When Jordan Katzman and Alex Fenkell had the idea to make invisible aligner treatment from home, Doug Hudson and David Katzman joined forces with them to found SmileDirect Club as an alternative to traditional treatment for orthodontic misalignment. SmileDirect Club offers a unique contribution to dental care: invisible aligners. Their invisible aligners (FDA-approved) align your teeth for a fraction of the costs associated with other teeth-straitening methods. In most cases, you can do it all from your home under the remote care of a state-licensed dental provider.
Founded in 2013, SmileDirect Club is gaining traction. We wanted to share their story with entrepreneurs, so you can learn from Doug Hudson what he’s experienced in small business and hiring.
Part 1: On Small Business
Relode: How’d you start SmileDirect Club? When was the moment you knew this would work?
Doug Hudson: I was treated with Invisalign by a local orthodontist for over $5,000, so I know first-hand the cost of correcting your smile using invisible aligners. A few years ago, I had a discussion with a few friends, and we decided to do something about making aligner treatment more affordable.
When I sat down with SmileDirect Club’s other co-founders—David Katzman, Jordan Katzman, and Alex Fenkell—we quickly realized that recent trends in 3D printing and telehealth could bring about disruptive change to the invisible aligner market by increasing access to care. Jordan and Alex saw the opportunity to provide invisible aligner treatment from home.
We decided everyone should have a great smile and founded SmileDirect Club, a treatment program that connects affiliated orthodontists with savvy people who want to improve their smile at a revolutionary price point. It just made sense.
R: How long did it take for you to get traction?
DH: We founded the company in Q4 of 2013, and a year and a half later, we’re making pretty strong inroads into the industry, but it hasn’t been without its challenges. Fortunately, we have a track record of going direct-to-consumer in other highly regulated industries with companies like 1800Contacts, Quicken Loans, HearingPlanet, DiabetesCareClub, and SongbirdHearing.
Our approach has been pretty simple. You have to create value for the patient and you will become the market leader. Our goal in every business we’ve built is to improve access by leveraging the latest technology improvements or regulatory evolutions. My advice for other entrepreneurs would be to do your research. You have to know your industry, especially if it’s a highly regulated field like healthcare.
We learned pretty quickly that in regulated fields, the established industry players tend to resist change. It’s an understandable knee-jerk reaction to fear what you don’t understand. But over time, each of our businesses has matured to become market leaders, helping grow their respective markets. That’s the end goal we have in mind for SmileDirect Club.
R: How has technology enabled your business to grow?
DH: Technology is integral to both our business model and the success of our business. Our vision for SmileDirect Club’s growth in the industry is to work within the regulations of all states to build the gold standard in remote orthodontic treatment and teledentistry.
We’ve created a cloud-based technology that allows us to conduct certain business activities on the behalf of the dental professionals in our network. Essentially, we connect a patient seeking invisible aligner therapy with a licensed dental professional who will oversee and prescribe treatment. The model is similar to the regulatory structure of telehealth companies like Teladoc.com, MDlive.com, and DirectDematology.com.
Our information systems allow for proper tracking of all activities and facilitate the interactions between profession and patient.
R: What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
DH: When you’re starting out, think big. The bigger, the better. Then make sure three things line up: have a clear vision, get the right people on your team, and make sure you’re adequately funded. Don’t just hire your friends. Hire the people who have the skills to help make your ideas succeed. And you don’t want to be strapped for cash. Get the funding you need on the front end.
Part 2: On Hiring
R: Who manages the hiring process on your staff?
DH: SmileDirect Club is still a young company, which allows us to be agile in finding the right people who fit both our culture and our personnel needs. Our departmental heads are responsible for recruitment and on-boarding within their teams. This not only allows us to share the weight of building up our staff but also creates a more close-knit atmosphere in both the individual teams and the company as a whole. We’re all in this together, and the hiring process is no exception to that.
R: How many people do you have on staff?
DH: We’re currently have more than 60 employees on staff across departments.
R: How often do you hire?