SmileDirectClub is the world’s first direct to consumer teledentistry platform for clear aligner therapy. On a mission to democratize access to safe, affordable orthodontics, co-founders Alex Fenkell and Jordan Katzman are working tirelessly to do away with traditional in-office visits to the orthodontist and unsightly, uncomfortable metal braces. They provide customers with easy access to clear orthodontic aligners delivered discreetly and comfortably at a fraction of the cost of traditional treatment, and people are loving the experience.
Launched in 2014 as SmileCareClub as a two-man operation in Detroit, the company has seen monumental growth over the last half-decade. Co-founders Alex Fenkell and Jordan Katzman met and became fast friends at summer camp in northern Michigan, where they were both bracefaced 13-year-olds struggling through the misery of their unsightly and expensive metal orthodontic appliances. Many years and several business ideas, including a car detailing service and several apps later, they started to wonder if there could be a better way to get straighter, better-looking teeth. Soon after, they realized that the experience they would’ve much rather had wasn’t just possible – it was within reach, and they could make it a reality for people all over the world who aren’t satisfied with their smiles and want the confidence to share more of themselves with the world.
Whatever doubts they had about whether or not their business was a wanted one were instantly quashed on launch day, when initial customer interest in their startup crashed their first web servers. From there, the duo took on every responsibility themselves as they built the business from the ground up. Fenkell and Katzman fielded phone calls from customers both prospective and current, recruited a network of dental professionals willing to work via then-emerging teledentistry technology, and worked tirelessly to ensure that their products were safe and ready to be shipped to patients.
Five years and a move to Nashville later, they are partners in a business that employs over 6,000 people, operates over 300 SmileShop locations around the world, and provides service not just in the United States, but in Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Australia. As a market leader of the direct to consumer clear aligner industry, the organization continues to experience major successes and mark significant milestones, with over 750,000 customers’ smiles transformed for the better.
Though it may not be obvious if you live in a larger town or a city, SmileDirectClub is providing a vital service for many people all over the world. As Fenkell and Katzman began to design the company in its early days, they discovered only 40% of counties in American have an orthodontist- and that treatment is often unaffordable. SmileDirectClub treatments are often much less, making the service hugely valuable for many who otherwise would never be able to get the great smile they’ve always wanted.
Key to this continuing development, growth, and scale is cultivating effective partnerships, and one of SmileDirectClub’s biggest in 2019 is their connection with HP. HP has helped SmileDirectClub do more than just grow, however; they’ve given them the power to become vertically integrated and perfect their supply chain to offer the greatest possible customer experience, ship product at the very best price, and minimize their impact upon the planet.
To scale their manufacturing, SmileDirectClub and HP built the largest 3D printing facility in the country. Announced at the Rapid 2019 3D Printing Conference, SmileDirectClub now uses 49 of HP’s Jet Fusion 3D printers to produce mouth molds 24 hours a day, seven days a week, creating a total of 50,000 molds each day and as many as 20 million by the end of this calendar year. Each mold is 3D printed, then thermoformed with BPA-free plastics, then custom-manufactured for the customer.
Furthermore, SmileDirectClub’s partnership with HP makes it a snap for the company to recycle both used and unused materials, lowering costs at every step of the manufacturing process and reducing overall waste. The materials used to make the mouth molds now can be heated and turned back into pellets for injection molding, which can then, in turn, be used to produce new molds – a massive improvement over other manufacturing processes, and something that other companies should look to as a way to minimize inefficiency in a world where recycling facilities are shutting down, plastics have gone from being a solution to a major problem, and everyone is trying to use (and waste) less while still living the best lives they possibly can.