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💊hi gray: Tend, Disrupting Dentistry
hi gray Q&A #11
April 26, 2021
Hi, it’s Janine. hi gray is a newsletter about those creating human-first digital health companies. Today, we’re diving into Tend, a direct to consumer startup disrupting the dental space.
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Tend, which launched in October 2019, is a company reimagining the dentist office. Lack of trust, feeling judged, and discomfort are some of the key complaints Tend is trying to rid of in its innovative approach to dental healthcare.
The company announced in April that it has raised an additional $125 million in Series C funding, ringing it in at $198 million in total funding since its launch.
In this drop, we sat down with Doug Hudson, who is the founder and chief executive officer of Tend, a company setting a new standard for oral health, starting at the dentist. As a serial healthcare entrepreneur — he was the founding CEO of teeth aligner company SmileDirectClub — he shares with us his vision for Tend.
Hi Gray: What inspired the creation of Tend and its focus on disrupting the dentistry world?
Doug Hudson: We've stepped into a $142 billion category that's completely antiquated, known for long wait times, surprise bills, judgment from practitioners and generally unpleasant experiences. We started Tend under the belief that going to the dentist shouldn't feel like it's 1984. We have completely modernized and refreshed the experience, making it something that people actually look forward to.
HG: So if you could describe the company in two sentences, what would it be?
DH: Tend is the world’s first member-obsessed oral wellness brand. We are technology-enabled and hospitality-driven — setting a new industry standard for oral health by making going to the dentist an experience you actually look forward to, with products to extend that mission into your daily life.
HG: Can you tell me a little bit about your background—is it in dental health?
DH: Indeed, I’m a serial healthcare entrepreneur and have founded and led several consumer health companies prior to starting Tend, including DiabetesCareClub and CPAPCareClub, Inc., HearingPlanet, Inc. and more recently SmileDirectClub where I was the founding CEO. Along with my co-founders Michael Stenclik and Andy Grover, who both have backgrounds in consumer health companies as well, we created Tend to address the need to set a new standard for oral health.
HG: Tell me more about the industry you are in. How’s the competition?
DH: We’re fortunate that demand will likely always be consistent — people will always need to go to the dentist, and we’re offering a product that far exceeds anything else available on the market in terms of quality and experience.
HG: How would you describe Tend's target audience? How has your brand perception guided you?
DH: We cater to all adults (for now, until we launch pediatrics), and don’t single out a particular target audience. The branding reflects our mission to “tend” to all — it’s welcoming, soothing, and friendly via each of our design touchpoints. Our identity achieves this across all customer journey touchpoints, from social and digital to studios and uniforms.
Our brand photography celebrates mouths and people of all kinds with zero judgment. Our color palette is friendly and approachable. Warm, muted colors create a sense of calm. Our greens add authority by evoking medicine, which has been associated with green for more than a century. Our linear keylines resemble a doctor’s script. Our clinical staff photography shows dentists and hygienists in uniform to communicate their expertise, but also smiling, snacking, and talking in a way that feels relatable.
We created three unique patterns, both static and in motion, that help reframe our guests’ expectations about what a dental visit can be. They’re inspired by brushing, swishing, and swirling, celebrating the sensory richness of everyday oral wellness routines.
HG: How does Tend work exactly, if you can focus on the physician consultation and touchpoints throughout a patient’s experience.
DH: Tend is bringing a hospitality mindset to oral health. Booking is easy, pricing is transparent, and our studios are expertly designed to be beautiful, calm, and inviting. Before you come in, we get in touch to gather your insurance information and medical history, so you’ll be seen right away.
Tend is bringing a hospitality mindset to oral health.
During your visit, our doctors and hygienists will inform, encourage, and never guilt you about not flossing. Beyond cleaning and cavities, our dentists educate patients on the many factors that impact oral health, such as sleep and diet, in order to provide a holistic approach to care.
HG: How’s your company structured?
DH: Tend currently has just over 250 employees, with hubs in New York and Nashville, and 6 studios (and counting) in New York. We will be expanding our studio footprint to Washington, DC and Boston later this year.
HG: The telehealth industry is still largely new; how have you been managing your growth while keeping in line with current telehealth standards?
DH: We began virtual consultations out of necessity during the pandemic, and we and our members have found value in continuing to engage in this manner. Of course, oral wellness will always require physical visits to the dentist at some point, but we’ve found that there’s a lot more we can offer outside of typical twice-a-year cleanings. That might be: virtual consults for people looking at orthodontic treatment, or progress checks during orthodontic treatment, or even just monitoring overall oral health and making recommendations on future treatments, or products. As for maintaining telehealth standards, our clinicians apply the same hospitality-driven mindset to virtual sessions as they do in person.
HG: Telehealth allows people to have more access to treatments than ever before — has this motivated you?
DH: We are obviously thrilled about making oral health more accessible to more people. This is a big part of our mission — because oral wellness affects overall health and wellness. Even post-pandemic, we’ll continue to leverage virtual services as a big part of our business as a technology-driven company.
HG: What’s next for Tend?
DH: With our Series C fundraise, we’ll be using new capital to enter new markets — first with DC and Boston, and then other cities nationwide to execute on the vision that Tend is a brand for the entire country. Another area of growth will be our at-home care line, which represents a massive opportunity to offer a comprehensive suite of products that work together, that are gentle on your teeth, prevent the aging of teeth, and align with our clinical rationale.
These products were designed by some of our talented clinicians to help us care for your mouth beyond the four walls of our studios, and elevate Tend as a brand members are seeing more than twice a year — we want Tend to be a brand that you use every single day. Third, we’ll be launching the Tend app, which will be an industry-leading patient portal designed to provide Tend's patients with a truly seamless end-to-end experience. It's essentially our digital front door, allowing members to manage appointments, customize their visits, and inquire about services in just a few taps.
HG: Lastly, and I think this is always a great question, how did the name “Tend” come about?
DH: “Tend” is the first four letters of dental rearranged into a word about caring for others.
👋 Curious about Tend? Read and interact with them here.
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