Death has always been a constant at the end of the human experience. Because it is a universally experienced event, strong traditions surround how it is handled for most people. But as with everything else, traditions grow and evolve as people look for options that are more meaningful to them personally. Throw COVID-19 into the mix, and suddenly normal gatherings and burial practices can't be observed in the same way.
Eterneva founder and CEO Adelle Archer started the company when she was struggling with a loss of her own.
"I actually ended up in death care kind of accidentally," says Adelle. "It just chooses you. My co-founder, Garrett and I, were originally starting a regular lab grown diamond company. And, in a very separate side of my life, while I was starting that company, I had my very close friend and my business mentor get diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. And shortly after, she passed. Her name is Tracy. For me, and Tracy's aunt and a couple of her friends, we were looking for something unique that we could do to honor her.".
The traditional models didn't fit what Tracy's friends and family were looking for. They wanted a special type of memorial. "It was just really, really surprising," says Adelle. "That was my first foray into looking in death care and realizing -- wow, there's really not been a lot of innovation here. We wanted something that was personal and meaningful. I think my takeaway was like -- wow, we really lack meaningful ways to honor remarkable people."
And that was the beginning of Eterneva. Through her research, Adelle discovered there was carbon in Tracy's ashes. Extracting that could lead to the creation of a real diamond that would provide a long-lasting memorial piece, allowing select friends and family to keep her close at all times. "So, that's what Eterneva became about," says Adelle. "And this is Tracy's diamond. I wear her every day."
Not only are people looking for new options, but the conversations around death are also changing on a cultural level. Joel, founder of Grave Woman, licensed funeral director, and embalmer notes why Eterneva has been such a popular solution for changes in death tech.
"There's a conversation that's happening on social media that we've never seen before. Just an openness and a willingness to talk about hard topics," he says. "So it's not just talking about ourselves and how cool the ashes to diamonds processes. The science behind it is pretty rad-but really, what's more special, is that there are unbelievable stories behind every single one of these diamonds. And people that would just absolutely blow you away."
Leaders in the future of the death care industry feel like there is a huge opportunity to use technology to appeal to human needs in grieving. The new advances can make the options more accessible, more affordable, and more personalized for every experience. For a long time, the industry has addressed death with a cookie-cutter approach. The one-size-fits-all experience is expensive and doesn't address the individuality of the life lost.
Eterneva offers a completely different experience.
"So, something that we did at Eterneva was make the experience around the diamond creation process really important and really special," says Adelle. It's more than just getting the diamond. Eterneva creates a special tribute of beautiful memories and updates that help keep the family in the loop. Even the updating process became part of the ritual for Eterneva.
"We wanted to make it very transparent: hey, here's what's going on with your diamond," she says. "We learned very quickly that people valued the updates and having something positive to look forward to. So, we built out a whole technology experience around that. Now, every update is on a page where we're celebrating them, their loved one. This process allows for their friends, family and their community to really rally around that person as their diamond is being made. And over an eight-month period, we facilitate a legacy project that everyone is participating in virtually."
Adelle feels that her work with Eterneva is setting the bar for companies moving forward. "I think that that's a huge insight that other businesses in other industries can learn from," she notes. "What the death care space is doing is using the idea of community and experience innovation through technology. Because, those are two things we really see consumers wanting more of."
But, this doesn't mean that companies, like Eterneva, are attempting to disrupt the current industry. While they are making major changes, they are attempting to do so from within and not in competition. "I think it's created a really strong partnership with the funeral industry. Because we don't really see ourselves as disrupters of the funeral industry, but rather partners to many of the funeral homes-figuring out how to tailor their services and offerings in a way that really meets people where they are and provide that personalization and meaning that they're looking for," Adelle says.
With the changes caused by the pandemic, many companies are shifting gears in all industries. This has made it easier to shake up the funeral industry without overtaking the current businesses. Adelle notes, "Because of COVID, a lot of funeral homes can't offer what they traditionally offer, and they're looking for different ways to adapt what they do. That has allowed for the whole industry to start to innovate and modernized as a result."
Why try to keep the funeral industry in place?
Some might feel that the funeral industry is stagnant. But, Adelle and other death tech leaders think it is quite simple to adapt to evolving sensibilities. Adelle notes that the current funeral industry has a solid pipeline in place that supports the new tech and options well:
"This industry is excellent when it comes to the operational process and chain of custody protocols. You are working with the love of somebody's life. There is no room for mistakes, you know? So, the level of the operational process is extremely high. So high that we hire from aerospace, and we borrow a lot of best practices from aerospace." This supply chain includes an industry that holds high expectations for the procedure. Adelle notes: "You look at some of the biggest players in the [death tech] space, and it's truly remarkable how they built these systems and processes to ensure that it's a perfect, seamless experience. Our supply chain tech is powered by blockchain. We look for every opportunity to ensure excellence in our process and bring transparency to it. I think that may be a more millennial perspective-those of us that are younger in the space, knowing how important bringing science and transparency to the forefront are."
And, Eterneva has leaned into the transparency aspect. With younger founders, the company is built on the understanding that people would want to be part of the process-to make sure they are getting what they wanted through the memorial stones and to say goodbye in a meaningful way to their loved ones. Adelle continues: "Not only do we want to have a best-in-class process, we invite people down to come see it firsthand and be a part of the process. I think that that's something that is going really well. 93% of our customers say that they love that, and they want to come down and see it all first hand. I'd certainly recommend other operational-based companies to be more transparent with how everything works."
There is another aspect to Eterneva that is unusual in the death care industry-the company's lighthearted and humorous approach to many memories. A lot of balance and care is required to get the tone just right for each loss. But, the company understands that when the topic of death and loss isn't taboo, it should encompass all aspects of the person's life-and most of that is not steeped in somberness or sorrow. Adelle explains: "When you are speaking to your customer and your audience-somebody who's been through the experience of great loss-they get this right away. Somebody who hasn't experienced a loss yet, there is a different message sometimes. Sometimes it could seem a little bit callous toward death or seem like this is morbid. We have some that are just like: oh, weird, we don't want to talk about death.
I think that tone matters. That's what we obsess about at Eterneva. We focus on being not tone deaf, but certainly allowing for some brightness and some celebration. We encourage talking about people in just a celebratory way."
The end of the journey is an especially poignant and celebratory time for those at Eterneva. The company creates a special "Homecoming" event for every customer-allowing them to remember their loved one, celebrate life, and soak in the arrival of the diamond in a meaningful way. Tears are usually shed, and champagne is sometimes popped.
"We have a tradition whenever the diamond comes home that's called the Homecoming. and it's this really special day," says Adelle. "If it's within a 10-hour drive, somebody from our team is getting in a car and hand-delivering that diamond-meeting our customer in person, sitting in their home, getting to bear witness to them seeing their loved one's diamond for the first time and experiencing all the emotions that come around that. There are so many insights that we have gathered from being so close with our customers."
Leaders at Eterneva keep looking for ways to make the process meaningful at every point. Nearly everyone has experienced the death of a human or animal that they loved dearly by the time they reach adulthood. That makes it easy for industry leaders to have the compassion and empathy needed for improving the current range of post-life care options.