Why SignalFire led $13M for OrthoFX smart teeth straighteners
“DIY projects are great for your home, not for your mouth,” says leading New York dentist and OrthoFX provider Dr. Jonathan Levine. The direct-to-consumer model may work great for simple and benign products. But when it comes to teeth straightening, to prevent misaligned bites or unnecessary pain, you need a dentist in the loop, even if you can’t have one in the room.
Unfortunately, right now you largely can’t have one in the room. COVID-19 has hit dentistry and orthodontics hard. Many offices have closed, and it’s dangerous for practitioners and patients to spend time face to face in such close proximity. You can’t wear a mask while getting an impression of your teeth made to size you for a set of aligners. And when things do return to a semblance of normalcy, the backlog of patients needing urgent dental care will swamp the offices that survive.
Even with regular teledentistry checkups, though, it’s up to the patient to consistently wear their aligners. But it’s easy to forget…or willfully “forget” if the aligners put so much pressure on your teeth that they hurt. Soon you’re off schedule, and by the time a remote dentist realizes, you may have to start your year-long aligner regimen over.
At SignalFire, our market intelligence engine Beacon surfaced rapidly increased spend on at-home orthodontic equipment. People want the look and confidence straighter teeth can give them without a mouth full of metal braces, and relief from jaw strain and cavities caused by crowded teeth. But without a real dentist guiding the process, DIY aligners can turn your teeth too fast causing root breakage requiring full tooth replacement. That’s spurred class-action lawsuits against early entrants.
So we mapped the industry and sought out the people who understood the space better than anyone in the world: top talent from Invisalign and Sonicare who were building a better approach. They realized that to successfully straighten patients’ smiles, they needed a system that’s easy and affordable to start, overseen by a dentist, minimizes pain, and reminds customers to keep wearing their aligners.
That’s why SignalFire is leading a $13 million Series A funding round for OrthoFX -— a teledentistry startup here to straighten out the teeth straightening industry.
OrthoFX lets patients use an at-home impression kit and receive a six-month plan of custom 3D printed aligners each week. They put 40% less pressure on teeth and cause less pain than competing aligners that you only update every two weeks and take a year to show results. OrthoFX’s virtual smile tracker lets patients submit photos for review by AI and doctors to ensure they’re progressing towards the 3D simulation of their ideal look.
OrthoFX co-founder and CEO Ren Menon
The bluetooth-connected OrthoFX case can remind patients to wear their aligners, and if they’re not, the company can ship them a Rescue Aligner to get back on track without having to start over. The OrthoFX reduces costly in-office visits by 60%, and since doctors oversee the whole process, most insurance covers OrthoFX so customers pay as little as $950.
We knew Ren Menon, Henry Chan, and Nichole Garcia were the perfect founders to lead OrthoFx. Menon headed product management for Invisalign where Chan was director of R&D, while Garcia was general manager of esthetic dentistry at Sonicare toothbrush maker Philips. They saw how other players cut corners, offering little after-sales support while nickel and diming customers for replacement aligners or retainers. Inadequate doctor oversight and poor dental habits left patients disappointed.
“Legacy players have hyper-focused on specialist doctors taking attention away from some basic, common-sense needs of the patients, says Menon. “On the other hand, observing some of the newer players who have emerged, I felt repelled by the thought that such profitable businesses could be created by short-changing the less educated consumers and tens of thousands of dentists who are all small business owners contributing productively to the local economies. We are here to rethink the industry and the care delivery model with the consumer’s best interest in mind.”
SignalFire is a big believer in this consumerization of healthcare, leading to our investments in ePharmacy Ro, diagnostic wearables veteran Jawbone Health, and telehealth pioneers like Bicycle Health for opioid addiction relief and Form Health for weight loss. OrthoFX’s focus on convenience like its no-hassle retainer replacements makes dentistry less scary. But the company also has defensible technology like the comfy but firm three-layer polymer used in its aligners, and the ecommerce platform it provides dentists so they can stay in touch and sell to patients year-round.
In the coming years, teledentistry must become the norm in the social distancing era that has accelerated this already-growing trend. SignalFire’s talent team worked with OrthoFX to revamp their strategy to sidestep closed dentist offices, hire up an inside sales team, and adopt best practices for work from home from our newly published Distributed Team Management Guide.
There’s a new normal for dentistry emerging. Clear aligners will replace metal braces as general dentists take over work that traditionally required specialist orthodontists. OrthoFX is built to make these shifts safe and successful for patients while becoming an ally for dentistsweathering disruption. They’re the right team with a smart product attacking a huge problem through the lens of empathy. SignalFire is excited to support OrthoFX as they work to give everyone a smile they can be proud of.
Chris is the Founder & CEO of SignalFire, an early stage venture capital fund. He focuses on investments in consumer Internet, software and mobile with particular emphasis on seed stage investments. Previously, Chris was a Partner with General Catalyst Partners, and a Vice President with Bessemer Venture Partners.
Josh Constine is a Principal investor and Head of Content for SignalFire. He focuses on early stage consumer startups, advising portfolio companies on PR, and writing to inspire and educate founders. Constine was previously Editor-At-Large for TechCrunch, where he spent 8 years writing 4000 blog posts about young startups and social giants. He's led 200 on-stage talks around the world and was ranked the #1 most cited tech journalist by Techmeme from 2016 to 2020.