The Art of Parting Stone: Justin Crowe on the Path that Led Him to Shark Tank
It’s been a minute since Connecting Directors has caught up with our friend and former Managing Editor Justin Crowe — but boy, was it worth the wait! Crowe’s first three years as the creator of solidified remains and founder and CEO of Parting Stone have been a whirlwind of fundraising, educating, and growth in every aspect of the word, and we predict that 2023 will be one of the most exciting in the unique company’s extraordinary history.
“Parting Stone is doing really well,” Crowe explains. “We had a record sales month in March and hit a a new record in production efficiency. We just closed a $2 million series A in January and we’re in the closing process for a $2 million loan that’s going completely toward R&D and process improvements.”
Parting Stone partners
The pursuit of funding is a given for every growing startup, but the success of solidified remains has made Parting Stone an attractive partner for investors like the Schoedingers and InvoCare of Australia.
“I’m excited to have the Schoedingers on board — Randy, Mike, and Kevin,” Crowe says. “They are icons and thought leaders of the funeral industry and we’ve already learned a lot from them..We’re also pumped about Australia – we’ve partnered with Invocare and we’re working on opening the laboratory in Newcastle, New South Wales. It’s on track to open in early 2024.”
Invocare, which recently turned down an unsolicited buyout offer from TPG Capital, serves roughly one-quarter of Australia’s deathcare market.
“This gives us immediate 25% market saturation,” Crowe explains. “Our go-to market in Australia will be far faster and far more effective because Invocare is experienced and motivated as a business partner to maximize the success of solidified remains as an option across Australia. Australia’s notorious for being early deathcare technology and practice adopters, which we love.”
Where they belong
It’s no mistake that Crowe describes Parting Stone’s offering as a “service” He understands that introducing something as new and innovative as solidified remains requires some explanation and education. Accordingly, since 2019, Crowe has traveled the country visiting with funeral professionals to ensure they understand that solidified remains are a form of remains and not a product.
“I see solidified remains sitting next to the ashes and glass products, and they ask why they aren’t selling,” Crowe says. “And I say, because this is not a product. They need to put this in the arrangement room and ask every family, ‘Would you like to receive ashes or stones following cremation?’ And if they do that, families will understand what it is and the value it brings.”
More and more families are understanding that value, though, and appreciating the options solidified remains afford. Just as they would with cremation ashes, they’re scattering the stones created by Parting Stone’s process — and sharing their experiences with the Parting Stone team.
“We received a really sweet, funny letter from a family recently,” Crowe shares. “She talks about all the places she left her husband’s stones, like the forests and lakes where they traveled. She told a story about leaving him on a beautiful beach with a lighthouse. As she was walking away, she heard a kid go, ‘Mom, look at this smooth rock!’ They picked him up, and when she went back he was gone. She just wrote that her husband was on another adventure.”
For Crowe, stories like these validate his vision of what Parting Stone could provide — a form of remains that families can hold, touch, and feel as they remember their loved one. Looking back, he can better appreciate all the significant stops on the path that led him to this point.
“My degree is in art,” he shares, “and when I was 18 I thought I was going to be a potter. Creativity and business have always been interests of mine. The first iteration was in third grade, when I illustrated everybody’s names into these nametag monsters and sold them for $0.50 each. I made ten bucks.”
Crowe kept making pottery and selling his creations throughout his teen years, all along thinking he’d found his lifelong calling. That changed when he went to art school, though, when he told his professor he needed to miss a class in order to sell his wares. To that instructor, making pottery was art, but selling it was anathema.
“I was like, ‘Wow, these people really don’t understand me or real life, and why I’m doing what I do,’” Crowe recalls. “For me, the business side of creativity was so essential to what really got me excited.”
Despite his professor’s advice to drop out, Crowe has never regretted his decision to complete his coursework and earn his degree.
“Ultimately, those four years were equally as valuable as my last four years,” he explains, “because I got to learn. I got to learn business because I was selling pots. I got to learn ergonomics because I was making things that people hold and use. I got to learn design and communication and I got to learn branding because I got to brand myself as a potter. I got to learn color theory. I got to learn clay and glaze chemistry. After college, I applied all those skills to starting a business, which eventually was Parting Stone. And I still use those skills every day. I am very much a creative entrepreneur.”
Selling to the Sharks
Crowe’s entrepreneurial spirit is what ultimately led him to apply for a spot on Shark Tank, the ABC television reality series that, since 2009, has played a huge role in launching or elevating the visibility of all sorts of products and services, from Ring video doorbells to Bombas socks to Scrub Daddy smiley-face sponges. Parting Stone’s application was submitted in July, and by September, Crowe was standing face-to-face with four of the famous sharks and a special guest investor, actress Gwyneth Paltrow.
“On the day of taping I went on a tour of the stage,” he says. “It was like a dream world. I was so excited. I had never been on set for a TV show. I had never seen those kinds of cameras and those kinds of lights. But one of the most shocking parts of that day was when I was walking in to pitch and I passed Gwyneth Paltrow in the hallway. It was at that moment that I realized my guest shark that I was pitching to was Gwyneth”
Although he can’t share all the details about his Shark Tank experience — especially the end result — Crowe can tell us that his experience was unforgettable and absolutely worthwhile.
“It was a real pitch in front of real investors with real money,” he says. “They are incredibly smart people who, combined, have made probably thousands of investments. I was there to get a deal. I wanted their experience on the Parting Stone team to give us the best chance of growing and working with more families. Solidified remains have been an effective tool for healing for the families we’ve worked with. The more families we can reach, the more good we can do.”
Crowe’s episode of Shark Tank will air on Friday, April 7 at 8:00 p.m. Eastern on ABC. Join their Facebook Live Event to see the Parting Stone HQ viewing party at 10pm Eastern. He hopes many members of the deathcare community will tune in as he shares the story of Parting Stone and explains how welcoming and nurturing the deathcare industry and deathcare professionals have been.
“I made sure that the Sharks knew that 90% of our business comes from funeral homes,” he says. “I made sure they knew how much this industry has helped us get to the Shark Tank stage.”