Who doesn’t wish to be born with a set of straight pearlies?
Unless you are aligned in that department, braces can cost anything between S$3,500 to S$6,000, depending on the orthodontist and patient’s teeth condition.
While governmental institutions offer cheaper services, waitlists can be as long as two years. A private clinic could provide faster service with more attention, but it also charges higher prices.
This is why Julian Artopé decided to create invisible braces brand Zenyum, which develops 3D-printed invisible braces that are 70 per cent more affordable than most clear braces treatments.
“We identified that most people [in our target age group of 18 to 35] have dental conditions that could be treated simply but are often left aside due to complicated processes, lack of access and high price points,” said Julian, co-founder and CEO of Zenyum in a Vulcan Post interview.
Ugly Problems With Metal Braces
Growing up, Julian’s childhood was defined by the braces he wore. He experienced traditional metal braces as a teenager and knew firsthand how uncomfortable and painful they were.
His mouth was sore all the time, and it was inconvenient to visit the dentist every other week or month.
The 35-year-old hails from Germany and graduated from the European Business School in his home country, with a degree in General Management & Business Law.
However, he isn’t unfamiliar to this part of the world, having studied at Yonsei Business School in Seoul, South Korea and obtained an MBA from INSEAD in France and Singapore.
He has spent a great deal of his life — 13 years in fact — in startups prior to Zenyum and “have seen various business models from e-commerce, social networks, digital payments, content and classifieds in Germany, the UK, the US, and Africa”.
Julian said that he has had good mentors, seen the ups and downs of startups and that helped him identify business opportunities.
Growing up in a family of entrepreneurs — his father runs a publishing house and his three older brothers run their own businesses — spurred him to follow in their footsteps.
After graduating from business school, I considered going into consulting. My siblings called me and said, “Little brother, you don’t want that. Join something small, fast-growing, and exciting. It will be a rollercoaster ride that enriches your life like nothing else.”– Julian Artopé, co-founder and CEO of Zenyum
Julian then joined a German social networking company similar to Facebook where he developed a passion for tech and innovation.
After the company gained its footing, he then moved to London, where he worked for one of the biggest digital payment firms, Skrill.
After which, he spent four years in Africa building the biggest content and classifieds group of the continent, before he found himself in Southeast Asia.
He ended up in Kuala Lumpur, where he worked for the price comparison company, iPrice. Still, he knew that he wanted to do something more.
Recalling how painful and uncomfortable braces defined his childhood, it fuelled his mission to help patients straighten their teeth with clear aligners, but at a much lower cost.
He roped in co-founder Frederik Krass, who also serves as Chief Operation Officer (COO), and conceptualised Zenyum in August 2018.
They had a clear and aligned purpose (pun intended), to make invisible braces more accessible, high-quality, customisable and yet affordable across Asia through technology and a fast-growing network of dentists and orthodontists.
In October 2018, Zenyum invisible braces officially launched in Singapore.
Why Zenyum Costs 70% Cheaper Than Other Clear Braces
Zenyum leverages on the power of technology.
To kickstart their braces journey at Zenyum, customers first have to fill out a survey on their website and send over pictures of their teeth via email or WhatsApp.
Their dental experts will then assess your teeth and arrange for a consultation at one of their partner clinics. The consultation session includes a 3D intraoral scan, x-rays and a physical assessment.
Once the patient is deemed a suitable candidate, they will come up with a personalised treatment.
After payment is settled, the customised invisible braces will go into production and will be ready in around four to five weeks.
Cases are mostly monitored remotely via the Zenyum app, and dental solutions such as diagnoses and consultations are remotely delivered over video calls or messenger chats.
With teledentistry, you can quickly reach out to your dentist (from one of Zenyum’s partner clinics) for advice whenever you need it.
According to Julian, Zenyum fully complies with local regulations and ensures that every customer sees a licensed doctor in person before commencing treatment.
Through the app, our team of partner dentists, and a dedicated Zenyum representative, we provide Zenyum users with round the clock support, help them to remember their treatment schedule or just see their progress.
This leads to very high engagement rates for a company of our kind: 70 per cent of our user base uses the app on a weekly basis, and 25 per cent uses it daily.– Julian Artopé, co-founder and CEO of Zenyum
However, Zenyum still places an emphasis on physical consultations as they are required for certain diagnoses, before starting a treatment or scans are done.
Teledentistry and physical consultations complement each other for a safer, legitimate transparent braces treatment in line with the duty of care delivered by professional dentists, explained Julian.
By minimising physical consultations unless necessary, customers can cut down on hefty consultation fees which makes Zenyum’s braces more affordable.
Additionally, 3D printing technology is used to produce their aligners. As the cost of 3D printing has dropped over the years thanks to advances in technology, it has become cheaper to make them.
Furthermore, Zenyum’s invisible braces are manufactured in Asia so shipping costs and CO2 footprint are reduced.
This makes Zenyum 70 per cent more affordable than other clear aligners on the market, which can cost from S$5,000 to S$10,000. In fact, Zenyum is even more affordable than traditional metal braces, which cost upwards of S$3,500.
Apparently, there are no price ranges or hidden costs – it’s just one fixed price for all aligners.
This means that if you are a suitable candidate (only determined after in-clinic consultation), you get your clear aligners, regardless of the number of sets, for only S$2,400.
Do note that there are some additional costs that are part of the treatment — the initial doctor consultation (S$120–170), re-scan post treatment (S$100) and retainers (S$300). However, these fees are either optional or vary on a case by case basis.
Treatment time also varies on a case-by-case basis and can range anytime between three and nine months.
While other traditional invisible braces companies require their customers to visit about 10 times, once every few weeks, Zenyum requires just two on average. That is because your case is monitored remotely via the app.
We are always looking for ways to use technology to make the entire customer journey more engaging and convenient. This is showing up in our NPS scores of more than 65, which we feel is quite unique in our industry.– Julian Artopé, co-founder and CEO of Zenyum
Biting Into Whitening And Toothbrushing Solutions
To cater to “a more holistic smile care and oral health”, they have even ventured into whitening and toothbrushing solutions, launching two products — Zenyum White and Zenyum Sonic.
Zenyum White is a medical-grade teeth whitening solution, according to Julian.
“We have tested a lot of products and found that the only ones who create visibly whiter results are the ones that need to be prescribed by a licensed dentist who can guide a user in proper usage,” he said.
They also just launched their electric toothbrush, Zenyum Sonic, this month.
According to their website, the Sonic costs 80 per cent less than the Sonicare DiamondClean and does the job equally well.
“Beyond whitening and aligners, we were always very aware that regular toothbrushing is vital for good oral health, so we wanted to create a sleek yet effective toothbrushing experience for users, but without the hefty price tag.”
Making Asia Smile
The company has witnessed exponential growth in the last 12 months and currently operates in Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, with expansion into Taiwan currently underway, said Julian.
In April 2019, they raised US$1.5 million (S$2 million) in seed funding from Sequoia India’s Surge accelerator programme. Zenyum was part of the inaugural Surge cohort, a rapid scale up programme for early-stage startups in India and Southeast Asia.
In November 2019, they raised a US$13.6 million Series A funding round from RTP Global, Sequoia India, TNB Aura, Enterprise Singapore’s investment arm SEEDS Capital and other investors.
They have over 200 team members across the region and revenue growing between 20 and 30 per cent month-on-month.
Julian estimated that they have expanded the Clear Aligner market by about 40 per cent of the total market size, thanks to their accessibility and affordability.
Should We Do Away With Traditional Metal Braces Already?
Customers in mature markets like Singapore and Hong Kong are warming up to the idea of invisible braces, said Julian. They constantly seek out aesthetic treatments for teeth alignment.
However, in other markets, there is a need for more education.
With increased demand, in-person professional medical help must be at the entrance of this process. Treatments need to be approved by licensed doctors and monitored by them for customers to have optimal results.
Not only should customers consider the cost, but also understand other intricacies of the process and product, including if the material is of medical grade and delivering the right tracking.– Julian Artopé, co-founder and CEO of Zenyum
One of the biggest challenges they faced was building trust with partner dentists. They spent considerable time testing and designing their treatment protocols, but medical credibility is something that had to be earned overtime.
“Trust equates to time and consistency, not something that could be rushed. Over time, we proved ourselves, our products, and our safety credentials by continuously and consistently delivering great outcomes. Now, we are very proud to be close partners with hundreds of top dentists across the region,” said Julian.
While I personally don’t require braces, the attractive price of S$2,400 did make me do a double-take.
Invisible braces are slowly gaining more awareness in Singapore, with the presence of Invisalign, WonderSmile and ClearSmile among many other companies in the market.
They serve to be a prettier and more aesthetically pleasing alternative to metal braces, therefore why not?
However, it is worthy to take note that invisible braces are purely for aesthetics and work to correct mild displacement of the bottom and top teeth in the front (the ones used for smiling).
People with serious medical issues like jaw alignment problems should seek further advice from dentists and should definitely consider traditional alternatives such as metal braces.
Featured Image Credit: Zenyum