This Teeth Aligner Startup Went from Zero to $1 Billion in Two Years

The direct-to-consumer era has rarely, if ever, seen a rocket ship like Byte.

Entrepreneurs Scott Cohen and Blake Johnson founded the company in 2017 and launched its teeth straighteners in January 2019.
With the company on pace to hit $100 million in annual sales less than two years later, publicly held Dentsply Sirona Inc. acquired the startup for $1 billion.

This Teeth Aligner Startup Went from Zero to $1 Billion in Two Years

Byte pulled from the DTC playbook, using funny and irreverent marketing aimed squarely 20- and 30-somethings. Slogans like “Byte Me” and endorsements from singer LeAnn Rimes and Super Bowl champion Rob Gronkowski helped the brand stand out in the $12 billion U.S. orthodontics industry.

The company, which didn’t take any venture capital funding, used another DTC hallmark by making the shopping experience easier. Dentistry had been upended by companies such as Align Technology and SmileDirectClub offering cheaper alternatives to braces, but they still required office visits. Byte pushed doctor consultations online, which proved ideal when offices shuttered during the pandemic

Bloomberg recently spoke with Cohen about what can be learned from Byte’s meteoric rise.

Clear aligners (think of a mouthpiece-looking device) had been around for more than two decades when you launched. What did you see as the opportunity? What was that “ah-ha” moment?

We got together a few years ago with a local, prominent orthodontist who mentioned that technology and convenience would be greatly integrated with his practice and that over the coming years, dental practices would fall behind if they didn’t “get with the times.”

From there, you did loads of research and opted to bring that convenience directly to consumers, as opposed to selling through orthodontist practices. The Byte system ended up pricing at about $2,000, which is similar to competitors. What else did you do to stand out?

From day one, our company’s core vision was around access and affordability and providing a consumer experience that was better than the likes of Apple. 

The company also pushed consultations to video chats, email and phone calls, instead of in an office. In the first year, customers jumped from 100 to 10,000. What was the big unlock?

This goes back to gaining the trust of the consumer by being focused on the consumer experience and also running a business that’s set up to be profitable from day one. We weren’t looking to just grow at all costs, as has been popular in the era of WeWork.

We stayed disciplined to building the brand based on focusing on consumer experience and that accelerated the adoption very quickly.

What does Byte’s success say about today’s shopper?

If you provide a first-class experience with a strong value proposition at a reasonable price, consumers will continue to come back and be a company’s best form of marketing. Consumers will continue to purchase, even in challenging economic cycles, when they have a real need that’s being filled and trust the brand.

You did this all without venture capital funding, but I’m guessing investors will want to know what you’re up to next?

We have already begun working on another direct-to-consumer model. We’re still tinkering in the garage with it, if you will, but gearing up to launch it later this year. I can tell you this: the core pillars of our next venture will continue to be world-class consumer experience driven by strong unit economics that drive profitability. More to come.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited and condensed.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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