Five years ago, in 2014, entrepreneurs Alex Fenkell and Jordan Katzman launched SmileDirectClub – known at the time as SmileCareClub – as a two-man operation in Detroit. Though they knew they had a great idea, they had no idea just how many people would join them on their journey to, in their words, “democratize orthodontics.” Initial customer interest from prospects on launch day crashed their very first website, and the duo found themselves running the show all but on their own.
They worked tirelessly to recruit a team of orthodontists and dentists to build the teledentistry network they’d need to bring their vision to life, having to convince (understandably) skeptical specialists that by providing teledentistry services, they wouldn’t be losing customers who visit their traditional, brick and mortar practice. Years later, through teledentistry, these doctors can now make people more aware of their services, reach new markets, and connect with people in ways they never could before.
They also served as their own customer support department as they answered thousands of emails, tweets, and social media messages, and fulfilled every appliance shipment – a massive undertaking that was far easier said than done, as many customers receive new orthodontic devices every few weeks in order to achieve the smiles they’ve always wanted within an average of six months.
Fortunately for Fenkell and Katzman, one of SmileDirectClub’s most notable early customers was Golden State Warriors power forward Draymond Green. One month before the 2016 NBA finals, he knew he needed a smile as extraordinary as his team’s performance. To make it happen, he worked directly with Fenkell, who flew to San Francisco with one of their trained Smile Guides to get Green started on his smile journey.
Online, Green acknowledged the challenges he had with keeping straight teeth after high school. His mother, Mary Babers, was quick to chime in with the fact that her son wasn’t just bad at wearing his retainers – he actually broke them when he was in college, leading to the gradual undoing of years of costly orthodontic work. Though you might be surprised to hear it, many SmileDirectClub customers received orthodontic treatment of some kind earlier in life, but had their straight teeth shift due to lost, broken, or simply unworn retainers. The company’s 3-D printed appliances have proven to be a far more affordable solution than another round of full-service treatment, which can last several years, might mean wearing confidence-destroying metal braces, and typically costs between $5,000 and $6,000.
Though the Warriors lost the finals in 2016 to the Cleveland Cavaliers, he had a smile more than ready for his championship photos when the teams rematched – and the Warriors triumphed – in 2017, and that championship smile was still looking great when the Warriors demolished records as they defeated the Cavs again in 2018, sweeping the finals and bringing an end to one of the most extraordinary four year runs in NBA history.
Green loved his new smile, which he achieved without the interruptions and inconveniences of regular orthodontist visits, so much, and was so convinced by the power of SmileDirectClub, that he went one step further and took his relationship to the company to the next level: he became an investor. He called SmileDirectClub “a product [he] loved and used firsthand,” and described his investment as “a no-brainer.” He bet big on the company’s long-term success and flew to New York City to celebrate with Fenkell on September 12, dubbed #SmilePowered Day. The company took over Times Square, with Green, Fenkell, Katzman, and many SmileDirectClub customers posing for photos to celebrate their new smiles and the company’s massive growth.
Now headquartered in Nashville, SmileDirectClub has helped more than 750,000people achieve incredible smiles. They have opened over 300 SmileShop locations in countries including the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, and Australia, New Zealand and employ over 5,000 people. They are actively helping to make orthodontic care affordable, accessible, fast, and easy – something it certainly wasn’t when co-founders Fenkell and Katzman met at summer camp when they were both 13, both wearing the unsightly, clunky, and uncomfortable metal braces so many people grew up with.
Fenkell now oversees the company’s SmileShop program while Katzman manages new technology. As the company continues to grow at a rapid clip, with additional plans to open new SmileShops around the world to help take SmileDirectClub’s mission and vision to the next level. By partnering with HP earlier this year, SmileDirectClub has also built the largest 3D printing facility in the United States, using 50 Jet Fusion 3D printing systems working around the clock to make up to 20 million high quality 3D mouth molds in 2020 at lower costs than ever before.
Even now, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, in 60% of counties, there simply are no practicing orthodontists. This wasn’t just the “aha” moment that led Fenkell and Katzman to their revolutionary business model – it’s an injustice they’ve dedicated their lives to solving because no one else has done it, and the reason that teledentistry is quickly proving itself as a vital, extremely valuable service.
Straighter, brighter teeth still feel like a luxury, but by doing away with luxury pricing, SmileDirectClub is transforming more than just patients’ smiles. They’re changing lives, careers, and photos, whether they’re on graduation day, at a wedding, or the NBA Championships for the better – something Draymond Green recognized very early on, and something that everyone got to experience a little bit of on #SmilePowered Day.