The LendingTree of Dentistry

DSO News heard about a company offering a unique service and we wanted to know more.

I reached out to Greg Pellegrom, the Co-founder and CEO of BidMySmile to learn more about this “LendingTree of dentistry” as it was explained to me.

Below is our conversation:

JB: Hello Greg, thank you for taking the time to speak with me on behalf of DSO News readers and share more about this interesting mix of telemedicine and procedure bidding that you’ve created. It is the first I’ve heard of such a service and personally wanting to know more, I figured our readers do as well.

GP: Thank you for the opportunity to introduce our unique platform to the group dentistry and DSO community. We believe our model will be widely embraced by today’s consumer. The ease and convenience of gathering treatment information online, including fees, is what they crave. It’s the future of attracting more patients to any dental office and despite the name, BidMySmile is not an open bidding or auction platform. All the information shared between patient and provider is strictly confidential. There is no information visible to the providers either.

JB: What is BidMySmile?

GP: BidMySmile is a digital market place for dentistry, beginning with orthodontic treatment. We essentially mimic the manual process of attending a consultation and do it electronically. Our patients create a profile with some basic information along with five intraoral photographs they capture using their mobile device. Their profile is delivered to our network of local providers and in just a few quick steps, the doctor returns a preliminary diagnosis and treatment plan. It’s really that simple.

The offer is equipped with all of the pertinent information a patient would need to determine if they want to schedule a full consultation. It’s incredibly efficient for both sides and our patients arrive motivated, informed, and ready to start treatment!

JB: According to a blog post on your website, you acquired what you refer to as “patient zero” on November 10, 2017. What was the experience of that patient like and how did 2018 treat you?

GP: That pivot validated that there was a market for patients searching online for orthodontics and willing to upload photos of their teeth in order to receive basic information. As you can imagine, the challenge was finding the providers to participate, but within a few days we had three offers for her and she was in ceramic braces shortly thereafter. BidMySmile was born.

2018 was all about testing and refining the model, building out the robust website and securing our initial round of investment capital. Like any disruptive startup business, it was a roller coaster, both scary and exciting with plenty of ups and downs. In the end, we learned a lot, accomplished our goals and are poised for significant traction in 2019.

JB: With the continuing commoditization of dentistry, and our increasing personal reliance on technology, I see BidMySmile as a great answer to reaching the patient in an ever-changing landscape. Generally, have orthodontists seen it through the same prism as me, or have you experienced skepticism?

GP: We all know orthodontists are notorious for their unwillingness to adapt to anything new. This is no different. We tried for a solid six months to get the specialists to embrace BidMySmile by making it exclusive to them. A few got it, but we were mostly met with complete resistance. Therefore, we decided to pivot and open up the platform to all orthodontic service providers as of January 1st.

To be clear, each provider will carry the designation of orthodontist or general dentist in their unique profile, along with other attributes to showcase their practice.

JB: Having built out a few online platforms myself, I know firsthand that it is no simple feat. The age-old question of “which comes first, the chicken or the egg” always comes into play. Have you had an easier time engaging with orthodontists or patients seeking their services?

GP: We’re confident on getting both. In fact, we’ve proven it! For us, it’s about maintaining the ratio of chicken and eggs. To systematically scale into new markets, we must have the providers for our patients. There are lots of patients interested in braces and clear aligners. We market directly to the consumer, building awareness. Our network of doctors provide the access and affordability they’re seeking.

Currently, we have the ability to provide at least one offer to approximately 70% of the population. That is something we’re very proud of, but it’s not enough. We’re actively in discussion with two of the largest DSOs about a pilot program which could potentially solve our challenge with coverage.

JB: BidMySmile seems like a service that could be offered across the dental specialty spectrum. Do you plan to continue focusing exclusively on orthodontics in the future, or are there plans to roll the service out to more specialties?

GP: Like every successful digital marketplace, it is critical to prove the model in one vertical market before expanding your product or service. As tempting as it is to expand, that is the approach we’re dedicated to. Amazon started with books, Facebook at Harvard and LendingTree began with home mortgages. When the time is right, we will expand into most areas of dentistry, including preventative, restorative, cosmetic and emergency.

We do have plans in 2019 to pre-approve our patients with financing prior to sending out their profile for bid requests. This can be a real game changer for the providers.

JB: If an orthodontist reading this is skeptic, do you have any anecdotes or stats that would change their mind?

GP: This applies to all orthodontic providers. 95% of the patients we’ve delivered for consultations accept treatment on that day. Our consultations significantly reduce time for you and your treatment coordinator. You’re able to attract new patients 24/7/365 from your smartphone anywhere in the world. Over 60% of our patients do not select the lowest fee. You can easily measure your return on investment with our service down to the penny. Our free plan is the best way to try us out. In fact, providers can stay on our free plan for as long as they’d like and can cancel at any time.

JB: I feel like I keep a pretty good finger on the pulse of the industry. As I mentioned, this is the first I’ve heard of such a service. Are there competitors I do not know about? If so, how do you differentiate your offering from theirs?

GP: We truly are the pioneers of delivering ready-to-start orthodontic patients to a practice through the use of virtual consultation. Nothing else like it exists.

JB: Dentistry, in general, has seen declining insurance reimbursements over the years. Your platform encourages orthodontics to present their best price. Are you worried about the bottom dropping out where there is minimal or no profit left, or do you have mechanisms or plans in place to prevent such a thing from happening? As an example, Invisalign has certain costs built into it no matter the dentist providing their clear aligners. Could, in theory, a dentist bid below cost?

GP: We do not dictate treatment or fees. Providers determine what is best for the patient at a fee they’re willing to accept. We have some providers in our network who refuse to deviate from their current fee schedule and others that price their services more aggressively. Our goal is to present the patient with choices and options that fit their budget and other considerations that are important to them.

Consumer psychology plays a role in our model. People do not always pick the lowest price, especially if they have the means to afford it. Our patients will do their own research on each provider when comparing offers and select the one they want to see for a consultation. They rely heavily on public ratings, reviews, social media and the provider’s website.

Our patients are informed that all offers are subject to change based on full records at the in-office consultation and verification of insurance benefits, which is tracking at about 20%.

JB: I noticed on your website that you accepted equity financing in October of last year. What goals do you plan to accomplish with that capital infusion?

GP: The round we raised in October has allowed us to expand from Colorado and into Texas. Plus, we’ve entered into an agreement with a mobile aligner business that provides coverage to 70% of the US population. Our goal is to have coverage in the top 100 MSAs by 2020. We’re rapidly expanding our marketing mix, increasing our spend across all channels and continually building our brand.

We’re actively seeking an additional round of capital to expedite our growth.

JB: Being first to market comes with unique challenges and I imagine identifying and onboarding new orthodontists being an ongoing challenge. As a career-long marketer, I’d wager reaching patients wanting this service is much easier than identifying and engaging orthodontists. How do you address this? Are you doing a city-by-city rollout? If you are, which cities are you presently in and what markets do you plan on entering in 2019?

GP: I’ve yet to speak with a consumer who doesn’t get this model immediately and share their excitement for how needed it is. The challenge is cost effectively reaching them through digital and traditional marketing channels.

As I mentioned earlier, we’re expanding our provider network by opening our platform up to GPs and DSOs who provide orthodontic care. We’re confident that our model will be adopted by any progressive minded dental practitioner looking to grow their orthodontic business.

While we have a plan to scale geographically into the top 100 MSAs, we’re nimble enough to turn on our digital marketing business in “Anywhere USA” should we see an increase in subscriptions in an area. Together we can expand the dental and orthodontic market.

JB: Greg, thank you so much for speaking with DSO News and educating both our readers and me about your platform. I wish you the best in 2019 and beyond. Any parting words for our readers?

GP: Jesse, I’m honored you asked me to do this interview and I am truly grateful for the opportunity. I spent 15 years as an orthodontic sales professional before I started this business, which ironically cost me my job for refusal to shut it down. I am passionate about helping people improve their smiles, both functional and aesthetic, as it does wonders for self-confidence. The barriers of cost and convenience prevent far too many people from receiving care. I want to remove those barriers and make an impact on people’s lives.

I am also determined to help the profession of dentistry and orthodontics. There are tens of millions of people who want these services. By seeking out, embracing and integrating new technology, you can remove the barriers that currently prevent them from receiving care. Together we can all thrive, but we must adapt through awareness, access and affordability.

JB: Thanks again, Greg. Every single time I will bet on the person who gave it all up to chase their dream. I have little doubt you made the wrong decision in choosing to pursue BidMySmile full-time.

Jesse Barron is the Executive Editor of DSO News. He is also a Managing Partner of Dental Allies, Inc. Dental Allies helps practices and dental businesses scale. They accomplish this by focusing their clients on culture, growth, automation and operational improvement. They are partnered with the processing affiliate of a bank to provide the lowest payment processing rates in dental. They’ll introduce you. They are big on making meaningful introductions. Dental Allies delivers results that are real, impactful and meaningful. He feels most challenged and content when automating a previously manual process.