From a business standpoint, thought leadership is a huge competitive differentiation. No one can replicate authenticity and it’s sure hard to steal someone’s mission! As a mission-driven brand, thought leadership is a key part of building the business, staying connected with our key stakeholders and meeting new customers. Great thought leadership also leads to engaged communities of people who relate to your belief system, and they become the best kinds of customers.
As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Adelle Archer. Adelle co-founded Eterneva, an innovative company that honors the lives of remarkable people and pets by turning their cremated ashes into diamonds. Eterneva grew by 250% in its first year of operations, and Adelle was listed in Inc’s ’30 Under 30′ of young entrepreneurs to watch in 2018. 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.
Thank you so much for joining us Adelle. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
I come from a long line of enterprising, stereotype-busting females, so I’ve always wanted to do something big and meaningful with my life. Originally, I wanted to get into politics, so I did my undergrad in Political Science at McGill University in Montreal, then worked to DC. I shortly realized I’m more of a “change things from the outside-in” kind of girl, so I went back to school to get my MBA in Entrepreneurship at the Acton School of Business in Austin, TX.
After b-school, I went into Technology Product Marketing to learn the ins and outs of online marketing. Then in 2017, I quit my job and co-founded Eterneva, a company that celebrates remarkable lives by making diamonds from ashes.
My business partner Garrett & I started Eterneva after I lost my close friend and mentor Tracey to cancer, and realized how few special memorial options exist. It’s our mission at Eterneva to eternalize remarkable people and change the conversation around death, dying and grief.
Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?
As a founder of a mission-driven, visionary, category-building brand, I have to be an expert on thought leadership, because it’s all about the conversation we’re starting.
Eterneva has received a lot of high-profile PR from outlets that don’t normally talk about death — from CNBC On the Money, Yahoo Finance, Inc, 2 Chainz’s Most Expensivist and Refinery29. I frequently speak on the topics of death, grieving wellness, and female foundership, and in 2018, I made Inc’s 30 Under 30 list of young entrepreneurs to watch and was featured on the cover of their May 2018 issue.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
What’s fascinating about Eterneva is that we’ve got one foot in two very different industries — the funeral industry and the diamond industry. As young tech-forward millennials, we’ve had to become accustomed to very different business cultures.
I think one of the more amusing moments early on with Eterneva was shortly after we purchased our first diamond machine and went out to Amsterdam for intensive training with our supplier. Many of the best diamond scientists are Russian, so we were trained by a Russian Diamond Ph.D. who spoke little English. We were sitting in an industrial facility in the outskirts of Amsterdam, learning how to build diamond growth cells, while using Google Translate to interpret English to Russian to communicate. I remember having an out of body moment, amused by where I was and what I was doing; I don’t think my younger self could have ever pictured the adventures we’ve had setting up Eterneva’s supply chain!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
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 for when unexpected inevitably happens!
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is. How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?
A thought leader is someone who has something unique and thought-provoking to say about a topic they’re passionate about. They’re people who find a platform to share their original thoughts and observations and affects a broader dialog by injecting a fresh and different perspective. Authenticity is key to effective thought leadership — their opinions and beliefs are their own — not a repackaging of other people’s talking points.
Where I see a thought leader and a Leader being different is in their stewardship of people. A leader is more focused on bringing out the best in people to achieve great things. They motivate, coach, measure, provide clarity around mission and goals, and ensure everyone is working harmoniously in the right direction. A thought leader is less focused on people and more about big, world-changing ideas.
An Influencer is someone who can influence the behaviors of others because people look to their example. We find some of the most powerful Influencers today on Instagram. No one can sell Coach quite like Selena Gomez! Outside of celebrities though, there are many tribal influencers — AKA the hero archetype for different communities and tribes. For example, Megan Rapinoe of the US Women’s Soccer team is an influential and well-followed figure by feminist, LGBTQ, and female athlete tribes.
Thought leaders are our change-agents; they question the status quo, pay attention to cultural shifts, and are the vision-setters for a better tomorrow. Thought leaders are most effective when they enlist the right Leaders and Influencers to help motivate others to listen up, take action, and make change happen.
Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader. Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?
“An unexamined life is not worth living.” — Plato
When you start to think more deeply about life and the world around you, it unlocks a layer of personal meaning and fulfillment. When you ask yourself, “What’s my personal take on this topic?” and take the time to develop an original answer, you begin to find clarity around what you believe in. What you want to stand for. And perhaps, what your purpose is. We all want to be able to look back and say, “yes, that was a life well-lived.” To get there takes some reflection, examination, and development of our personal belief systems.
Let’s talk about business opportunities specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?
From a business standpoint, thought leadership is a huge competitive differentiation. No one can replicate authenticity and it’s sure hard to steal someone’s mission!
As a mission-driven brand, thought leadership is a key part of building the business, staying connected with our key stakeholders and meeting new customers.
Great thought leadership also leads to engaged communities of people who relate to your belief system, and they become the best kinds of customers. By way of example, every Tuesday and Thursday we do Inaugurations on Instagram Live, where our team welcomes each new loved one to the Eterneva family and shares their incredible stories with our followers. We do this because we believe remarkable people shouldn’t be forgotten, yet interestingly this tradition has brought us many new customers, because they love that we do this, and want to see their loved one shared with the world too.
Thought leadership can also be the muse and catalyst for new innovation. When you’re organized by a core set of beliefs, you’re always thinking “What more could we do?”
At Eterneva, we believe Obituaries are limited channels for representing and remembering who someone really was — they’re just a short statement of life-facts (birth date, school, professional resume, death date, survived by) rather than a proper depiction of who someone was as a person. We asked ourselves, “How could we do better for Eterneva loved ones?” and as a result, we developed Dedication Pages, which are about to launch.
Going forward, every new Loved One will get their own dedication page, where we really capture their story and personality, show their journey to becoming a diamond, and provide a space for friends and family to share stories about this person. Our objective is to show a more well-rounded depiction of who they really were. We believe this is something the world needs, and yet again, it will likely be a reason that a customer chooses us over another memorial option because we go beyond just delivering a product or service.
Ok. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry. Please tell us a story or example (ideally from your own experience) for each.
#1 Find your Fire
As I mentioned before, strong thought leadership is rooted in authenticity, so you need to figure out what lights a fire in your belly! What topics could you give an impassioned speech about? For me, it’s helpful to think about what injustices I want to fix in the world — that gets me fired up 🙂
#2 Journal About It
Originality of thought is the other cornerstone to effective thought leadership, so it’s important to stop and reflect on what you really think about a given topic. To be an effective thought leader on end of life, I had to develop my own relationship with and beliefs around death, so I write!
#3 Talk to Your Customers
Some of the best wisdom comes from conversations with your customers and/or audience. By deeply understanding their context and their world and their context, it helps you see the bigger picture of how your product fits into it.
#4 Become an Observer
A lot of original thought leadership comes from observation — particularly of how things are changing. By paying attention to shifts in culture, societal roles, and values, you can start to make better predictions of what the future will look like. Pay closer attention to how the world is changing around you.
#5 Infuse Emotion
At the heart of great thought leadership is great emotional energy. You feel energized, inspired, a sense of wonder. If you can figure out how to emotionally move someone with your new ideas and beliefs, your thought leadership will be all the more effective.
In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has that has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach.
One of my favorite all-time thought leaders is Brian Chesky with Airbnb. This is a company that’s done some very visionary things, and I think a part of why they’ve been so successful, is that Brian Chesky always gives a big “Why” for everything they’re doing. He ties it to a larger purpose and meaning. He creates a cause that you want to opt in to.
Brian has published a couple of “vision manifestos” concurrent with a few different Airbnb launches (when they launched their new logo and brand, when they launched Airbnb Experiences, etc) and while all of them were amazing, my favorite was his Belong Anywhere vision, which he published in 2014 and lay the groundwork for the singular idea that Airbnb is all about: belonging.
“For so long, people thought Airbnb was about renting houses. But really, we’re about home. You see, a house is just a space, but a home is where you belong. And what makes this global community so special is that for the very first time, you can belong anywhere.
At a time when new technologies have made it easier to keep each other at a distance, you’re using them to bring people together. And you’re tapping into the universal human yearning to belong — the desire to feel welcomed, and respected, and appreciated for who you are, no matter where you might be. Belonging is the idea that defines Airbnb, but the way we’ve represented Airbnb to the world until now hasn’t fully captured this.”
What’s genius about this is that Brian completely changed the conversation around Airbnb. It went from, “Isn’t that weird to stay in someone else’s home?” (early sharing economy reactions), to “This is how I can experience a different culture on a more human, intimate level when I travel.”
By tapping into a deeper truth about the shared human experience, he was able to drive mass adoption of a radically new concept. I think it was because of this inspirational belief system too, that Airbnb catapulted past the Homeaways and VRBOs of the world, who just listed houses on a platform. They were about the transaction, while Airbnb was about the human experience. As emotional beings, we tend to gravitate much more to the latter.
I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?
I can’t say I disagree, but I think we all know who’s a real thought leader, and who’s a wannabe thought leader 🙂
- A wannabe thought leader thinks of themselves as doing thought leadership (as a verb)
- A proper thought leader is just speaking passionately about something they believe in
- A wannabe thought-leader will repackage other people’s ideas, data, and research
- A proper thought leader will present original ideas that they’re actively and constantly developing
- A wannabe thought leader has to cajole people to join their tribe
- A proper thought leader has people wanting to opt into their tribe
What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
My business coach asks me every single call we have together what I’m doing for “Adelle time.” He knows me too well…I love to burn the candle at both ends and work work work! But what I really need to do is take time away from work. Reset. Recharge my mental and emotional stamina. On a weekend, that might be walking a few miles to a nice new restaurant my boyfriend and I want to try. Or getting some sun and pool time!
Outside of recharge time, one of the most important practices I believe in is a good morning routine. I wake up every morning and do a 10-minute meditation, gratitude journal, review my goals for the week, month and year, and then listen to some music that gets my energy levels up, and gets me excited for the day! What I think a lot of us underestimate is how important physical movement is to having an effective day. When your energy is up, you’re well rested, and you’re feeling physically strong, you show up differently in conversations, meetings, negotiations, and everything else. Managing your physical and emotional state is extremely important!
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Eterneva has a big vision for how we want to positively contribute to modern culture. We want to teach society how to better engage with those who are grieving, so as to 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 a powerful thing to teach people how 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.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Oh yes! 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 it was particularly top of mind for me when starting Eterneva. There are so many “firsts” in starting a company, so many things you’ve never done before, or don’t know how to do, and managing a bootstrapped business where you’re really watching the ins-and-outs of cash is stressful! Sometimes you feel overwhelmed and unprepared, but then I would remind myself that “life doesn’t happen to you, it happens for you” and that’s actually just what personal growth felt like!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
We’d love that! You can find us on Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn at @eterneva. My personal handle is @adellearcher.
Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.