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The power of the pivot: How success in the tech industry led to groundbreaking innovation in retail dentistry

Oct. 6, 2021
Ryan Hungate, DDS, used his background in tech to tackle problems he recognized in dentistry. Simplifeye provides practices with more efficient ways to take payments, schedule appointments, and communicate with patients.

My path to becoming a dental entrepreneur started in an unlikely place: Apple headquarters in Cupertino, California. At the time, I reported to Ron Johnson, the senior vice president of retail operations. Our mission? To create a more efficient in-store workflow to move people through the purchasing process. This was in 2007-2008, when the iPhone had just launched, and people were coming to the stores just to hang out.

We designed the in-store workflow that Apple adopted for all of its stores globally. We identified where there were bottlenecks and points of friction and removed them, creating a seamless customer experience that increased sales and reduced the amount of time people spent waiting in line.

Little did I know that experience would lead me to launch Simplifeye, a venture-backed company that has raised $30 million in series-A funding to streamline workflows for dental and health-care practices.

Modern solutions for today’s dental practice

I left Apple in 2008 to attend Indiana University School of Dentistry, and then I received my orthodontic specialty certification from the University of Southern California.

I know firsthand that every single day, doctors must be able to clearly communicate the need for treatment. If they don’t explain it well, patients may reject the proposed treatment, and their health will decline.

I apply the same principle to business. If retail health-care practices don’t modernize operations to make it easier for patients to schedule, pay, and return for treatment, their businesses will suffer.

In 2018, Simplifeye launched 24/7 live chat for dental websites. Real people—not bots—respond to website visitors within seven seconds, answering questions and facilitating appointments. One year later, we added direct scheduling to our portfolio, which allows patients to self-schedule procedures at specific times based on a practice’s preferences. Now, more than 8,000 health-care providers use Simplifeye’s services.

Finding the magic combination for success

It took a few tries to come up with the right combination of messaging, product-market fit, and operational excellence.

Simplifeye’s first product was an electronic health records system compatible with the Apple Watch. It made patient information accessible right from providers’ wrists. AngelPad, a seed-stage accelerator program, funded it with $3 million in 2015.

We built a sales team of three sales development representatives and account executives who would cold call dental practices to explain how we could replace walkie-talkies and improve team communication.

The product failed because it didn’t fit into practices’ normal workflows. Team members were hesitant to use it, and the concept only worked if everyone on the team was on board.

This experience taught me a valuable lesson: everything Simplifeye created moving forward had to be easy to use and had to enhance existing office workflows. Also, the return on investment had to be obvious.

These realizations led us to pivot to create the 24/7 live chat service.

People don’t want to wait until normal business hours to pick up the phone to schedule an appointment. First, it’s inconvenient. They may be at work or with their kids, or they just may not have time to research dentists until nighttime or on the weekend. Second, it can be frustrating to call a practice and be put on hold, or worse, be sent to voicemail.

Simplifeye tapped into this changing trend in patient communication and expanded the inside sales team to let practices know about our solution. We built a playbook that identified every concern our core audience—doctors and dentists—might have about moving forward and how to address them. 

Staying ahead of the curve

This year, we’ve expanded every department in the company and launched several new services. Simplifeye Payments expands the number of ways patients can pay for their services. The wireless payment terminal lets people pay chairside instead of having to walk to the front, and it accepts credit cards, debit cards, automated clearing house (ACH) bank transfers, Apple Pay, and Google Pay.

It includes the ability to run soft credit checks, to create customized payment plans (which increase case acceptance by making treatment more affordable through monthly payments), and to automate the collection of those payments. The system sends out automated text-to-pay reminders with a link that takes patients directly to an online payment portal. It also includes the option for 0% merchant fees on credit card purchases by legally passing along the processing fee to patients.

We also launched Invite, a proactive scheduling tool that identifies current patients of record who are due to return for treatment and highlights appropriate openings in the schedule. With a few clicks, practices can send text-to-schedule invitations to the specific people who fit the criteria.

By automating scheduling, payments, and recare, we take some of the burden off the front desk team.

Advice for other dental entrepreneurs

Our success came from identifying the right product-market combination and then hiring really smart people to develop and promote it. We custom-build all of our solutions, and our sales team is expanding to 90 people. We have people from the financial tech sector on our board and have a team of advisors.

The best advice I can give to other dental entrepreneurs is to believe in yourself and be able to articulate your vision for the future. Then make sure you have a great COO or right-hand person to vet and implement your ideas. Create a culture that celebrates success—don’t be afraid to pivot when the marketplace changes. The secret to creating a successful company is to always be evolving so you stay relevant to the needs of your customers.

Ryan Hungate, DDS, MS, is an orthodontist and founder/CEO of Simplifeye, a company that focuses on creating workflows that attract new patients, reduce overhead, and reduce bad debt. Dr. Hungate graduated from the orthodontic specialty program at the University of Southern California. Prior to dental school, he worked for Apple and helped design the customer workflow adopted by their retail stores globally. Dr. Hungate volunteers to help children in need of orthognathic surgery, cleft palate treatment, and orthodontic care. Find him at simplifeye.com.
About the Author

Ryan Hungate, DDS, MS

Ryan Hungate, DDS, MS, is an orthodontist and founder/CEO of Simplifeye, a company that focuses on creating workflows that attract new patients, reduce overhead, and reduce bad debt. Dr. Hungate graduated from the orthodontic specialty program at the University of Southern California. Prior to dental school, he worked for Apple and helped design the customer workflow adopted by their retail stores globally. Dr. Hungate volunteers to help children in need of orthognathic surgery, cleft palate treatment, and orthodontic care. Find him at simplifeye.com.

Updated September 10, 2021          

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