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Death & Disruption: Moving the Funeral Industry Forward (w/ Mallory Greene, CEO - Eirene)

Katherin Vasilopoulos [00:00:00]:

As entrepreneurs, we take as much responsibility for our customers as we do for our businesses. That means truly caring about them and their well being, not just cycling them through the sales process. It means making their lives better, even if they're no longer living. At first glance, you probably couldn't tell that Mallory Greene is in the funeral industry. She's not an older, stuffy man in a dark suit. She's a young woman who got her start as a member of the Wealthsimple's founding team. Today, she's the CEO and co founder of Eirene, a funeral service provider that's disrupting the industry with their affordable prices and tech driven approach. Much like Mallory herself, Eirene isn't your typical funeral company.


Katherin Vasilopoulos [00:00:47]:

They're incredibly transparent with the families they serve, educating them while prioritizing their comfort to guide them through a simplified arrangements process. When you get to chat with Mallory, you instantly feel her passion for simplicity and disruption. She's the type of person who enjoys throwing out the unnecessary, a trait that's been fundamental to her success as a newcomer in what she describes as an archaic industry. She's also incredibly approachable, supportive, and thoughtful to the people she serves. And as you'll hear later on, Mallory is totally comfortable standing up to anyone who tries to create roadblocks between Eirene and its customers. This week, I sat down with Mallory to hear more about her experiences building Eirene. How does she navigate being an outsider in the funeral industry? How do her views on mortality allow her to create strong bonds with customers? And how has she scaled her business in a highly regulated, traditional industry? I'm Katherin Vasilopoulos, and this is And So, She Left, the podcast about incredible women entrepreneurs and the wisdom they gained beyond the corporate world.


Katherin Vasilopoulos [00:02:15]:

Wealthsimple is a massive company with over $30 billion in assets. But when Mallory joined the team in 2014, it was really just another startup. And while she'd ultimately learn a lot of the skills there, that would help to get Eirene off the ground five years later. This was her first corporate job, and it wasn't the easiest first job to have.


Mallory Greene [00:02:42]:

Yeah, I mean, I always tell people when I first started that I left every day Wealthsimple crying because it was a lot of pressure, to be honest. For my first job, there was this idea that we had investors, that we had to stick to certain goals and we had to get the word out there. We had just launched the product and it was something entirely new in Canada specifically. I'm very grateful for that time because it created a lot of resilience within myself, but I was basically just learning on the fly. I had worked at restaurants and retail, but I had never had that corporate environment. And so when I was thrown into it, it was quite intense. And I always say that Google was my best friend. I remember I would go into meetings with all of these incredible people and I would just nod my head and they'd be like, hey, Mallory, go figure out our cac.


Mallory Greene [00:03:36]:

And I'd be like, okay, great. And I would go to my desk and Google, like, what is a cac?


Katherin Vasilopoulos [00:03:40]:

And that's what happens. You go to university and you learn a bunch of stuff, and then you're thrown into corporate and you're going, uh oh, now what? This is stuff I didn't learn, or it's new things that are specific to that particular company. And I get the stress. Like you're saying how you would leave every day miserable. That comes with startups. It comes with that intense pressure to build something new that hasn't been done before. And so tell me about the next step after that you left and then what happened.


Mallory Greene [00:04:05]:

Yeah. So throughout my time at Wealthsimple, people were often saying to me, when are you going to build your own business? And it's not something that I had ever thought for myself. I started to explore that if I was going to build a business, how would it combine technology with an industry that I had a lot of knowledge of? And it just so happens that I am the daughter of a funeral director. While quite morbid to most people when they find that out, it's really shaped who I am. And I have a very deep understanding of death care and how funeral services work. And so I had this light bulb moment probably about four years into Wealthsimple, where I was having a conversation with my dad and he was talking about the industry and it was just sounding so archaic and old school to me. And I kind of put myself in the shoes of consumers. And I felt that where the industry was today wasn't what the modern consumer was looking for.


Katherin Vasilopoulos [00:05:01]:

What did you find archaic about it?


Mallory Greene [00:05:03]:

The process, I think how services are delivered to me is very archaic. The fact that when a death occurs, the very first thing that you are required to do is to leave your family and friends and go in person and sign dozens of pieces of paper over and over again, I think that's quite archaic in terms of how we are delivered services today. I mean, you can order groceries on your phone, buy cars online. There's just so many ways that most industries have brought some technology to how services are provided to consumers. When we all think of funeral services. We probably all have the same idea. The look of the brick and mortar facility, someone maybe in an older suit, victorian movie theater carpeting. Just the overall look and feel felt very archaic to me.


Mallory Greene [00:05:49]:

It didn't really appeal to me.


Katherin Vasilopoulos [00:05:51]:

Okay, what do you think consumers are looking for today when it comes to funeral services?


Mallory Greene [00:05:57]:

So I think there's a few things. One is the simplicity of the experience. It's an incredibly overwhelming time for people. Death is something that we're not often planning for or talking about. So when it occurs, you're basically thrown into this purchasing experience of all these things you need to do and get to gather and buy without any knowledge of how to do so. And you add in that layer of grief. I think it's very burdensome time for a lot of families. I believe that the second is the cost.


Mallory Greene [00:06:28]:

If you look at the trends overall, people are spending less and less on the disposition itself. So whether it's burial or cremation or a more environmentally friendly option, they're spending less on that and spending more on unique memorializations. I would say. So instead of the traditional in funeral home memorial service, they would do so at a restaurant or a golf course. And then the last is the, I would say the educational piece. I think that consumers have long been frustrated with the experience because there is lack of information out there of what happens after a death and basically how to navigate that experience. They were wanting or are wanting more. They want to understand what their options are and that they have choice.


Mallory Greene [00:07:11]:

And so, Eirene, my business really was built off of those main pillars.


Katherin Vasilopoulos [00:07:16]:

That's really interesting because you're such a young person, and I'm listening to you talk about this thing where you expect it to happen later in life, like way later in life, and that you are in it now, and you've taken a moment to reflect on the whole process and the industry. And, yes, your father was in it, but the fact that you took interest in it is very interesting to me, and that you saw something like a need and to revamp it, sort of. So tell me more about that thought process.


Mallory Greene [00:07:43]:

Yeah, it's so funny, because when people ask me what my business is, it's the reaction that you just described. People have been quite surprised. I'm 30 years old. I'm a young woman, and it's an industry that has long been mostly men, and definitely people who are much more mature to me. I feel, or I hope that I'm a bit of a breath of fresh air in the industry, because we either picture the Morticia Adams of the world, or we think of maybe funeral doctors like my dad. And so I'm something that's totally different than both of those things. The beauty of who I am and why I think I'm very uniquely positioned to build Eirene is because I've grown up around the industry and have quite an amount of comfort with death. I recognize that it's something that we're all going to experience, whether with our own mortality or people that we love, and we can't change that.


Mallory Greene [00:08:39]:

At least right now, there's no technologies that can change that. And so I think that my outlook on life and death allows me to bring just this totally different approach to death care and how we support people through what is probably the most challenging time of their life. The one interesting tidbit I would say, though, is that what often happens is there's an initial shock when I tell people what my business is or the industry that I'm in, and then what occurs after is someone will essentially use me as an outlet to talk about an experience they had with the funeral home, or they'll talk about someone that they loved and they lost. And I think it's just because as society, we don't really give people the avenues to talk about it. So I've heard such incredible stories just by those kind of everyday conversations.


Katherin Vasilopoulos [00:09:32]:

Yeah. How does that make you feel to have people open up to you about things that are so personal?


Mallory Greene [00:09:37]:

The initial thing is always them saying, this might be too personal, or, I don't know if I should ask this question, or I don't know if I should say this. And I always say to people, like, you could say truly anything. To me, I'm a very open book. So I'm not shocked by anything as long as it's legal, of course. But I'm very open. And I think that openness allows people to feel comfortable sharing my whole goal of who I am and the business that I'm building is to have people feel supported. And I think that that should also be a reflection of the type of person I am and ensuring that people feel that I'm approachable and supportive of to hear those stories.


Katherin Vasilopoulos [00:10:24]:

How do you view people's understanding of the process of death? Like, when you look at other people experiencing their grief, what do you see happening?


Mallory Greene [00:10:33]:

I think, once again, this goes back to what society has told us. I would be very specific to western society because there are. I'll tell a little story here that I was speaking to a woman who was born in Nigeria and had came to Canada five to ten years ago, and her parents were still back in Nigeria. And she facetimed her mum one day, and her mom looked beautiful. She had this beautiful outfit on, her hair and makeup done, and she seemed like she was just blowing. She was so happy. And this woman that I had met in Canada said to her, mom, where are you going? Like, you look like you're going to some big celebration. And she said, we're going to a funeral.


Mallory Greene [00:11:12]:

And so that outlook was so interesting to me because I don't think that's necessarily the outlook that we've taken western society. And so there's definitely a total lack of understanding of what the death care process looks like for most consumers. So once again, they're kind of thrown into it, and it's a very overwhelming experience. And that's why a business like Eirene exists, to be that first point of contact after a death occurs. And then I think, once again, I don't know, just media or whoever tells us that you grieve and you essentially will get over it. And my belief, obviously, and I think this is proven, is that grief will stick with you your entire life.


Katherin Vasilopoulos [00:11:52]:

Going back to what you said about the example from the lady in Nigeria, it reminds me of a documentary I saw once where they were showing a company that made coffins. They were coffins that had fun colors on them and themes. Like, if somebody in their life loved sports cars, then they would make them a sports car coffin, and it was fun. And they would celebrate their life by putting them in that coffin, as opposed to the traditional, stuffy, old, as you said, victorian looking thing that we use.


Mallory Greene [00:12:21]:

Here in, I mean, like, I know in South Korea, for example, they have what they call living funerals. So the concept is to reflect on your mortality, which allows you to live life to its fullest, because you know that there's an endpoint to your life. And where we are today in death care and specifically funeral services, is people should be able to choose how they want to be memorialized and how they're memorialized to their full extent. So I'll give you an example for myself. If it was up to me, I would say, well, it is up to me, I think I would say, I do not want any celebration of life. I do not want any funeral. I don't want any event. I would set up money aside for my family and my loved ones to go to Disney World and basically celebrate my life in that capacity.


Mallory Greene [00:13:11]:

That is to me, because I think that it's a moment that can be remembered. It's a way to reflect on who I am. And it's kind of my last contribution that I'm leaving behind. Essentially, we as a society can move away from this idea that everything has to be this cookie cutter approach.


Katherin Vasilopoulos [00:13:32]:

Right. I think the traditional industry has kind of led us in that direction. They've set a standard, literally, and then we all follow it because we just do what other people have done before us. We don't know how to approach death when it happens. So, like, well, what have you done? What did you do when your father or your grandfather died? And you hear other people's experiences, and then they tell you, oh, it cost me too much to do this. I would do this instead. You see, you hear all these stories because on that moment, it's such a shock. You're like, I'll sign anything at this point.


Katherin Vasilopoulos [00:14:02]:

Just make this go away.


Mallory Greene [00:14:03]:

Exactly. And I think when you listen to a lot, specifically in media, a lot of older grief psychologists or people who have studied grief will say that in order to properly grieve, you need to have this burial in this casket, in this event. That's the only way to properly grieve. I would not agree with that. I think we know that community is so important when you're grieving, and we know that storytelling and movement and those are the things that are important while grieving. But once again, it's just this idea of what we've always been told. And as you said, when you're thrown into it, to then think about all these unique ideas and everything might just be too overwhelming. Businesses like Eirene exist to help people have those conversations.


Mallory Greene [00:14:51]:

And whether you prepay for it just to remove the financial burden or you just have the conversation to reduce the emotional burden on your surviving family, I.


Katherin Vasilopoulos [00:15:00]:

Think that's the right. Right. And you said something about the psychologist saying that there's one way to grieve, but maybe this traditional way of doing things is that it's a way to condition people to have some form of closure in that moment. But it doesn't necessarily mean that that works for everybody. Exactly. And everybody needs a different plan at some point. I want to go back to Eirene. I mean, you briefly mentioned it a few times, but tell me more about how Eirene came about and what it does and also your challenges in setting it up.


Mallory Greene [00:15:33]:

When I was at Wealthsimple, I was searching for an industry that made sense for me. And as I said, my dad's a funeral director. So I started to just look into the industry, and I looked at, over the next ten to 20 years, what is changing? What do consumers want? What's happening is this major shift of essentially acquisitions. Most of the big corporates are just buying up all the local funeral homes. And so a business like Eirene needed to exist. It needed to provide this simplified experience at a time of loss. It didn't have to be incredibly expensive, but we could still have this human approach and helping people understand what their options are and eventually encouraging people to start thinking about their own wishes. We started the business in November of 2019, and it was truly an mvp.


Mallory Greene [00:16:23]:

This idea of fillable form get people to partner with in each specific province, and let's just get it off the ground. And in January 2020, we officially applied for our license. The funeral industry is basically regulated per province, per state. So it is a bit of an upfront work, I would say, to get your license, because you have to abide by different legislation in each area. And so what actually ended up happening? When we went to launch Eirene, which I thought would be quite straightforward, we had about a ten month regulatory battle. We were told that we were a threat to the industry and that people would be very mad at our existence. Once again, when we talk about resilience, building resilience, Eirene in the early days definitely made me prepare for anything. I'm kind of grateful for it because it allowed us to really narrow in on what our product was and perfect it to some extent, and just taught me a lot about building relationships and how to rally people around what you're trying to do and your overall mission.


Mallory Greene [00:17:27]:

In November 2020, we finally got our license, and I remember turning the switch on to put our business out into the world. And it's a scary time because you're like, wait, is anyone actually going to use this product? Especially because in our case, it's someone trusting us with their loved one. And I remember the first person that went on our website and called us and said, yeah, I would like to use your services. To me, it was just so mind boggling because we had no reviews and she just fully trusted us because I think because someone answered the phone and was knowledgeable. Jen, who was our very first funeral director, she's an incredible person, and she guided her through it. And then it was like, okay, now we just need to get our second or fifth and our 10th and our hundredth. And it's kind of grown from there. But those early days, they test you because you're basically learning as you go.


Mallory Greene [00:18:14]:

You're also dealing, in our case, with people who are very fragile and emotional. And so you don't want to screw things up.


Katherin Vasilopoulos [00:18:21]:

And if I'm doing the math properly, if you said that you started in November of 2019 and added eight or ten months, that's way into the pandemic.


Mallory Greene [00:18:28]:

That definitely also delayed the licensing because the funeral industry was dropped. We as an industry were working twenty four seven, an essential worker, but one of those industries that's kind of hidden behind the scenes. So no one's really giving any support or kudos to people in the industry. So it was a wild time to launch. But one thing I would say is that the pandemic changed consumer behavior in funeral services, because it was the first time that every single funeral home had to go online and had to deliver services by email or phone. There was nothing in person. And so I think what a lot of consumers realize is, wait a second, why do I have to walk into this funeral home and sign a bunch of paperwork? Everyone around me is able to just do it online. And so even from operationally, a lot of the government paperwork and permits that were previously all done in person, all went online during the pandemic.


Mallory Greene [00:19:24]:

It's exactly what we sought out to do in the first place, which is have this very tech enabled back end operation of our business.


Katherin Vasilopoulos [00:19:30]:

And did people consider you to be a disruptor? Is that why you said that the standard industry considered you a threat?


Mallory Greene [00:19:37]:

Yeah. People in the industry, I think, do see us as a big threat because we've totally revamped the business model and the industry is just changing so fast. So it was meant to happen regardless of Eirene or existing or not. I think just like any great startup, it all comes down to timing. When's the right time to launch the business. And I believe we have three years of evidence that Eirene's existence was all about the right.


Katherin Vasilopoulos [00:20:00]:

Yes. Yes. And what did you learn about rallying people to support your cause?


Mallory Greene [00:20:05]:

So I learned a lot from the government perspective of how to get government to support you when it comes down to more. So on the regulation side, no one can argue that consumers deserve more choice and they deserve affordable options, especially. I mean, even going into this year, into a recession, I think it's a time where the average person can't afford a $500 sudden expense. And then if you think about funeral services, that's a sudden expense, and that can be upwards of five, $7,000. And so when we started meeting with government, I had this pitch, which was, I'm a young female entrepreneur. I am trying to bring choice and education and affordability to an industry that really hasn't changed in many, many decades. And once again, you can't really argue with that. Just presenting this idea of what Irene could be and what it could mean to consumers, that was very key to the relationships that we built, mostly within government.


Mallory Greene [00:21:05]:

But I think even just through investors and advisors and people who have supported us since, yeah, it just comes down to, I think, storytelling, ensuring that what you're doing can make an impact.


Katherin Vasilopoulos [00:21:19]:

Did you go through any personal challenges throughout all this?


Mallory Greene [00:21:22]:

Oh, yeah. Just talking about early days at Wealthsimple, crying all the time. I'm sure I was crying all the time because it's frustrating. You have people who are telling you, no, you're never going to be able to do this. This won't ever exist. You're going to be too much of a threat.


Mallory Greene [00:21:37]:

And going up against these big guys, to be honest, it was very intimidating. I would be incredibly nervous when I would get into rooms with government or get on zooms with people who were opposing us. But I took it one day at a time, ultimately, and over time, what I found is that I've become more, I'll use the term unfazed. I don't know if it's the right term, where early days, I was so just terrified of anything, shutting down our business or someone coming to try to bring us down. And now I just recognize that I have to be ultimately the kind of the strongest person as a leader in the room, and I have to keep moving us forward, regardless of what's happening on the outside, to change our path. So it taught me a lot about myself. I think I built a lot of strength during that time. But anyone who's run a business knows every day is a new day.


Katherin Vasilopoulos [00:22:32]:

Yes, you sound a lot more relieved and a lot more confident now, as opposed to what you described earlier, where. Oh, for sure, yeah, you've developed a skill set and the knowledge, and now you have the answers to tell people. Exactly.


Mallory Greene [00:22:43]:

Yeah. And once again, this concept of we can figure everything out, and I think that's so important as a leader to help your team feel that as well, because especially in a regulated industry, regulation can feel so scary and burdensome to a lot of people. I always feel that regulation exists to protect consumers, and I appreciate that. And so how can we work with regulators to still work with what is currently the legal options, but also to move forward and make Canada this more disruptor and provide more innovation in the industry?


Katherin Vasilopoulos [00:23:15]:

And you can see that with customer responses and reviews and their kind words and referrals, all those things tend to put us in the path of like, oh, I think we're on the right direction, we're doing well. And so it builds the confidence.


Mallory Greene [00:23:31]:

When I went out to build Eirene, I had this idea of like, this is what consumers are looking for. And a lot of startups will have to pivot because maybe what they initially sought out to build is slightly different from what consumers are looking for today. And every little aspect of our website and our services was seen by consumers and was appreciated. So it was like, okay, wow, I think we have product market fit here. This is exactly what people are looking for. And that's just built over time. We get personal letters, personal emails from families who just say, this was so important to me, and I will always remember the kindness and compassion that Eirene showed.


Katherin Vasilopoulos [00:24:09]:

I want to go back to what you said earlier about when you were working in corporate and know you weren't sure people would ask you, why aren't you starting your own company? And you never thought of it, and now you're a boss. And tell me, what does that feel like? What does it feel like to be your own boss now?


Mallory Greene [00:24:24]:

It's a little scary. It's scary that our team is 27 people now, and it feels like I just blinked. It feels like you're just two people. And I think that people would say that to me. I was 22, 23 when people were saying, go and start your own thing. And in my mind, I needed to have a lot more experience. I didn't know if people would take me serious as a young woman starting a business, and it just seemed like, okay, not anytime soon could I be a CEO. I kind of actually still laugh at the fact that I have the title CEO.


Mallory Greene [00:24:57]:

I'm still young, and I'm still learning. Turns out everyone's figuring it out. None of us know all the answers. So that was key is the more time you spend with other ceos and founders, you realize that none of us know what we're doing. We're figuring it out and learning as we go. So today I feel very proud. My team is 90% women. That hasn't been on purpose, but I think it's been how our brand and who I am speaks to people.


Mallory Greene [00:25:22]:

Women often are treated pretty poorly in the industry, and so they have come to Eirene to have a totally different experience. I don't have ego. I think that's really critical because I'm learning every day and making sure that we're always doing better every day. So it's been a really interesting journey. I think in the past few months, actually, my role has changed quite significantly, and it feels a lot more serious. Early days at a startup, anyone's who worked and started a business knows that you're basically in the weeds every day. You're figuring things out, you're doing a little bit of everything. But what happens is your team starts growing and your role changes quite significantly.


Mallory Greene [00:26:03]:

So in the past five or six months, my role has become this true leadership role, which is setting strategy and vision and making sure that we're hiring the best talent to make that happen, and ensuring that the bank account is full and that we are fundraising and all of these big, basically high level tasks, which is been a big transition for me because I built Eirene from the ground up, and it's something that I'm so proud of. It's my baby. But now I kind of have to take a step back and trust the people that I've hired and let them run with it.


Katherin Vasilopoulos [00:26:37]:

I find it interesting that you said that. Is it 90% of your staff are women?


Mallory Greene [00:26:41]:



Katherin Vasilopoulos [00:26:42]:

Why? How does that work out? Why do the women resonate with this particular company or the industry? Or is it the company, or is it the industry? Which one is it, do you think?


Mallory Greene [00:26:53]:

I think it's a bit of both. I mean, once again, traditionally, the industry has been mostly men. But if you look at most graduating classes in funeral services today, they are made up of women. So there's this massive shift happening overall in the people that are making up the industry. However, most people in leadership positions are still men. I think a big point of why our funeral directors love Eirene over maybe some other businesses is because we don't do sales. So we believe that we can educate consumers and our families specifically of the options available to them. So whether they want to buy an urn or jewelry, or they don't want any of those things, they just want to keep it simple.


Mallory Greene [00:27:30]:

We use education versus sales, and I think our funeral directors appreciate that kind of back to basics. We're providing a service in a compassionate manner, but they don't have a sales quota to meet on a day to day. I think that's a big part of it. Eirene's brand is very feminine. I mean, that's just the brand that I wanted. I wanted people to land on our website and feel the sense of know. Most funeral homes and websites are very dark, and so Eirene's this very opposite brand. I'm sure a part of it is also because it's a woman that's leading the business.


Mallory Greene [00:28:03]:

I'm sure that draws a lot of the women on our team to the business.


Katherin Vasilopoulos [00:28:06]:

Traditionally you just see men, older men in those suits, and now you're bringing something that is completely different and not traditional. What kind of advice do you have, though, for people who want to get into something new, disruptive, a new idea, something that hasn't been done before in an industry that's been around forever or whatever it is?


Mallory Greene [00:28:26]:

I think the biggest piece of advice I have is when you are trying to disrupt, you have to understand and appreciate the status quo. So where are we today and how are we slowly going know work towards innovation over time so it's not going to happen overnight. You have to be very patient with regulated businesses specifically, and I learned a lot of that through my time at Wealthsimple. Especially if you're not an Uber of the world that just has so much funding to throw at government relations and anything policy related. You do have to be patient and figure out what are those little steps that you can take. You have to have, or at least pretend to have kind of like a backbone. If you're trying to disrupt, especially if you're the first to disrupt, you're going to get a lot of feedback, pushback, but just know why you got into it in the first place and stick with it. Change over time.


Mallory Greene [00:29:20]:

Little things are going to have to change, so you'll have to be flexible. But I always think that any negativity is usually a sign that you're onto something. It's not easy. If someone had told know the ups and downs, I would have been a little more scared to start. But I definitely think that having a bit of naiveness going into it helped me because I was just like, okay, well, I'm this far, so I just have to keep going.


Katherin Vasilopoulos [00:29:43]:

Thank you so much to Mallory Greene. You can learn more about Eirene through the links in the episode description. If you liked the show, please rate, review and subscribe to And So, She Left. Wherever you listen, your feedback helps us to better serve current listeners and reach new ones. We also have a new website. Head over to for full episodes, transcripts, an application form to be on the show, a list of upcoming guests, and more. And So, She Left is made by Cansulta and Ethan Lee. Cansulta connects entrepreneurs and leaders with a global roster of over 150 pre vetted consultants and experts, like Ethan and I, who can help organizations in any business area, from HR to finance to sales and marketing, and even customer service.


Katherin Vasilopoulos [00:30:27]:

We'll be back next Wednesday with a new episode. Our music is by Correspondence and Chris Zabriskie, edited for your enjoyment. You can find a list of all the songs you heard here in the episode notes. I'm Katherin Vasilopoulos and thanks for listening.

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