Background: Three startup companies and consulting for a company that sells 3-D printing systems
Early struggles: During product development, the first attempt at making a piece resulted in a completely unsellable product. Saari remembers thinking then that this idea was not going to work out. But the team kept pushing on and had their first full year of sales in 2015.
Advice for new entrepreneurs: “Don’t let perfection get in the way of progress,” Saari says. “I would say get it out there in its imperfect state and let the market respond to it. Then you can revise and tweak it and you’ll be working from a place of knowledge instead of a place of guessing.”
Creativity and ashes may sound like two things that don’t go together, but for one Maple Grove resident named Pete Saari, those two things go together like peas in a pod.
His company, Foreverence, is changing up the funeral industry, striving to make cremation an intensely personal and memorable option to memorialize a loved one. Instead of a run-of-the-mill urn chosen from a catalog at the funeral home as another part of the end-of-life process, Foreverence offers to create anything (literally) to be the final resting place for a loved one.
Saari came to the idea of custom 3-D printed urns on a walk around Weaver Lake. He had just read a story in Time magazine about how cremation was trending upward and slowly but surely becoming a more popular option than burial. Having a background in 3-D printing systems and the spark of an idea for something more personal than the red, green or floral urn from the catalog, his main thought on that walk was “why not?”
“We introduced the idea that these items can be literally anything you want and can be used as a symbol of the way the person lived, help tell the story of the person’s life… it’s not just a container for ashes.”
Foreverence was not the first startup company Sari helped build. He’d previously been involved in three other startups as the “people guy,” building the sales and marketing side of ideas that were product-centric—one in health care, one in digital media and the other in facility management services. But he turned the tables for his most recent business.
“Foreverence is my fourth startup,” he says, “and it’s been special to me because it’s the first time where I’m the ‘product guy.’”
The initial excitement around Saari’s product came heavily from the 3-D printing industry, which had been using the concept for prototyping and product development, not for the creation of an actual product.
“In the world of cremation urns, people find us very interesting,” Saari says. “What that means is that’s helped us develop a very strong business-to-consumer brand that previously had never existed.”
Saari’s idea began in late 2013, and the company was incorporated in the spring of 2014, spending the rest of that year in product development. In the second year of sales, Foreverence recorded a 400 percent growth over year one.
Originally, the idea was to market the high-end, custom urns to funeral professionals to sell the product. But one of his favorite parts about Foreverence is that it didn’t end up working out that way. Now they get to have first-hand conversations with families who want to memorialize their loved ones in a creative way.
“It was intimidating at first,” he says. “None of us have any sort of end-of-life training or how to speak to grieving families. But the amazing part has been how close you get to a family when you go through an experience like this with them.”
Each project is assigned a designer whose talents match the object to be designed. Working with the family or loved ones, the designer provides a preliminary sketch for approval and then moves into the rendering stage, using a CAD program to create a model of the object to be printed. Each project takes about 15 hours to print and, in most cases, is built in one piece.
Among the many project designs, one of Saari’s favorites is a space shuttle that was made for a former design engineer for NASA who was involved in the design of the original space shuttle. Another is a firetruck made to memorialize a child who loved all things fire department—it was delivered to the family by the local fire department.
Celebrity interest also brought Foreverence into the spotlight, as the company memorialized the likes of Bob Casale from DEVO, Motorhead’s band leader Lemmy Kilmister, and most recently, Prince. For him, designers created a model of his Paisley Park residence, including interior décor that matched the real thing. Having worked so closely with the family, Foreverence was then invited to Prince’s funeral to check the guests in and hand out favors.
“It’s about the stories,” Saari says. “Every time we get a call we just don’t know what’s going to be on the other end, but you know it’s going to be another amazing story.”