Our face and particularly our smile, is usually what others notice when meeting us for the first time. This includes the shape, colour and straightness of our teeth.
It's no wonder then, with the widespread use of mobile phone cameras and the constant posting of pictures on social media platforms, that people have become more self-conscious than ever before about the appearance of their teeth - something that has resulted in a recent surge in the number of people availing of cosmetic dentistry, orthodontics and teeth-whitening products.
Irish teeth-straightening company, Your Smile Direct, is taking the market by storm. Set up by Graham Byrne and headquartered in the Media Cube in Dun Laoghaire, the company employs 19 staff and is continuing to roll out its disruptive model of bringing cutting-edge orthodontic technology directly to consumers.
"We provide clear cosmetic dental braces or aligners that correct minor to moderate dental concerns such as gaps, overcrowding, rotation or unevenness," says Graham. "Customers enquire online where they are then invited to take a picture of their smile and send it to us so we can quickly tell if they are suitable for treatment. We then send them a home impression kit where they can take an impression of their teeth in the comfort of their own home," he adds.
Once returned, the company provides a digital treatment plan that shows the positioning of their teeth compared to the predicted positioning following treatment. The client can sign up, pay or apply for finance - all online. They will then receive a series of invisible aligners in five days or less. Each of which is specifically designed to meet individual requirements and prescribed by a registered dentist. These are then worn constantly, and only removed for meals and cleaning teeth.
Worn in a specific sequence, these aligners are changed every two to four weeks as the teeth begin to gradually shift into their desired new position. While every case is unique, the length of the treatment is typically between four and six months, depending on the amount of spaces, overcrowding, or rotations that need to be corrected.
While the company's target market is anyone over the age of 15, their typical customers are women aged 18 to 35. Geographically, the UK is their largest market and it was here that Graham first tested and validated his business model.
"We started in the UK but also recently began marketing into France and Spain and next month we will begin targeting Italy and Germany," he says. "We estimate that the overall global market for clear dental aligners is in the region of €6bn a year and growing at a rate of 20pc every year. So there's definitely plenty of potential for us in this space," he adds.
Graham began in sales and IT. Having grown up in Rathfarnham, he was greatly influenced by the achievements of his parents. His mother was a successful saleswoman, while his father was part of a group which led a management buyout of the Irish division of Avery Labels.
After school, Graham completed a degree in commerce in UCD and an MBA in the Michael Smurfit School of Business. From there, he went on to work in sales for a number of well-known IT names such as Dell Computers and Cable and Wireless. He was later headhunted to join Global Crossing and, having moved to London, went on to manage their sales teams. After this he moved to a similar role with MC1 WorldCom (now part of Verizon).
Married by then to Maria and expecting their first child, Graham decided it was time to return to Ireland. Determined to go into business on his own, he set up a Cash Converter network of seven stores before successfully selling the business to Gell Retail. His next venture saw him enter the property market, where he succeeded in accumulating a substantial mixed portfolio of retail, commercial and residential properties.
"That was until the music stopped," says Graham. "After that, I got invited to look after business opportunities in Ireland and Scotland for a global education technology company called Promethean, something I really enjoyed."
In 2015, Graham went in search of minor corrective dental treatment for himself but found the experience both expensive and time-consuming. Researching the market further, he discovered a similar model in the US to the one he has now launched.
"From my own experience, I immediately believed that it would work well in Europe," says Graham. "The first thing I had to do though, was test and validate the model here in Europe. Once I saw that it could work, I then sought out a variety of expert partners including dental laboratories, dental practices, logistics companies and software specialists who could collectively help me scale the business," he adds.
Growth came - and came quickly. Having financed the company initially from his own resources, Graham then partnered with a private equity firm, Capricorn Capital Partners, to help fund the next phase of the company's development. This has included the recent opening of their first Scan Centre, called 'Smile Factory' in Piccadilly Tube Station in London followed shortly afterwards by a second in Manchester. A third is scheduled to open later this month in Paris with a further seven centres in key European cities over the next few months.
"At these Scan Centres, customers get a 3D scan taken of their smile and are then emailed a link to a 3D image of their proposed treatment plan. As they slide across the image, they are able to see the stages of improvement of their teeth over the period of their proposed treatment plan," says Graham. "If someone were to choose to go through the traditional route of multiple visits to their dental practice, this would typically cost around €4,000. We are much quicker and are approximately one third of the price."
Graham explains that all treatments are prescribed by qualified dentists. "What we are doing is taking the dental practice out of the equation not the qualified dentist. Everything we do is through our team of qualified dentists," he insists.
With revenues doubling every month and regular launches in cities across Europe, managing this level of growth remains his greatest challenge. "I love the potential that exists to scale this business. I have been involved in many fast-growth companies in the past but I have never seen anything like this. Our long aim is to become the world's largest and most trusted provider of laboratory-to-consumer dental solutions.".
Graham has succeeded in achieving something most entrepreneurs dream about - disrupting a traditional industry with an innovative business model that is profitable and highly scalable. Now that's something worth smiling about.
1 To scale you must find a partner to help you build the business
If you are intent on growing your business, find a significant partner that can work closely with you to help build scale into your business. Such partners may be in any or all aspects of the business from sales and marketing, to production, logistics, finance and distribution. Having access to these partners make scaling easier and faster.
2 Be careful about concentrating too much on fundraising
Some founders become obsessed with chasing funding. Instead, and where possible, focus your energies on your business and on growing your revenues and profit by offering your clients a great product and service. If you concentrate on being successful, funding will chase you rather than the other way around.
3 Remember that you can't do it all by yourself
No one in business can ever do everything themselves. To be successful, you need to surround yourself with a great team who are committed to growing the business. To achieve that, give them the tools, the responsibility and the trust they need to succeed. Once empowered and engaged, they will help take your business to a whole new level.
Company: Your Smile Direct
Business: Clear Cosmetic Braces/Aligners
Set up: 2016
Founder: Graham Byrne
No of Employees: 19
Location: The Media Cube, Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin
Sunday Indo Business