“How was your last visit to the dentist?” That’s a question I’ve been asking people a lot lately. And when I do, they tend to grimace or laugh anxiously. Their minds are flashing to the fluorescent waiting room with the wrinkled, two-year-old magazines. The hygienist who they’re sure is judging them for not flossing. Then the dentist coming in and telling them they need fillings. The uncertainty about whether it’s necessary. Sure, some progressive dentists are exceptions, but the industry is ready for a new norm.
Does anyone like going to the dentist? As an industry, dentistry has a Net Promoter Score of 1. That’s lower than mattress stores (8) and just two points higher than cable companies (-1). Set that against the size of the US market — currently $124 billion, bigger than orthodontics, vision, fitness, and physical therapy combined. We don’t accept this level of service in any other aspect of our lives. Not when shopping for glasses. Not when exercising at home with a stationary bike. Not when receiving primary care. All of these industries have been reimagined with today’s consumer in mind. But not dental.
Unfortunately, many dental practices seem to be stuck in the late eighties, when no one used the internet and I was still in high school. My dentist at the time was Dr. R, a friend of my dad’s. Dr. R was a nice guy, but he was old school. No novocaine, no local anesthetic, no laughing gas. I remember the sound of the drill, the burning smell, my back stiffening in the chair as I braced myself for pain. I hated going to the dentist. Simply put, it hurt.
30 years later, why hasn’t anything changed? Why do I still have to call my dentist to book an appointment? Why isn’t the pricing of services transparent? Why can’t I book an appointment for an evening or weekend time?
Time For A Change
From my years at SmileDirectClub, I knew that even though people didn’t like going to the dentist, they really cared about their oral wellness. So, last year, I partnered with Juxtapose in NYC to start a new company with the mission of creating a dental experience that people would actually look forward to. It’s called Tend. And today I’m thrilled to announce the completion of our Series A funding round. It was led by Redpoint Ventures in San Francisco, a firm with a track record of backing industry-redefining market leaders. My founding team — Michael Stenclik and Andy Grover — and I continue to partner with our early investors: Tom Lee of OneMedical, Neil Blumenthal and Dave Gilboa of Warby Parker, Zach Weinberg of Flatiron Health, and Bradley Tusk of Tusk Ventures. Our Series A brings the capital we’ve raised since inception to over $36 million.
Core to our mission is changing the way our guests think about going to the dentist, which we do in three ways.
1. Eliminating financial conflicts When you see your primary care doctor, if they find something wrong with you, they refer you to a specialist. There’s no financial benefit for them. But if your dentist finds something wrong, they can fix it and make more money. We’re getting rid of that conflict of interest by changing the way our dentists are compensated. We’re paying them a good, competitive salary and bonuses based on NPS, patient engagement, case acceptance, and whether their patients are coming back.
2. Transparent pricing On top of that, we’re making our pricing transparent. When you book an appointment online, we’ll show you the maximum cost of your visit based on your insurance coverage, so you’ll never pay more than you expect. And just to lower the stakes even further, we guarantee that you’ll be satisfied with your experience. If you’re not, we’ll refund you, no questions asked.
3. Guest experience Remember that 10-minute x-ray process? Now it’s going to be 30 seconds. Ever had impressions taken with a putty mold? Did it make you gag? Well, now it’s going to be 100% digital. These technologies exist. And we’ve invested in them.
We’ve also invested in a range of other ways to improve our guests’ experience. Booking online is super quick and easy. We make evening and weekend appointment times available. And when you book, we’ll ask you what Netflix show you want to watch during your visit. When you arrive, we’ll have it queued up on a TV on the ceiling of your personal suite. We’ll hand you wireless headphones and a comfort menu for you to check off other items you may want, like a stress ball. And our staff is specifically trained to make sure you never feel guilty or frightened — only informed, encouraged, and relaxed.
When we started last October, we formed two corporate hubs, one in NYC and one in Nashville. Today, those teams are 50 employees strong, and have deeply experienced leaders from companies such as OneMedical, Zocdoc, Blue Apron, HelloFresh, BarkBox, Quartet Health, and SoulCycle. Our team operated a pilot studio in Soho under the brand Stella Dental, which allowed us to develop our game plan on systems, patient experience, services, and payment, as well as test growth strategies. Over the past 10 months, we saw 1,569 patients (but who’s counting?), and our NPS was consistently above 90.
This October, we’re opening our first Tend studio in NYC, the country’s biggest dental market. It’s a beautiful, modern space on the ground floor of a historic building at 29 East 21st Street. In December, we’ll open our second studio on Wall Street. Throughout 2020 and into 2021, our growth in NYC and other major metro markets will continue.
If you’re a patient, we know going to the dentist has been stressful. We want to reframe your expectations about what that experience can be. If you’re someone who wants to make dental different, join us. We’re building an exceptional brand, and we’re about to get our grown-up teeth.
Doug Hudson is the CEO and Co-Founder of Tend. A serial healthcare entrepreneur, Doug has founded and led several consumer-facing ventures, including serving as founding CEO of SmileDirectClub and Chairman and CEO of DiabetesCareClub, CPAPCareClub, and HearingPlanet. He splits his time between NYC and Nashville with his wife and three daughters.