A growing number of newer dental brands has been attracting money from venture investors who are still kicking themselves for missing runaway hits. Most notable among these breakout companies is newly public SmileDirectClub, which sells teeth-straightening products directly to consumers and is beloved by analysts, even though its shares have slipped since its September IPO.
Among the many teeth-related startups to more recently attract private funding is Swift Health Systems, a five-year-old company that makes invisible braces under the brand INBRACE and just raised $45 million from VCs; Henry the Dentist, a two-year-old, mobile dental clinic that raised $10 million earlier this year; and Quip, a five-year-old maker of electric toothbrushes and oral care products that has garnered roughly $62 million from investors.
Still, a new company called Tend is especially notable, and not because it just raised $36 million in seed and Series A funding — which it did, led by Redpoint Ventures.
First and foremost, Tend sees an opportunity to reinvent the dentist’s office. How? Through tech-heavy dental “studios” that “prioritize” your comfort by featuring sleek waiting areas that it promises you’ll almost never need to use and by offering “Netflix in your chair” that you will enjoy while wearing the latest and greatest Bose headphones. (Tend says it will get your favorite show queued up before you arrive for your appointment, which you will breezily book online, and whose prices you can learn in advance, so you don’t suffer sticker shock later.)
A Fast Company reporter who visited the startup’s newly opened flagship space in Manhattan’s Flatiron neighborhood was even offered a selection of only the finest toothpastes, including that of Marvis, an Italian brand that comes in such distinct flavors as Amarelli licorice, cinnamon, ginger and jasmine — not to mention “classic strong,” “whitening” and “aquatic.”
It all sounds faintly ridiculous, but also nice, especially contrasted with traditional dentist offices, which tend to be both highly antiseptic and astonishingly vague about pricing.
There’s also a kind of precedent for what it’s doing. Specifically, improving on the patient experience has worked out well for One Medical, a venture-backed, tech-driven chain of 70 clinics that has become one of the largest independent groups in the U.S. (It’s also reportedly prepping an IPO.)
Little wonder that one individual participant in Tend’s new funding is Tom Lee, the physician who created One Medical in 2007 and led it as CEO until 2017. Other individual investors include Neil Blumenthal and Dave Gilboa of Warby Parker; Zach Weinberg of Flatiron Health; and Bradley Tusk of Tusk Ventures.
Meanwhile, Tend’s co-founder and CEO is also no slouch, seemingly. Doug Hudson was the CEO of SmileDirectClub for three-and-a-half years, beginning in 2013. Before that, he founded two medical care companies that were acquired: Hearing Planet and Simplex Healthcare.
Whether that pedigree is enough to get the company going will take some time to know, but certainly it’s chasing after a huge market that can very plainly be made better. In the U.S. alone, the dental market is now a $137 billion industry, according to the research group IBIS World, and as Hudson notes in a new Medium post about his latest startup, dentistry has a Net Promoter Score of 1, which is just two points higher than dreaded cable companies.
Consumers “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,” he writes, and it’s true. If Tend can improve the experience even a little bit and its prices are competitive, we’d guess it has a shot.