where I could solve them. I think quickly I realized maybe not politics, but something else.

It continues to be true that I’m very mission driven. The next chapter was getting my MBA in Entrepreneurship here in Austin, and then I went into tech for a few years. I had a phenomenal career in technology, but a lot of that was in service of preparing myself for going and launching my own company. We were originally going to be starting a regular lab-grown diamond company, and then when Tracey passed away, that was just something that was happening in my private life — figuring out what to do to honor her. I started to discover this “ashes to diamonds” process and the opportunities for just taking this experience to the level that I think a modern consumer would want and expect. It just really feels like life happens for you sometimes. You find the thing that you were meant to do, and you couldn’t have planned it. Here I am, and I love it.

It just really feels like life happens for you sometimes. You find the thing that you were meant to do, and you couldn't have planned it. Here I am, and I love it.

Adelle Archer

CEO, Eterneva

Archer’s close friend and mentor, Tracey, passed away in 2015 after being diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. As a guardian of Tracey’s ashes, Archer decided to have them turned into a black diamond ring that she wears every day.

Shown above, Archer wears a black diamond ring on her right ring finger in honor of her mentor and close friend Tracey, who passed away in 2015 from pancreatic cancer.

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Ascend: How did Eterneva build its brand identity?

Archer: The first thing we did from a marketing standpoint — that I still, to this day, think was our most valuable investment — was investing in our brand identity. Not the visual side yet, it was just putting on paper what our core identity is all about. Who are we here to serve? What are we really all about? What’s our mission? … It just really up-leveled our story and everything that we say and do. I think it was a big reason that we saw a lot of early success with PR, and it comes down to the quality of storytelling.

Ascend: What is unique about Eterneva’s social media strategy?

Archer: It comes back to being really clear on what our mission is and the change that we’re trying to to drive in the world. We want to change a culture around death, and we want to serve someone on a grieving journey. So, it takes knowing our customers incredibly well and just being insanely authentic with one another. We’re humble, we’re bright, we’re caring — we actually care about all of the details that made their loved one so special. 

All of that is really well pulled through on our social media. You see a very vibrant, authentic community. All of our customers follow us and comment on everything we do. We have an open dialog in a way that, if you ask any funeral home or other folks that have been in more traditional death care, they’ve been terrified of social media because it’s obviously something that’s so sensitive, and they don’t want to say the wrong thing or upset somebody.

I think that’s what Eterneva has done really differently. We’re not afraid to do that — we lead with our heart, and as a result, we’ve built this incredibly vibrant community. It’s a really social-first strategy.

We don’t do ads about ourselves. This it’s not about the “ashes to diamonds” process; it’s about the story of a remarkable life that, of course they became a diamond because they were the most amazing human ever. You share that video because the story in it is so good.

Ascend: How does Eterneva use video storytelling to capture the customer experience?

Archer: Something that you just know you need to capture on video it is when the diamond comes home, we call it the ‘homecoming.’ This is very special eight-month journey — we’re building all this anticipation with the updates, and then the day that it comes home, it’s a big symbolic day for a lot of our customers. They feel like, “Oh my gosh, my loved one is finally coming back!” There’s a rollercoaster of emotions you feel that day.

Archer demonstrates Eterneva's diamond machining technology used to create diamonds from ashes, a process that spans over an 8-month timeline.

Archer: Particularly for our customers that were local, we spoke with them, “We’d love to just drive out and be a part of this day and help deliver the diamond. Capturing the emotion and joy — it’s the best. There’s nothing better than watching somebody’s reaction when they see their diamond for the first time.

Capturing the emotion and joy — it’s the best. There's nothing better than watching somebody's reaction when they see their diamond for the first time.

Adelle Archer

CEO, Eterneva

Archer: For one of our customers, his wife passed from breast cancer, and she was a huge supporter of Susan G. Komen. She was involved in every fundraiser and every walk that they hosted. Up until the month that she passed away, she was on the sidelines in her wheelchair cheering women on. To this day, her husband now walks in all 7K and 5K walks across the entire country every single year while wearing her pink diamond around his neck. You’re like, “Somebody needs to tell this story!” It’s just so sweet.

Archer stands in front of the "Inauguration" wall at the Eterneva headquarters office in Austin, Texas. Every Tuesday and Thursday, the Eterneva social media team hosts inauguration ceremonies on Instagram and Facebook Live to engage with Eterneva customers honoring their lost loved ones.

Ascend: How does Eterneva manage its marketing technology stack?

Archer: One of the best pieces of advice I got from a mentor, Erik Huddleston — he’s the President of Cision — he just really believes in instrumenting your company before you grow in scale. He said, “I can’t emphasize enough the importance of clean data and well-setup systems that integrate with each other, so that you’re not growing at breakneck speed and realizing that all of your systems are breaking.” 

That’s something we really took to heart and invested in early on — having a good infrastructure of systems here internally — everything from the marketing automation software to order management systems. We now even have an eye towards building something a bit more custom to manage the whole journey from end-to-end with the diamond.

Ascend: How does Eterneva respond to current industry trends?

Archer: From the PR side, what’s been really interesting is, within the last year there’s been a groundswell of interest around “death positive” and “dying well” trends. People are starting to talk about, “What do we want our end of life to look like?” Do we want to die in a hospital, or would you rather be at home with family in a nicer environment? Death doulas are becoming increasingly popular from reimagining that experience of death. As more and more media is talking about that — every major outlet this year wrote a piece on dying well — what’s unique about what Eterneva is adding to that conversation is that while everyone’s talking about, “What do you want your death to be?” We say, “Now that person’s gone, what about the people that are left behind and the grief wellness journey that they need to go on?” It’s a really good time to be having that conversation; it’s one of mental health; it’s one of changing the perspective around death, and the time is right for it.”

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