Today’s guest is one of dentistry’s polarising figures.
As a youngster, Liverpool lad Robbie Hughes made his living knocking teeth out in the ring. These days – although still a relative newcomer – he is one of cosmetic dentistry’s most-recognised faces.
His Dental Excellence and Millionaire Smiles brands represent a paradigm shift in high-end dentistry.
Love him or hate him, Robbie isn’t going anywhere just yet. In one of our most open and engaging podcasts so far, Robbie takes us from Wavertree beginnings to ambitious plans for the future, giving us an insight into the tenacious mindset that is helping him bridge the two in style.
About Dr Robbie Hughes
Former kickboxing world champion Dr Robbie Hughes graduated with honours from the University of Liverpool in 2008, taking with him an array of prestigious awards for academic and clinical performance.
He went on to pursue a special interest in cosmetic dentistry which is realised in his successful Dental Excellence and Millionaire Smiles brands.
He has undertaken training with some of dentistry’s leading lights and gained postgraduate certificates and diplomas in smile makeovers, full mouth reconstructions, orthodontics and composite bonding techniques.
Yeah, I think the word obsession is the right word… I always have this vision in my mind, and these visions don’t go away. It’s the person that I am, I always have a new vision, a new goal. And I try to break down that big picture into small stepping stones and I become obsessed with that stepping stone until I meet it and then I want to go to the next one. – Robbie Hughes
What you will discover from this episode
01.47 – Kickboxing and growing up in Wavertree
06.57 – Academia
11.23 – On dentistry and entrepreneurship
19.18 – The Dental Excellence concept
15.52 – Nitpicking and scaling practice
30.21 – Backtracking – Dental Excellence’s early days
37.16 – What’s driving Robbie Hughes?
39.34 – Robbie’s dental team
46.26 – Finding what you love
49.00 – Working with The Reds
54.34 – Dealing with stick
59.28 – Robbie’s marketing budget
01.03.38 – If the face fits
01.05.36 – Mistakes and mis-starts
01.10.15 – Work-life balance
01.15.13 – Robbie’s biggest clinical error
01.17.34 – Wise words
Connect With Robbie Hughes
Connect with Prav and Payman:
Prav Solanki: Hey guys, welcome to the Dental Leaders podcast. Our next guest, two words, Firmino and Klopp. Robbie Hughes, superstar in dentistry. Just being in the room with this guy. Love him or hate him or whatever it is about this guy, you can feel the drive, the passion, the energy, the ambition. And he’s already flying, so many positive conversations about his early life being a world-class kickboxing champion, right through to the dentistry that he’s doing for the footballers and being a real networker. It just felt like a privilege being in the room with the guy and how he addressed a lot of the flack has been getting off social media as well.
Payman L: Way more impressive than I was expecting it to be. And bringing, treating dentistry like he treats the sports, in a way. The way a pro athlete would treat it. Super, super, super impressed by the guy. I think you’re going to enjoy guys.
Prav Solanki: Enjoy.
Robbie Hughes: I try to break down that big picture into small stepping stones. And I become obsessed with that stepping stone until I meet it and then I want to go to the next one. And I’m constantly obsessed with something and the close people around around me, even now, mainly my wife, well tell me that. And it’s not her than I’m obsessed with, unfortunately.
Intro Voice: This is Dental Leaders, the podcast where you get to go one on one with emerging leaders in dentistry. Your hosts, Payman Langrudi and Prav Solanki.
Prav Solanki: So today we’ve got Robbie Hughes from Liverpool. Really lovely to have your here. I’ve never met you before, but I feel like I’ve virtually met you because I see you all over Instagram. I think a lot of people refer to you as the Instagram guy and a lot of people look to imitate what you do. So I think what’s going to be really interesting today is getting a bit more of an insight into who you are, the real Robbie. How you got to where you are, how you grew up and the background behind it also. Robbie, if you could just kick off by just telling us how you grew up and just your general background. I know we’ve just had a little chat about your sporting background and stuff. So just tell us what your upbringing was like.
Robbie Hughes: Yeah. I grew up in Liverpool, in a district called Wavertree. Nothing classy about Wavertree, I’ll be honest with you. Working class background, hardworking family. Two older sisters and I’m the youngest of three. So with regards to me sports, from the age of about six, I was involved in kickboxing. It’s just something that my father decided to take me along to one day. And he had a friend who ran the kickboxing school. He was a local champion, very, very successful. And I suppose it was just, at first, getting into a hobby at that age, six years of age, it’s just finding something that you enjoy really. And that was a big part of my life then for 20 years. Yeah, that’s the sport background. Really. Cool.
Prav Solanki: So tell us what happened next. Your accolades in kickboxing. Talk us through your first competition right through to-
Robbie Hughes: So it was something that I got into immediately, really started to enjoy. Wanted to compete, wanted to get better. A little bit of an natural talent definitely I would say, quite a flexible kid. So kicking wasn’t difficult for me. First tournament at age seven in Manchester, obviously I got beat. Sport just made me want to train harder, get better. From there I became a multiple world champion, 10 times in total. That was five years running as a junior, from 1997 till 2001 I think. And then five years running as a senior, as an adult competitor. Got to travel the world, kickboxing. Massive parts of my life encouraged me to train hard work hard on anything that I do really and have a clear goal and a vision. And it’s really formed my mentality as a a bit of a competitor I suppose. Yeah, enjoyed every minute of it. Shame the days have gone but you can’t run a business and compete at that level unfortunately, at the same time.
Payman L: What about during school as a kickboxing champion? What was your day like? What was your week like? How many times did you train?
Robbie Hughes: When I was a junior, so when I was under 16, the training was different. So I used to train basically every night after school. If there was a big competition coming up, we would often go for runs around the park and train as a group in the morning before school, like 6:00, 6:30 AM runs. School was fine, everyone knew me as the kickboxer so I never got picked on. That was easy. And then moving through the school, obviously GCSEs, A levels. I did have to have little periods, little breaks, mainly from my parent’s choice, not my choice. So when exams were coming up in say three or four months, the after school training was sort of put aside, focusing on revision and homework and things like that.
Payman L: Was it your dad taking you around to these tournaments and things?
Robbie Hughes: Yeah, me and my dad travelled the world together because of kickboxing, which is something obviously I’m very, very grateful for.
Payman L: Is he a sporty guy himself?
Robbie Hughes: He was when he was younger, he was a high board diver.
Payman L: Oh.
Robbie Hughes: Yeah, completely different sports. He wasn’t a fighter, but yeah, he was quite as quite as a sporty person himself.
Payman L: You forget sometimes you know the sacrifice that the whole family makes at that level.
Robbie Hughes: You only realise when it’s finished really and you look back. And now I’ve got two children myself.
Prav Solanki: You realise.
Robbie Hughes: My boy’s five years old and when I think about the dedication, time my dad gave to me from when I started in the sport and I wanted to always be there and travel and do everything. It’s a huge commitment. So yeah, for forever thankful for that really.
Payman L: Because I take my boy to football three times a week and complain about it. I’m like, does it have to be three times a week? And at that level, it must be the number one, the most important thing. And so, do you remember as a child missing out on anything because of-
Robbie Hughes: For me, I loved kickboxing so much, I never felt like I was missing out. Every weekend I was travelling somewhere to attend a seminar or fight in a competition. And most of the time it was just me and my dad. And then obviously teammates, but my teammates were my friends as well. And a lot of those people that I grew up with from the martial arts background are still good friends now. So, I never felt like I was missing out on anything though.
Prav Solanki: Would you say you were academically gifted? Because obviously having to put in the time, the energy, the dedication into becoming a world class athlete and still at the same time qualifying dentistry, it’s not an insignificant-
Robbie Hughes: I wouldn’t say I’m academically gifted. I would say that it’s the martial arts and that level of discipline that got me through university, I’d like to say relatively easily if I’m honest, without actually realising the amount of hours of dedication that I’m putting into both fields, both sides of my life. But it’s imprinted in me. And so, that number of hours, hard work, whether it’s in gym at the time or uni work, it was never abnormal to me.
Prav Solanki: So when you were doing, let’s say your GCSEs or your A levels, was that just pure graft, pure hours?
Robbie Hughes: Everything about me is pure graft.
Prav Solanki: Yeah.
Robbie Hughes: Yeah, I wouldn’t say academically gifted at all. I just say, I know what I’ve got to do and I get it done. And it’s that simple really.
Payman L: Because there’s a degree of obsession, isn’t there? In some ways we all want to be the best in the world at something, but to execute it, execute on it.
Prav Solanki: I think with Robbie, and I’ve had elements of it in my life, nowhere near to that level. When I competed in bodybuilding, you become an incredibly selfish individual and you just chase that one goal. Whether it’s your nutrition that revolves around that, your training programme. And if anything gets in the way you kick out of the way and you just steam train towards that goal. And for you it must have been similar, maybe even to a more intense-
Robbie Hughes: Yeah, I think the word obsession is the right word. You have this vision or I always have this vision in my mind and these visions don’t go away. It’s the person that I am, I always have a new vision, a new goal. And I try to break down that big picture into small stepping stones and I become obsessed with that stepping stone until I meet it and then I want to go to the next one. And I’m constantly obsessed with something and the closest people around me, even now, mainly my wife will tell me that. And it’s not her that I’m obsessed with, unfortunately.
Robbie Hughes: You’ll have to cut that one out.
Prav Solanki: Yeah, I was going to say, maybe she was an obsession before you’d got with her, right. And then once you’d-
Robbie Hughes: Well actually, yeah, that’s a different story.
Payman L: So then, in dental school, what was your routine like as far as training, studying? So take us through a day of dental school.
Robbie Hughes: Dental school was very different for me. I think you’ll struggle to find your typical dental student that went through dental school the way I did.
Prav Solanki: Which school?
Robbie Hughes: Liverpool University. Stayed at home with parents. I wanted the same life that I had before, I didn’t want the uni life, that wasn’t for me.
Prav Solanki: You weren’t out partying, drinking?
Robbie Hughes: No, complete opposite really. I was competing on a very high level at that time. So I would train in the morning, I’d go to uni, I’d train in the evening. If I had time, a long lunch period in the afternoon, I’d train on my lunch time. And I was still doing that right through to being second year into being an associate. So the whole, going for drinks after uni, going to events in the evening, that just wasn’t me. And again, like you say, you become a little bit obsessed or potentially selfish. I didn’t look at it at the time as being selfish, but looking back, people probably think I was-
Payman L: In your own world.
Robbie Hughes: In my own world. And it wasn’t like it wasn’t friendly with people but my friends were in Liverpool anyway. I didn’t have to make huge efforts. Without sounding bad, I just knew what I needed to do. I was there to graduate and that was it really in my mind.
Prav Solanki: Did you or did you have any relationships at the time, girlfriends or anything like that? And how did that approach or lifestyle impact on that?
Robbie Hughes: Yeah, I did. I did through the majority. I think it was through three out of the five years of uni I had a girlfriend. But again, when when you meet somebody new and your lifestyle is what it is, then suppose people accept you for that before they you any commitments. And that’s the same as what my wife has done now she, she knows the type of person that I am and-
Payman L: What gave you the foresight to go to dentistry? A lot of young kids would be good at sport and they won’t have that foresight to take care of what happens after the sport finishes. You know what I mean? You’re not getting footballers doing dentistry.
Robbie Hughes: Yeah, well dentist dentistry for me was always a career. Kickboxing was never career.
Payman L: Because it didn’t pay, is that-
Robbie Hughes: Because it didn’t pay. Yeah, like I said earlier, I’ve always had a bit of an entrepreneurial mindset and I have found ways to make money and income through kickboxing, through teaching seminars and making a nine volume DVD set that have sold relatively well. But it was never going to be a career for me. And what attracted me about dentistry was, I was always good at sciences at school, biology, had the general interest in the medical fields. But dentistry for me, again, it allowed me to have a mindset and a vision that I knew that as soon as I qualified and knew the type of dentist I wanted it to be and I wanted to get quickly into my own business with my own stamp on things as quickly as I possibly could.
Payman L: But just take me back to the first time you thought dentistry. Why dentistry? Was there someone, a dentist, someone?
Robbie Hughes: It all started with school, careers conventions as they do. You’re good at these topics, we advise you to go for these. You go for your weeks training and I choose a local dentist. I had a good relationship with my dentist because he used to make me gum shields for my sport. So I had a good relationship with them.
Payman L: Who as that?
Robbie Hughes: It was a guy called Dr. Khan in Liverpool. At the time, he was the cosmetic dentist.
Prav Solanki: Celebrity guy, right? Celebrity dentist.
Robbie Hughes: Yeah. So he was quite influential to me as a 15-year-old boy.
Payman L: You liked his Mercedes or whatever.
Robbie Hughes: Of course.
Payman L: Is that what it was?
Robbie Hughes: I’ll never forget, he said to me, “What car do you want to drive, Rob?” And at the time, I think BMW just released the X5 and that was the car for me. So I said, “I’d love to drive an X5.” And he said to me, “You want to be a cosmetic dentist?” And I said yeah. And he said, “Aim higher. You can have a Ferrari if you want.” But that’s never really been my drive. Listening to people in business, and I have got a massive interest in business, how businesses grow and evolve. And I believe that if you provide the right level of service, or nowadays experience I think is the buzzword, it’s the big word, what people want, find value in a brand, it’s about experience. Then the pennies will come your way. If you focus on the money then you’re focused in the wrong place and you’re going to start upsetting people along the way. That’s the way the way I think really.
Prav Solanki: Just talk me through how you first got into business. You mentioned earlier you were selling DVD courses and stuff of like that. So naturally, being an entrepreneur is in your blood, or part of your DNA, of who you are. Just talk us through your very first business idea and what your vision was and what your drive was behind that.
Robbie Hughes: With dentistry do you mean?
Prav Solanki: No, before that.
Robbie Hughes: In general?
Prav Solanki: My first foray into business was cleaning my dad’s taxi and then his mates taxis and finding money under the mats in the car and ripping the seats up and all the rest of it. And I can just almost relate to you when you said, when you were younger, you just started doing seminars and stuff. That’s not what a typical kickboxer would do is it?
Robbie Hughes: I wouldn’t say it was typical, but there was a a market for it. So again, quite cleverly just used my business mind. I know we used to travel a lot to compete and when you compete there’s thousands of people in that area for that tournament, usually on a Sunday. So I used to try and let people know that I’ll be there on a Saturday, go a day early and we’ll teach a seminar. So the numbers weren’t difficult to find because people were going there anyway. And then obviously you have a centralised place where there’s people from all over the country coming to one place. I was a relatively big name in the sport at the time. You know, you could get a hundred people in the room, 25 pound a pop, I just walked away with two and a half grand and I’m 14 years old. So that was probably my first business idea. And this was before the internet was big. I remember advertising on Myspace for this. So that’s how long ago it was.
Prav Solanki: Wow.
Robbie Hughes: And then on the back end of that, the DVD series comes to mind. So we recorded for four days flat out and recorded nine volumes, which was basically the whole syllabus of techniques that we teach at my dojo. And tips and tricks for competition and all that. And that flew as well. So then we used to set up like a little mini store at the tournament’s and sell the DVDs.
Payman L: When you see, sorry, sorry. When you see UFC now. If UFC existed back then or if it was as big as it is now, do you think you might have made some money as a fighter?
Robbie Hughes: Yeah, the opportunity would have definitely been there. I had an opportunity just before I retired in 2012 for the London Olympics, for TaeKwonDo. So, even though that wasn’t my background, the GB squad wanted me to compete in the 2012 London Olympics. And that was a big decision in my life. Yeah, so this opportunity came around 2011, at the beginning. And I had to make the decision to either move to Manchester full-time, because they wanted me to train full-time, with a guaranteed place at the Olympics, London, 2012, TaeKwonDo. Or not basically and focus on my dental career. I tried to negotiate with them and split my time 50-50, but obviously they weren’t happy to do that and bend the rules for one individual. So I turned down the offer and focused on my longterm vision of pretty much where I am now or where I’m trying to be.
Prav Solanki: As a 14, 15 year old kid, you decided to start creating content?
Robbie Hughes: Basically, yeah.
Prav Solanki: And I think that’s probably where you started shaping what you do today. Because I think a big part of what you do is create content that engages with your audience. And you just said to me, I knew there were going to be a hundred people there, you knew who your audience were, you knew where they were going to be, and you knew exactly what they wanted. How has that learning translated into how you run your business today?
Robbie Hughes: It’s obviously embedded within me. And the way you’ve just put it, to be honest, I’ve never really thought of it that way. Going that far back or, yeah, it’s exactly the same mindsets, exact the same approach to your audience. And I think the biggest learning curve is know your audience. The more you can narrow down that audience to your niche and not be scared to commit to a niche audience rather than be too broad, then the better your content is going to be and the more hits and the more success and conversions you’re going to get.
Prav Solanki: Just talk to me. How specific are you about your audience really? You just literally, without thinking about it like that, you said, my audience is this age to this age, this demographic. How have you nailed that down and just tell me who is your audience?
Robbie Hughes: So my audience is 70% female. We would say age between 20 and 35. That doesn’t mean that it’s our only type of patient, but I would say it’s probably 80%, 75% of our patients. But we know that these patients refer a lot of other patients, which can be the parents, the grandparents, the aunties, the uncles. So I don’t worry about that demographic of people because they come anyway on the back end of these people. Nowadays, this young generation within that demographic are the most influenced and the most easily influenced people out there. Now we’re not trying to sell them something, I don’t like to use that word. All we’re trying to do is offer them an experience and prove our quality in what we can produce and follow the market trends and be at the forefront of that, which for me at the moment is digital dentistry and composite bonding. That’s it really, know your audience.
Payman L: So we should really backtrack a little bit to say, okay, you bought your practise after you retired as a fighter. And then, what was the moment when … I mean, I guess you knew from the beginning you wanted something special, but when you made that decision to go for what you’ve done now in Dental Excellence, which I don’t know if the audience, our audience hasn’t seen it, they need to look it up because it’s the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, dental practises. Yeah, what what made you do that? What was the thinking behind making Dental Excellence the way it is?
Robbie Hughes: The way it is today?
Payman L: Like a boutique.
Robbie Hughes: Again, to be honest with you, the audience, combined with the type of dentistry we were delivering, combined with the amount of education hours I was getting within the field and seeing the way dentistry was going with the trends. Everyone was becoming very digital. Everyone was about experience, capturing emotion, all these things, a lot of the original DSD concepts from 2014. So it was understanding that approach at dentistry, understanding the patients and the experience and where dentistry is going. The big turning factor for me or the big obvious thing for me, and I’ve always said this for a very, very long time, is we’re trying to deliver 21st century dentistry and we have the technology to do that now. We have the precision, we have the predictability, we have everything in our fingertips. It’s just a bit of a learning curve and a bit of an investment.
Robbie Hughes: What bogs me is the patients is starting to know about that, but their preconceptions or their perceptions of dentistry is not what it should be. They expect an old smelly room with smells they don’t want to smell. Anxious people, old grey-haired dentists. The two just don’t combine. So for me, I needed to create an environment which represented what we actually do. And then with that we can change the perception of the patients. None of my patients sit down feeling the least bit nervous, no matter what we’re doing. It just doesn’t happen because we remove all the perceptions of what dentistry used to be. And that’s why I had to create the facility the way it is.
Payman L: Neither me or Prav have been there but we’ve seen some pictures. Other than it’s very swanky, what else? Experience wise, walk me through it.
Robbie Hughes: The experience makes you feel like … The whole experiences is that you’ve got to be the most important person in that building. So, you asked me earlier where that I get it from, lifestyle? Yeah, I like to have a nice lifestyle, I like to travel to Dubai, I like five star hotels, I like nice restaurants. How do you feel when you go to these places? There’s somebody waiting to see you. They know your name before you walk through the door. They wait on hand and foot. Everything’s very personalised. Everything is customised to you. Private, so-
Payman L: So do you get information, let’s say it’s a brand new patient, do you try and look them up before they turn up so you know who they are? What do you do?
Robbie Hughes: We tried that, but we’re too busy. We had a little time where we’d Google the patient, find out what they look like so you know it’s them. But to be honest with you, they come in for an appointment. You know most of the time.
Payman L: So you know who they are? And are you recording their likes and dislikes throughout, what are you doing to make-
Prav Solanki: What’s the … I’m a patient, I walk through your front door. What happens next?
Robbie Hughes: Okay, so first and foremost we have no reception desk. So if you go to a nice boutique hotel, you go to a nice restaurant, you’re not standing in a queue behind a reception desk to be seen. We have a concierge. So, a lot of my staff and what I would say my infrastructure of my organisation now, it’s not like a dental practise. We don’t have a practise manager. We have departments that I feel the organisation needs. And I look at my business now, it’s only a small business, but I look at it as an organisation because I want my business to be scalable. My vision for my businesses is I want to be the Louis Vuitton of dentistry.
Robbie Hughes: So you may go to Louis Vuitton and you might buy a key ring for this big for 30 pound, 50 pound, I don’t know. You might go to Louis Vuitton, you might buy the most expensive suitcase. Experience is exactly the same. So one keyword for me, I’ve got all this luxury and quality and all these things we boast about, the thing we want is accessibility for everybody. And that doesn’t mean your experience should change. Yeah, we do see all these celebrities and multimillionaires and all these, but that is not necessarily my market. And the market is as broad as we want it to be. As in, we want it to be accessible and affordable and we want to offer the different treatments that you have. So, it’s bringing that level of luxury to somebody who expects it or doesn’t expect it I suppose, but it’s still accessible.
Payman L: Yeah.
Prav Solanki: So talk me through the process, I walk through your door, there’s no reception desk.
Robbie Hughes: Yeah.
Prav Solanki: I’m just trying to visualise it now, close my eyes. Somebody greets me? I walk up to a counter? What is it?
Robbie Hughes: Yeah, so the minute you walk through the door, we have a girl on what we call the pod, which is if you imagine a little small booth like you would find in a restaurant. The door’s on a buzzer so she knows that they’re there. The door’s buzzed, she’ll open the door, she’ll greet them at the door, ideally call them by the first name, sit them down. Again, the waiting room is not a normal waiting room, it’s split into three or four different small, private areas. It doesn’t mean you’re going to be the only person in that area, but the way it’s set out, again, it’s like a bit of a lounge area in a hotel where you can sit and you feel in private.
Robbie Hughes: So there’ll be seated in a position where we know they’re going to be comfortable. And then if it’s a new patients, obviously there’s a little bit of paperwork or whatever to fill out, a bit of admin to do, which we try to always do on an iPad. And then we take it from there really, depending on what they’re in for.
Prav Solanki: And so, welcome drinks? Anything like that?
Robbie Hughes: Always offer them welcome drink, yeah. So we have a little menu for the welcome drink. Tea, coffee, green tea, water, wifi pass code.
Payman L: Do you find, do you hire your staff from outside dentistry?
Robbie Hughes: Yeah, as much as I can, yeah.
Payman L: A lot from people who want to go really high end.
Robbie Hughes: Yeah.
Payman L: Do you look to hotels or something or-
Robbie Hughes: Again, I try to go off referrals as much as I can from experience. The people who have been referred to me, who know someone who can vouch for them, and I know a little bit about them before I actually meet them, that’s always better. Because, I’m not going to say I’m the easiest person to work for, to be honest with you.
Payman L: Go on then. Why? Why is that?
Robbie Hughes: Because-
Payman L: You’re a tough boss?
Robbie Hughes: I wouldn’t say I’m a tough boss, I believe that I’m a good boss in my own ways. For my vision or my level of acceptance of what is expected and what is exceptional, I always want exceptional.
Payman L: Yeah.
Robbie Hughes: So if my staff are doing what’s expected of them or the tiniest little thing goes off, I always say it’s the small things that account to a big thing in somebody’s experience.
Payman L: Very true, very true.
Robbie Hughes: So I nitpick. So you might think you’ve had an amazing day work and at the end of the day I’ll give you five things that I’ll nitpick at. And they’re like, “Oh, it’s my expectation.” Because essentially it’s my vision and they’re my team and I want them to be a part of what I’m trying to create.
Payman L: Is that scalable, Robbie, do you think?
Robbie Hughes: Is that scalable?
Prav Solanki: Is that element-
Payman L: Is that element scalable? It is, because if I walk into Louis Vuitton in Moscow, I get an amazing experience, if I walk into Louis Vuitton in London, it is.
Robbie Hughes: Exactly.
Payman L: But there is, and it’s quite a common thing, that people like you, super perfectionists, also struggle with trust.
Robbie Hughes: Yeah.
Payman L: Yeah?
Robbie Hughes: Yeah, I agree.
Payman L: And people who struggle with trust, struggle with scaling.
Robbie Hughes: Yeah.
Payman L: Yeah, because you’ve got a centre in Edinburgh, you’re not there, you can’t do it.
Robbie Hughes: I believe that I can find the right clinicians who I can mould into me. And the trust element will come with your financial investment in me.
Prav Solanki: Yeah.
Robbie Hughes: If you’re financially invested in a partner in Dental Excellence London or Dental Excellence Edinburgh, then I know I’ve got your trust because you don’t want that business to turn upside down. And that’s why I believe it’s scalable. If I tried to do it alone and I’m 100% invested in every site and I can’t be in every site, it’s not going to work. So that’s the way I think it will work for me.
Payman L: I mean, look, it does work, right? Like I said.
Robbie Hughes: Yeah.
Prav Solanki: Absolutely. And the one thing I’ll say about my brother’s practise, Practise One, he’s there all the time and he knows the practise that he’s in is making the money. He goes to Altrincham, today Altrincham’s making the money.
Robbie Hughes: Yeah.
Prav Solanki: And people take their eye off the ball and you’re the visionary, you’re the leader. That’s where the money will be. And I think quite rightly, as you said, you need to find a mini Robbie, who has the same passion, the same vision or is moldable. And that I think is the hardest part of trying to scale a business really, is when you’re away from it and it still delivers what you do, I think that’s when you’ve cracked it. And so what are visions and plans now in terms of scaling Dental Excellence? You talked about London, Edinburgh. Have you got other cities on the horizon?
Robbie Hughes: Edinburgh was just a random city that I chose, to be honest. I’ve got to come to London at some point. The market’s too big and London needs a Dental Excellence, I’m not going to lie, but to be honest with you, again, this is a vision, but it’s not something I’m forcing. I’ve got a great business. It’s not even a year old yet. I’ve got a lot of plans for that business. We’ve got a lot of opportunity within that business. I’m not going to sort of turn the heat down there to try and find another location too quick, too soon. When the opportunity comes, I’ll know.
Payman L: Yeah, that’s a really good way of looking at, that, because it’s not a competition. It’s a funny way of saying it. It is a competition, of course. Let’s not beat about the bush. It is a competition.
Robbie Hughes: I don’t look at dentistry as a competition in a sense that I want to be number one. Well I don’t want to be number one. My ego is not that big. I want Dental Excellence to be number one, and I was explaining before, people talk about the Instagram guy. I’ve massively descaled the speed of my Instagram so I could focus on the Dental Excellence Instagram. So if you look at the growth over the last six months, which Dental Excellence has had its own Instagram only for seven, eight months, we’ve got 25,000 followers in seven, eight months. And that’s just from me taking my focus from Dr Robbie Hughes’ Instagram to Dental Excellence Instagram, because essentially I’m trying to build the brand.
Payman L: I following the wrong account, aren’t I?
Robbie Hughes: I’m trying to build a brand. I’m not trying to … I can only be in one place at once, and I’ve got a young family, and I want to be there more than I want to be anywhere else at the end of the day, but my vision’s clear, and I believe, like you said, in my mind it’s Louis Vuitton of dentistry and when I’m there I’ll know I’m there, but I’m a million miles away yet.
Prav Solanki: So just for the listeners now, because I think some of the listeners might be thinking that you’re a businessman who’s been involved in dentistry for many, many years, you’re only 34, is that right?
Robbie Hughes: 34, yeah.
Prav Solanki: 34. Just quickly, quickly, just go through the timeline. Qualified in dentistry at this point, bought the practise at this point, have been running my practise at this point, and, in the meantime, had children at this point. I just want people to realise what you’ve been through in terms of the timeline.
Robbie Hughes: Okay. So I qualified in 2008. I did a year’s VT. I started building essentially, like I mentioned before, my own patients’ trust by very quickly getting into the Botox and fillers industry. I done that immediately as a VT, and then, when I was working as a VT, every evening I was in a different salon around Liverpool, treating people with Botox and dermal fillers, and also doing tooth whitening. I had a mini-lab with a former and plaster, so I was still in my mom’s house at the time. I used to go home. I’d probably get home from the salons about 10:00, 10:30, and I’d cast up the models from the tooth whitening. The next day I’d make them, and then physically go and drop these tooth whitening kits out to the people that had purchased them the day before.
Prav Solanki: Whilst you were in your VT year.
Robbie Hughes: While I was in VT. That was my only access to funds in VT, because everyone knows a VT’s salary. And I’m not saying it was about money, but it was about drive, and building this network, and getting my name out in the city now as a dentist and no longer as a martial artist, because that’s all I was known as. And I built that over say three years. After VT, I moved to a dental practise in Crosby in North Liverpool, which was a great practise for me. It was a great setup because the principal was very laid back, very laid back.
Prav Solanki: Wasn’t a guy called Peter, was it?
Robbie Hughes: Peter, yeah.
Prav Solanki: Yeah, Doyle.
Robbie Hughes: Yeah, that’s right.
Prav Solanki: Small world. Nice guy.
Robbie Hughes: So I worked for Peter Doyle for about three years. Great guy. Really nice guy. Let me do anything. So if there was a patient … He had quite a reasonable contract as well. So the patients would have a NHS contract, exempt NHS patients, if not, they were private, there’s no in between. So I had a really good mix of patients, and if I had an exempt patient who needed three to three crowns, four to four crowns, needed them, dentally needed them because they’re heavily restored or whatever, peter would share the lab bill with me. Now from a UDA value, we’re both losing money, but from regards to prep and teeth, crowns, bridges, veneers, I’ve got experienced very, very fast from that practise.
Robbie Hughes: And then on the back end of that, once Peter was seeing this work and the private patients were coming through, he gave you some more trust. And obviously I was building my network of clients for the Botox and fillers, so they had my trust, so they wanted to know where I was working, I was performing veneers on them one, two years qualified, and in my opinion I was doing decent work, I was doing the courses, and I was doing decent work, but go on as many courses as you want in the world, experience. And one thing I can do, I can prep. I’ll tell you that. I a prepped a lot of teeth in a short space of time. So that was where it all started.
Payman L: Were you still going to the salons, or not anymore?
Robbie Hughes: I was still going to the salons for about five years. So from 2008 to 2013, I was doing that.
Payman L: Were you just walking into a salon and saying, “I want to do this for you?”
Robbie Hughes: Like I said, network. I know a lot of people in the city. A lot of people will help me in Liverpool. Got access to a lot of people, got a lot of friends, so that was easy.
Payman L: Because of the martial arts.
Robbie Hughes: Just essentially I’ve just got a lot of friends in the city. I’m well-known. I’m a likeable person, I like to think, when you get to know me, and I’m a good networker. I’m not scared to ask somebody a question, or learn from somebody, and that’s where it all began. So it would have been 2010, about halfway through. So I was doing three days with Peter Doyle, or four days of Peter Doyle, and one day off, because of me martial arts, and took on another job at Dental Excellence with the-
Payman L: Previous owner.
Robbie Hughes: Previous owner. Dental Excellence was a small practise. It was previous owner, he worked three and a half days a week. He had two nurses and a receptionists, and I came in as an associate. And the reason why I came in as associate is because he was ready to retire.
Payman L: And was it a well-known practise? What kind of practise was Dental Excellence?
Robbie Hughes: Again, I was fortunate. It wasn’t a well-known practise, but his clientele was really good, and he was known for smile makeovers, and he was a good dentist.
Payman L: So it was a private practise.
Robbie Hughes: Yeah, private practise.
Prav Solanki: Who was the dentist?
Robbie Hughes: A guy called Jeff Lamb. And he was a good dentist, and that’s where I really learned how to do veneers. Off Jeff. Minimal prep, all in enamel, learning how to bond, learned how to provisionalize. All these things I learned from Jeff over a period about two years, 18 months potentially. I knew Jeff wanted to sell. That was my opportunity. So over that 18 months I got to know the existing patients, and I was bringing all these people that wanted to see me, as I was getting more confident in dentistry, to Dental Excellence, because I knew this was the place where I was going to be.
Robbie Hughes: 2012, the opportunity come to purchase the practise. It was difficult. I was, what, four years qualified. Banks didn’t believe in me. I didn’t have a lot of money, and obviously I had to buy this practise. So I got there. Me dad let me put a charge on his property, on the family home, because he believed in me that much, to get the loan from the bank. Like they say, there’s no risk, no reward, is there? So I begged them, because I believed in it. So we did that. I got the loan, I bought the practise, never looked back from there. So I had myself, five days a week worth of work to do, doing everything I could. That’s when I quickly learnt that dentistry is not about being a jack of all trades. And I wanted to learn the things I weren’t good at, like endo, or refer the things I weren’t good at, and build my team as quickly as I possibly could, as I grew the business really, and do only what I wanted to do.
Prav Solanki: At what time did you have your children?
Robbie Hughes: So that was 2012. My son was born in 2013, in August 2013, while I was just growing a business. I got married in 2014, maybe 2015, in June. And then I had my second child in 2016. Yeah, in May 2016.
Prav Solanki: Wow.
Robbie Hughes: So yeah. So four years married this June. My son is six in August. While that was going on the vision was still exactly the same.
Payman L: So as soon as you bought it, you were thinking expansion-
Robbie Hughes: Straight away. Yeah, so I worked on my own for about two years. Maybe 18 months.
Payman L: Look Robbie, I get it. I get that you’ve got that fighter mindset, right. So if you’ve set a goal, you’ll achieve it sort of thing. But most people buy a practise, they’ll work the practise.
Robbie Hughes: They’ll be happy.
Payman L: Work the practise.
Robbie Hughes: Yeah.
Payman L: So is it martial arts where that comes from? That need to improve and expand. Or where does that come from? Were you always like that?
Robbie Hughes: It’s just a burning desire within me. No-one can ever put a limitation on-
Payman L: But what do you want to be? Do you want to be famous? Do You want to be rich?
Robbie Hughes: I don’t.
Payman L: What’s driving you?
Robbie Hughes: No, I don’t want to be famous, as much as you think. Yeah, that’s not a priority for me. I’m driven by success, and if I believe something can be better for the end user … This is all about the patients. Everything I do is about the patients. It’s never anything else. I like a nice lifestyle. I like money, I’m not going to lie about that, but it’s not my drive. If your drive and hunger is, “I want more money, I need more money,” then you’re doing it the wrong way around.
Payman L: I mean look, for me, personally, I did VT, and I was horrified that that’s what a dental practise was.
Robbie Hughes: Exactly.
Payman L: When I had come out of dental school with nice … Our dental school had just been done up, kind of just been done up, and it was all nice. I get to VT and I just couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe that’s what dentistry is.
Robbie Hughes: Yeah. It’s disheartening, isn’t it?
Payman L: My thing was, three years later I left dentistry. I do this. But I get it. I do get it. So was that the feeling?
Robbie Hughes: Of course. It’s an unbelievable job to have. You can change and transforms people’s lives on a daily basis. And I do that every single day. And the rewards that come with that, you can’t put a price on that. But I always tried to put myself in the patient’s shoes. So if you’re spending all this money, if you’re overcoming all your anxieties, you’ve been thinking about you’ve never smiled for 30 years and you really want to change this part of your life, and you’re going to make this investments with time and money, and overcoming anxieties, and put your trust in someone, that experience deserves to be the best possible experience, or one of the best experiences of your life. And that end result needs to be what you want and what you’re paying for, because, trust me, you don’t want to do it twice.
Prav Solanki: So when did you reinvent Dental Excellence? You bought it, and then you turned it into a-
Robbie Hughes: When I was ready. Yeah. So I bought it, and we grew as quickly as we could, but again, it wasn’t a big rush. It just happened. People know me in the city, people start to come to see me, they send friends, family, moms, sisters, and the business just grew. Then I decided to go and get a dental therapist. And again, from a business point of view, and if I can give advice to any dentist out there, dental therapist is the best money maker you’ll ever invest your time in. Invest your time in them, and trust them, and train them to the best available their ability. They can’t do everything, but they can do an awful lot, and you’ve just got to put your trust in them. And that’s what I’ve done in Cameron. Now for me, Cameron is an exceptional dental therapist, to the point where I’m narrowing him down to literally just doing bonding, and just doing smile makeovers. Now you find me a dental therapist that does smile makeovers day in, day out.
Payman L: I mean it speaks to both him and to you, doesn’t it?
Robbie Hughes: Of course.
Payman L: Because I know Cameron. I think I kind of was asking all about you really because I know him from the Comtech course, but it speaks to the way you handle people, that you’ll put that much trust in a dental therapist. Most dentists struggle with that.
Robbie Hughes: Well you can see what they’re capable of delivering every day. So you nurture them, and some people have got it, and some people haven’t got it, so you don’t push them outside the limits, or the boundaries, but Cameron’s a very, very driven person, and he knows what he wants, and he knows the type of therapist he wants to be. And so it was an easy choice for me. He had an exceptional skill level before I employed him, and we just worked on that really.
Prav Solanki: What are you doing as a leader to retain him? Because obviously he’s an incredibly valuable person to you.
Robbie Hughes: Cameron’s not going anywhere. I know that. Got a good friendship.
Payman L: He’s the world champion of kickboxing.
Robbie Hughes: No, we-
Prav Solanki: But you understand where I’m coming from though?
Robbie Hughes: Yeah, of course. That’s exactly what I’ve got to be. I’ve got to be a leader. I’ve got to understand his desires, his goals. I’ve got to support them as well as I can, which I believe I do, and we’ve got a brilliant bond, a good friendship. I’m always there to listen if he feels he wants more from work, I suppose. I’m not going to tell you sort of how much he gets paid, or all these things. But look, he turns up into work in an unbelievable practise. He does the type of work that he wants to do every day. He’s not scaling teeth every day, which I believe therapists are wasted if that’s all you’re doing with a dental therapist.
Payman L: There’s so many of them doing that. That’s the thing. So many therapists not doing therapy.
Robbie Hughes: Exactly.
Prav Solanki: You’ve created that environment around him.
Robbie Hughes: What I would like to do … Again, I like to share my ideas and my thoughts. I call Cameron the digital therapist. He is a level above dental therapist, just below a dentist, because he is fully digitised. When I start a smile design process, he does everything I need for that patient, scans, photos, everything, mockup, he does everything for me. So my time is in and out that room. I see what I need to see, or I’ll look at my photos, and he’s my right hand man. And then what we built on that is once he got my eye for smile design, and obviously his own eye as well, we started working on composites and stuff. We’ve got that trust where we can look at a smile design, or we can look at a smile on a photo, and we can see what the patient wants to create. And his vision is the same as mine now, where we can talk about it, and he can just go and do it the same way I believe I can.
Robbie Hughes: We can talk to patients. We always ask patients to bring photos of smiles that they like. So they’ll bring pictures in. “I like this smile, like this smile, like this smile.” We’ll look at, “Why did you like that smile? Is it the size, the shape, and see if the shade of the teeth,” which we’ll come to. And then our job is to recreate that wish for them, really, using our skill and our vision, really.
Prav Solanki: How’d you deal with everyone wanting to see you? So talk to me about how much clinical you’re doing at the moment. And when you walk into a practise where you’re the main guy, and everyone wants to see the main guy.
Robbie Hughes: Difficult journey, to be honest. But again, we’ve done it in baby steps. So started on my own, I was doing everything, introduced Cameron later, after that I introduced Craig, who’s a phenomenal dentist. His attention to detail is second to none.
Payman L: And I guess this is the pushing Dental Excellence instead of pushing Dr Robbie Hughes story.
Robbie Hughes: Got to push Dental Excellence. That’s the brand. It’s not me, it’s them, it’s the team. So I had to slowly start to filter. So the first thing I stopped doing was Botox and fillers, because I had this huge demand for Botox, and I had just say, “I’m not doing it anymore.” I sent Cam on a course to do it. And then later now, which he’s just finished, I sent him on like a diploma. So no-one can do it better than him. He’s doing everything right up to the highest standards now, and it was just handing them over to Cam. That was a challenge. Lose some patients. But you got to stick to your guns. And then Craig took on a lot of my work, so I can’t remember the last time I’ve done a filling, to be honest with you.
Payman L: Craig.
Robbie Hughes: My associate dentist.
Payman L: What’s his surname?
Robbie Hughes: Craig Dewdney.
Payman L: Big up, Craig.
Robbie Hughes: So Craig started taking on a lot of my work, and then it’s just slowly but surely. I was doing a lot of ortho, which I don’t do anymore. Well I still do the clear aligners, because it’s simple. But Six Month Smiles, fixed orth, I don’t do any more. Craig does all that. And some of the other associates do that as well now. And they’ve just got to slowly just filter it off. I do the consultation, and that’s the most important thing.
Payman L: You do all the consuls?
Robbie Hughes: Most. And I am the person who gives the patients the confidence that me and my team are delivering their plan. 90% of the time it’s my plan, and I will talk through the plan, and the stages of that plan at the beginning, and I’ll talk about who they’re going to see at what stages, and what I will be overseeing. And I do oversee a lot of the work still, but the beauty of the technology that we have, I can oversee that from anywhere in the world. That’s my goal one day. I want to sit in the Maldives and treatment plan.
Robbie Hughes: So that’s the way we’ve developed it now, and we’re still working on it. You still get patients who only want to see me, and now we’ve got the same problems with Cam and Craig. We’ve got patients that only want to see Cam and Craig, so now we’ve got to be,” No, Robbie only does this. Cam and Craig only do this. The other associates do this,” and you’ve just got to filter them through. And you gain the trust. It’s hard going to see a new dentist for just an exam, or a clean, or wherever, but they get over it.
Payman L: If I’m a young associate and I want to work at Dental Excellence, what’s the best advice you’d give me?
Robbie Hughes: I need people with the same vision as me. That’s the most important thing. You’ve got to see outside where dentistry is at the minute. Now there’s a revolution in density at the minute, and I think everybody’s aware of that. Digital dentistry, composite veneers, things have revolutionised, and it’s the young dentists that are now rising to the top because they’re the forward thinkers, and they’re the ones who are embracing the Instagram, and all these things, essentially which is dominated by the patients. You’ve got to listen to your patients. But as a young dentist, I think it’s sort of know what type of dentist you want to be and don’t let anybody sort of deviate your path. If your vision is clear, and you know what courses you’ve got to be on, you know who you’ve got to learn from, you know where you’ve got to start.
Payman L: Literally, I want to work for you. Let’s say I’m 26, 25, and I want to work for you.
Robbie Hughes: Come and see me.
Payman L: What’s your best advice?
Robbie Hughes: Come and see me. Come spend the day with me. Find out a bit about me, and I’ll find out a bit about you, and I run an open door policy. You say I’m famous on Instagram, but come and see the real me. Come and see the workflows, and the concepts, and what we actually do.
Payman L: All right, I love it. So what now?
Robbie Hughes: You love it?
Payman L: Yeah, do I go on a course?
Robbie Hughes: Okay, show me your portfolio. Show me where you’re up to with your work. Show me your CV. What course have you been on? What’s your special interests? I want a dentist with special interests. Yeah, we can do general dentistry, but inevitably I believe that every dentist should have one or two special interests that they really want to become amazing at.
Payman L: So pick one and get really good.
Prav Solanki: Niche down.
Robbie Hughes: Niche. Yeah. It doesn’t matter what it is. Something you’re going to enjoy, and you want to go to get out of bed and do every day, and something you want to be the best you possibly going to be, and you’re not going to cut any corners. And for me, that’s smile makeovers and rehabs. And for Craig it’s ortho and smile makeovers. For Hector, one of our new young dentists, which we’ve got from Spain, he was qualified in Madrid, Spanish lad. His attention to perio is unbelievable. Now he’s travelling the world, doing the best perio courses. He’s involved in The Dawson Academy for his occlusion. So he’s got a lovely little niche. It’s perio, and occlusion and TMJ.
Payman L: You’ve got to love it, don’t you? That’s the thing, because it’s so hard. You’ve got to love it to get good at it. And so you’ve got to find the bit you love. So as a young dentist, I guess, the best thing is to try a few things first and see what it is that you get into.
Robbie Hughes: Yeah, for sure. You’re not necessarily going to know straight away. So we all start with general stuff, don’t we? And then we decide what we’re good at, what we enjoy, what we want to improve on, and take it from there.
Payman L: Tell us about the story with the Liverpool football club. I mean, first of all, for me, knowing Liverpool, I love Liverpool by the way. Before the internet, I used to go up and down the country meeting dentists, and I used to always stay in Liverpool if I could.
Robbie Hughes: Why is that?
Payman L: I just loved it, man. I loved it. It’s the people. The people are really special in Liverpool. I’m sorry, Prav, mate, but I could’ve stayed in Manchester, or I could have stayed at Liverpool.
Prav Solanki: But you chose Manchester.
Payman L: No, I wished it was Liverpool. Always chose Liverpool. The people are just great there, man. But yeah, one thing about Liverpool, and Manchester, but Liverpool even more is that football is almost like a religion, and treating footballers in Liverpool is like treating, I don’t know, the Queen. It’s that important.
Robbie Hughes: Yeah, very important.
Payman L: First of all, were you a Liverpool fan and all that?
Robbie Hughes: I am, yeah. I’ve been a Liverpool fan-
Payman L: As a kid and all that?
Robbie Hughes: As a kid.
Payman L: So how does that feel? I mean, I guess as a world champion fighter, this must feel different.
Robbie Hughes: A lot of people ask me that question, and I’m not the type of person to get star struck. Everybody is the same.
Payman L: You were the world champion yourself.
Robbie Hughes: Right. It’s just, obviously, to meet these people, it’s a blessing. I count my blessings. They’ve got enough cash to go to any dental clinic in the world, never mind the country, or Liverpool, and they choose to put their trust in me. So you’ve got to be grateful for those opportunities. Once we get past that, it’s down to work and business really, and again, the same way I approach any patients, it’s with honesty, and integrity, and we just get the job done. We listen, we communicate, we educate, and then we deliver and that what we-
Payman L: Does a footballer say, “I want to come in tomorrow,” and you move heaven and hell for them … move everything for them.
Robbie Hughes: It happens. I’m not going to lie. I see a lot of the more known footballs, we tend to see them out of hours, out of clinic if we can.
Payman L: Just from a privacy perspective?
Robbie Hughes: Yeah, from a privacy perspective, and the schedules are tight. I get sent the schedules all the time from the players because what they tend to do, if they want to make an appointment, just send me the schedule for the next two weeks, and it’s difficult trying to fit them in. So evenings actually works best for most of them, yeah. It’s about trust, isn’t it? As well. These guys, all they want is to be able to trust somebody. They’re just normal, young, very-
Payman L: I guess there’s so many people trying to take advantage of them, as well, isn’t there? That’s the thing.
Robbie Hughes: There’s a lot of people that try to take advantage of them.
Payman L: So trust is a massive factor for them.
Robbie Hughes: It’s a big factor. And that’s where I was fortunate to get my foot in the door because I knew a lot of the … I’ve known football players all my life. I’ve got friends who are football players. I got my foot in the door at Liverpool because I’ve got a friend who’s a football agent, Martin. I got close to Martin Škrtel. Lucas Leiva was a patient, and then the Brazilians come. He introduced the Brazilians and the families. Luis Suárez, Philippe Coutinho, obviously Roberto Firmino, and that’s where it started, with the trust. We don’t have an exclusive relationship with the club. They can go anywhere they like, ,but 90% of the time they choose to come to me. And if there’s a new player asking for a dentist, or has a dental issue, the club usually contact me. And that’s just about trust.
Payman L: So we had Sia on the show, and he’s the Chelsea dentist. And he was saying the contract, these are multimillion pound contracts with the players. And if a player has to miss a game because of toothache, then that’s going to cost everyone lots of money.
Robbie Hughes: Of course.
Payman L: So he was talking about when he was getting in with the club he was actually playing on that idea, sometimes, with other clubs, that if he says they’re dentally fit, they’re dentally fit, otherwise they’re not dentally fit. And does this happen? Does a player miss a game because of you? Does that stress you?
Robbie Hughes: Touch wood, that hasn’t happened to me. Yeah, it hasn’t happened to me, but I suppose it’s one way of looking at it, yeah. They take the medical sort of side of the profession very, very seriously. We’ve had players who have had chronic injuries, they’ve been to specialists in places like Germany or America, and they’ve told them to come back to the dentist, remove all their amalgams because that’s potentially related.
Payman L: Has that happened?
Robbie Hughes: So you have these things, and the plays do associate potential injuries associated with inflammation with chronic abscesses, caries, amalgam fillings, things like that, metal in the crowns. And sometimes we are asked to look at these things, and potentially give our opinion. But, for me, it’s more about these are young men, and usually from overseas, and they just want somebody that they can trust, like you say, that isn’t going to take advantage of them a lot of the time. And, like you say, authenticity, it runs right all through my blood and I’m never going to-
Payman L: Do you hang out with them as well? Do you party with them?
Robbie Hughes: I have done. I’m not going to mention any names, but yeah, I have done. You become friends with most of them the more time you spend with them, but I never bothered them. And that’s something which I think they respect as well. That they’re on the other side of the phone, and I don’t bother them for tickets. A lot of them actually force things like that on me because I don’t need to ask them for anything. I’m just there to do my job really. And if they need me, and I’m there for them.
Prav Solanki: You’ve received a bit of stick online for certain cases that you’ve done that have gone viral on social media. Would you like to just address in terms of some people say, “Oh, this patient’s teeth are too white,” or, “Which dentist has done this?” And deep down everyone knows who’s done it, right. But no-one’s talking about it.
Robbie Hughes: Yeah, of course.
Prav Solanki: Are you happy to bring that to the surface? And just tell us-
Robbie Hughes: I’m more than happy to bring it to the surface. It’s not something I’ve ever needed to discuss or respond to because, quite frankly, I don’t listen. My interest is the patient. If the patient wants super white teeth, we give them super white teeth. By all means, I educate and communicate with my patients to the very, very best of my ability, which I believe is second to none. But no-one on this planet is going to turn away a high profile celebrity if they’re asking for teeth which are too white than what they believe in. And if they can put their hand on heart and say they would, then they’re lying still, because you’re just not going to turn these people away now.
Payman L: But do you try and say, “Hey, no, that’s too white,” and they say-
Robbie Hughes: I have done, yeah.
Payman L: And they overrule you, and say-
Robbie Hughes: I have done, but these people know what they want. You know what I mean? They know what they want, and they love what they’ve got. If I was having to redo work, it’ll be a completely different conversation, but let’s just go back from a dental perspective. If we’re commenting on teeth because of the shade, and for me that’s a very, very minor issue. Minor issue. I’m interested in the
Robbie Hughes: the workflow, the predictability of the workflow. How I address issues or challenges. How I treat that patient and be as minimally invasive as I possibly can. If I’m ticking all the boxes, in my opinion, I’m doing the best I possibly can for that patient, the shade they choose at the end, it’s totally their choice. They’re paying for it because if we put the celebrities aside, coming from Liverpool, white teeth is a big thing. Okay? If I didn’t … If I said no to white teeth, I wouldn’t be where I am today. That’s the first thing. What I’ve learned is when you say no to somebody, which I do a lot at the moment because I get very young, like 18, 19 year old girls, wanting a full mouth of crowns, for some reason zirconia crowns, which are the least aesthetic in my opinion. This is because there’s a big rage from Turkey, you know, top and bottom crowns for five grand or wherever.
Robbie Hughes: Obviously I educate them, we don’t need to crown your teeth, we can bond your teeth. We can even veneer your teeth sometimes with no preparation at all. I still wouldn’t advise it because it’s irreversible. We have all these conversations. These people will still get up, leave, get on a flight and let someone prep, heavily prep 24 teeth for the sake of saving six grand or for the sake of not getting what they want. That’s where I do draw the line, but I don’t draw the line on a shade colour because that’s just ridiculous. If you want white teeth and I can deliver that to the best of my ability, noninvasive and all these words that people like to use, then I’ll do it. It’s the workflow and the predictability of my outcomes is what I’m interested in. Can I deliver what that patient wants successfully?
Payman L: From a restorative standpoint, from a predictability, from a DSD standpoint.
Robbie Hughes: Exactly, yes, and can we fully customise that smile for the individual? It’s for them. It’s not for me. It’s not for anybody else looking at them.
Payman L: But I think a lot of your critics wouldn’t know maybe that Liverpool is the world’s capital of white teeth. It really is.
Robbie Hughes: Literally, yes.
Payman L: From the day we started Enlighten to now our top users always come from Liverpool and they’re different people. It’s just one of those towns. Manchester, yes, but Liverpool, baring in mind it’s a lower population than Manchester, it’s just one of those towns. So that’s the way it’s going to go.
Robbie Hughes: That’s the way it is. If someone asked me for a supernatural tooth …
Payman L: You’ll deliver that.
Robbie Hughes: You know, texture, translucency, all these things that people like, that dentists like, you’re going to tell me I’m incapable of delivering them? Come and see me work. Like my lab, that which I oversee in my practise now, delivers an outsourcers patient work to other dentists from other cities that like … Or patients like this type of stuff, we’re delivering that day in, day out. I’m delivering that day in, day out. The reason why it’s not always on my Instagram is because my demographic of patients is 18 to 35 who want super white teeth. So what am I going to advertise on my Instagram? Super white teeth. I don’t care about anything else. Instagram is a marketing platform. You know, I don’t show my kids on there or what I’m doing every day and all these things. It’s purely a marketing platform. So like I said to you before, we know who our demographic is. It’s as narrow as it can possibly be.
Robbie Hughes: So that’s what we put out there. If you want to see something different, come and visit us, it’s fine. You know, you want to ask me any questions about white teeth, come and ask me. It’s absolutely fine. You know, you don’t have to get like aggressive or whatever you want to say about it. Like call me what you’re like, but I’m just giving what people want, you know.
Prav Solanki: Just talk to us a little bit about marketing. Prior to this podcast you said a little thing that shocked me, which is you probably run one of the biggest, or the most successful practises in the North and you haven’t spent a penny on marketing.
Robbie Hughes: Exactly.
Prav Solanki: How did that happen?
Robbie Hughes: The power of Instagram. The power of knowing influential people. Like you say, like I am fortunate, I’m very fortunate that I know influential people. I don’t have to beg influential people to help me out or offer, you know, freebies and all these things. I know a lot of influential people, I know how to sort of …
Payman L: I think that combined with the power of providing an amazing experience, right? Because …
Robbie Hughes: Of course.
Payman L: … It’s impossible to grow a business at the rate you’ve grown your business without word of mouth.
Robbie Hughes: Because you can’t force people to shout from the rooftops about what they’ve had done. You can’t force people to do that regardless of …
Payman L: But I think it’s the combination, those two together …
Robbie Hughes: The experience is everything. Yeah, the experience is everything. So you want to provide an experience, you want to create this sort of lifestyle brand where people want to boast about being in the building. That’s exactly what they do. Even the celebrities do it now. So the celebrities come, pay for the teeth, do you mind if we video? So Ken was a prime example. Ken paid for his teeth. Ken was offered free teeth, but he wanted to come to us and he let me video the whole experience and use it as much as I wanted to, because he knew what he wanted, he knew about experience, he knew about what we can deliver and we get that all the time. We haven’t done a single sponsored post. Yeah, so I haven’t paid for anything. Now when I’m ready to scale my business, we have the content, we have the contents there. Well obviously all those options we have. My websites are still getting built. It’s not even optimised.
Robbie Hughes: So if I can build a business of this scale on Instagram only, that’s what really excites me because I’m not going to be sort of put all my eggs in one basket. I’m just going through the process and being so busy and doing that. We do need to have all the channels and all the avenues firing at all cylinders. Then we’ll see how far we can really take this business and that’s the desire inside me now is I want to know how far can I take it.
Payman L: That’s really key Robbie here, because you know, you could say right place, right time, Instagram. You know your reputation in the town, is it … Let’s say Instagram the day after tomorrow isn’t the platform that … You know we can see what happened to Facebook and Reach and all that. Then we’re talking in a new town, what will it take to replicate? I’m not asking you to answer me, but that’s the big ask, isn’t it? Because in Liverpool you’re a mini celebrity before any of this started. Instagram, I guess you got on it at the right time and you did the right thing, but what’s going to happen next?
Robbie Hughes: I believe we already have a brand established well enough now to grow in any city. The awareness is there. I know that because I know the amount of inquiries I get through every day from different areas of the country. So again, my next stage is going to be a very, very logical decision based on where the most of my inquiries are coming from, from the right demographic and type of people and where my highest conversion rate is. So I know if I’m already converting very highly in that area that’s where I need a clinic. That’s not rocket science. If Instagram falls off tomorrow, I’ve got my brand and I’ve got a good enough business brain. You know, I’ve advertised on Myspace before so I can advertise on anything and that was free as well. Plus we’ve got all the old marketing methods. There’s nothing that I’m not aware of. I’m just saying I’m not at the point to use it or need it yet, but scalability is coming. That’s why I love digital dentistry because I don’t believe dentistry has been scalable before.
Payman L: Yes, in the same way.
Robbie Hughes: In the same way, but now it’s scalable and we can centralise a lot of things and sort of have different satellites very easily, I believe.
Payman L: Have you tried that? What’s the name of that DSD thing where you put your drill into the jig and it just …
Robbie Hughes: Face fit?
Payman L: Yes, have you tried that?
Robbie Hughes: Yes, we’ll have some exciting news about that coming soon in collaboration with-
Payman L: Just say what it is, for-
Robbie Hughes: What is Face Fit?
Payman L: Yes.
Robbie Hughes: So Face Fit, it starts with the same sort of smile design plan and the SD photo video protocols, 3D smile design. Once you have your 3D smile design then in the centre in Madrid the label have come up with the technology now where you can prefabricate the veneers and little jigs and a different type of like drill.
Payman L: Before prep.
Robbie Hughes: So you use the jigs to prep and the veneers are already made. So it’s a very accurate …
Payman L: Just stick your drill into this thing. It goes dit, dit.
Robbie Hughes: Then the veneers are made.
Prav Solanki: But you haven’t prepped yet.
Payman L: The dentist doesn’t need to do anything.
Robbie Hughes: Veneers are made based on your design. So the CAD Cam software will almost create what the ideal prep is. Then the jigs are created for the …
Prav Solanki: The prep jigs?
Robbie Hughes: Yes, and then the veneer goes on in the same day.
Prav Solanki: So anyone could prep … Any-
Robbie Hughes: That’s the idea. That’s what I’m trying to do with composite. Like you said, anyone can prep, sometimes you can prep or you can’t prep. Now with technology, I believe the way it’s going to end up going is anyone can do it. It’s just a matter of following protocol. That’s what my workflow with Avant Garde and the injection mould technique is it’s following protocol of a certain number of steps in the right process and not deviating from that and you will get the guaranteed results at the end. Even if you want texture and all these things in your composites, we put it in the design and it’s there the minute … You know all you have to do is polish. It’s there. That’s quite exciting.
Payman L: It’s very interesting because you know … For now composites are about artistic sort of …
Robbie Hughes: Yes, and it takes a lot of time and experience to be good at it.
Payman L: But you know, it’s one of those things, like we did it. There was a time where we said, all right, let’s do a whitening system better than what’s on the market, but you go through so many mistakes, don’t you, as you’re developing something?
Robbie Hughes: Of course.
Payman L: You go through so many mistakes and miss starts. So many times I think in our history as a company, we’ve had things that we started and didn’t do because it was such an error. Then there were other things, V ring, we had V ring before Optident had V ring and Sam said, “It’s a loser.” He said, “Who’s going to pay that much for matrix?” We were like, “Oh, well, you know, forget that.” It’s so interesting how this sort of thing develops. What was the hardest day in your dentistry career? Was there a time when, I don’t know, everything went wrong?
Robbie Hughes: Building my facility was hard.
Payman L: Isn’t it always? Builders are always hard.
Robbie Hughes: Exactly. Builders are hard.
Payman L: But to your standard?
Robbie Hughes: Backwards, forwards, bringing in a new project manager three weeks before the deadline, a lot went on, you know, I learnt an awful lot, but if I’m going to do it again and again at least I’ve learnt all the hard parts at the beginning. So that was difficult. On my launch night, which was a lot of invitations and there was a lot of people coming on that night. We were opening the doors at 6:00 and at 5:00 PM there was still builders running around everywhere trying to clean. It was difficult. So yeah, that was a hard day for me, but it was a very, very successful night. I couldn’t have asked it to go any better, but boy was I stressed that day.
Payman L: I’m guessing you overspent.
Robbie Hughes: Yes, you always do.
Payman L: Did you like the next day were you’re like, Jesus …
Robbie Hughes: You mean on the launch … We overspent on the launch or we overspent on the building?
Payman L: No, on the building.
Robbie Hughes: Yes, well it was … I never … You always overspend, when we’re talking about builders and interior designers, I never tell them my real budget because you know what’s going to happen. So yeah, you’re always going to over spend and we’re still spending now because we’re there and like the lab has been the best decision that I ever made. You know for me the lab was about more quality control, overseeing the process, learning a little bit about what the technician does and let the technician learn about me and what I expect and throwing the patient’s smack in the middle of that three-way communication and letting the patients sit in a lab and look at the design and have the technician come in and take shade and deliver one day teeth and all these things, but it’s even become much, much more than that. More enjoyable, like the opportunity to collaborate with other dentists.
Robbie Hughes: Like something I’d never thought I’d really want to do because it was all about the business and the patients, but we’re now sort of like doing work for other dentists. Again, only because they asked me on Instagram who made the veneer or we’ve started building the Instagram page for the lab. That’s gone really well and it allows me to oversee things and just see what other dentists are doing and advise them if they need advice or learn things from them and create supernatural teeth that we can’t create in Liverpool. It’s been amazing so far.
Payman L: Robbie, if you were to look back over your very, very short career and advise yourself, what would you do differently?
Robbie Hughes: What would they do differently? Move sooner. The facility where I am now, the idea was in my mind for a very, very long time. A mentor of mine, Dr BJ, he runs Evil Dental. He’s a good friend of mine. He told me to make that move a long time ago and he’s a visionary like me. What I was trying to do maybe four years ago was I was trying to buy the building next door to my dental practise, which was a semi detached house, two semi detached houses joined together. I said, BJ, I want a lab upstairs, I’m going to knock it through and have more surgeries. He told me, “What do you want to do that for?” He was the first person that said to me, he said, “Robbie, you are now delivering 21st century dentistry and you want to do it in a 19th century building. They don’t go together mate and you will outgrow that build if you do that, don’t make that mistake. You need to find a facility, the same as mine, similar to what he has in Heathrow.”
Robbie Hughes: Which I don’t know how big it is, but mine is 6,000 square foot. “And you need to start again. Your brand will always be a brand. Your name will always be name. Well grow some balls and move.” Then that’s when the planning began. I started coming up with the visions and the ideas and looking for locations.
Payman L: How much of it are using right now?
Robbie Hughes: All of it.
Payman L: Are you using the whole thing?
Robbie Hughes: We could move next door tomorrow and double in size, that’s how quick it’s grown. It’s scary.
Payman L: Just talk to me about your work life balance. You’ve got two little kids, you’re incredibly entrepreneurial, you’ve got a business that probably consumes a lot of your time. Just talk to me how sort of you balance that and whether you’ve ever struggled with being a father to your children. I know certainly less so now, but more so in the past there’d be times where my daughter would say to me, “Is daddy coming home tonight?” Or you know, is it the weekend now? Because they know I’m at home on the weekend.
Robbie Hughes: When we talk about balance, the balance is nowhere near what I would like it be, but like I said, if … I’m like a dog with a bone at the minute, if I want to be somewhere and the visions is what it is, I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do. I’ve got a very, very supporting family. So through the week, Monday to Friday … So what I do at the moment is I run consult days on a Monday and a Friday. I run clinical days on the Tuesday and Thursday and I run a administration team day on a Wednesday where we have meetings with my team and I talk about the way the organisation is with the team and the other things that I’m involved in because I don’t just run Dental Excellence. I’m trying to be a bit of an entrepreneur within dentistry if I can. Again, only based on the fact that I believe I can change certain things. I see …
Robbie Hughes: I think things should be done better or can be done better. Whether it’s the patients or the dentists, I’d like to bring something. I try to get up with my kids in the morning if I can. As I just said before, obviously two mornings a week I’m now going into the gym because that’s another sort of part of my mind, body and soul type thing, I need to get healthier from that point of view, but so I spend an hour with my kids in the morning before school.
Payman L: Is that every morning?
Robbie Hughes: Every morning, yes. If I’m not too tired, but yes, so most mornings I’ll spend with the kids between like 7:00 and 8:00. Then the weekend, it’s my whole weekend is about the kids.
Payman L: Is it closed over the weekend?
Robbie Hughes: We have a Saturday dentist. Yes, but I don’t work Saturdays.
Payman L: Sundays closed?
Robbie Hughes: Sundays closed, for now. Yes, the hard part with opening Sundays … We do a lot of late nights, that’s why through the week most of us work till like 8:00, 9:00 sometimes, so we do a lot of … I’ve got to thank my team for that, not just the clinicians, but the nursing staff, because they’re all willing to stay.
Payman L: By the time you get home the kids are asleep-ish.
Robbie Hughes: Yes, most of the time my daughter’s asleep, she goes to sleep about half seven. So most of the time I miss her. My son goes to sleep about half eight. If I can get home to see him for at least half an hour then I try. Then the weekend, I dedicate the weekends to them, but then obviously my wife needs time as well.
Payman L: Of course.
Robbie Hughes: So weekends sometimes-
Payman L: Does your wife share the vision, in terms of ambition? Like is she cool with the fact that you spend all this time … By the way, time isn’t just physical, it’s mental. I suffer with that.
Robbie Hughes: I’m trying to find …
Payman L: Sometimes I’m in the room but I’m not.
Prav Solanki: But you’re not in the room, right.
Robbie Hughes: Yes, and that’s one thing my wife said to me a lot in the past, especially this last year. Last year was a hard year for all of us, because we had so much to get through, a lot to do. It’s only now where we’re starting to find that little bit of normality. One thing that my wife always said to me was, “You’re here but you very vacant.” Because there’s so much on my mind. I’ve got through that phase. The balance I’d like to get better, but that only comes with as we build, as we grow the team really and as the patients get more trust in seeing other team members. My wife is very, very supporting. She sees the vision. She’s a great mom. She’s trying to come back to work and I’m trying to stop her from coming back to work.
Payman L: Was she working at …
Robbie Hughes: She was actually working at Dental Excellence doing micro-pigmentation. You know with the eyebrows and doing stuff like that. She had a little room at the old clinic and now she’s taken on one surgery two days a week, which I’m telling her I don’t want her to do, but I’m not going to argue with her. So yes, and because of that side and she’s been very supporting, she’s brought a lot of patients to the business. She’s supported the business massively.
Payman L: So she feels like she’s …
Robbie Hughes: So she’s part of it.
Payman L: She’s been part of-
Robbie Hughes: She’s part of the growth. Definitely, yes.
Payman L: Have you read a book, or have you heard of a book called Black Box Thinking?
Robbie Hughes: No.
Payman L: It’s about plane crashes. They look at the black box from the plane and then they don’t go, whose fault was the plane crash? They say, what do we learn from this so that it doesn’t happen again? Then the books also talks about medicine, right? When something goes wrong in medicine, it’s not like that. They look at, you know, someone died, let’s say, and then they look at what happened and then who was to blame for it? They point the finger at some doctor and then the rest of the community doesn’t end up learning from that mistake because it’s not ever thought of that way. So we’ve been asking some of the guests, clinically, what was the biggest clinical error you made?
Robbie Hughes: The biggest clinical error I’ve made, put a palatal root in the sinus.
Payman L: Nice.
Robbie Hughes: Being honest. I’ve done that once before, I will never do that again.
Payman L: What did you do?
Robbie Hughes: I was retained roots on a upper left seven. I was about three years qualified. At the point I was very, very confident extracting teeth very confident on doing minor surgery. I was sort of in my implant journey already. Occal roots came out fine. Very, very fine luxating on the palatal root. I was thinking, I’ll loosen it, I’ll get some forceps and it’ll come and it just disappeared. No, I wasn’t even putting that much pressure on it. It just disappeared. Which obviously learning curve, what did I learn from that? Don’t touch a palatal root on a seven ever again. Think twice before you jump in. Speaking to a lot of experienced dentists, very experienced dentist, top quality dentists, they actually do less now than they did when they were younger dentists because of these experiences. So they’re much more confident saying no to doing certain types of work or you know, because of these things which is …
Payman L: There’s also, the thing is you get older, you want to do what you want to do.
Robbie Hughes: Yes.
Payman L: So I stopped for six years, then I went back. Then when I went back I was like, well, I’m not going to even bother with anything I don’t want to do. So pretty much I was doing bridging and bonding. Then I stopped again but I hear you. That’s nice. Nice that you’re so open with it. Some people feel defensive about it.
Prav Solanki: We’ve had a few … You just came out with it like that. We’ve had a few people just sat in there going, hm, let me think of something.
Robbie Hughes: They’re what we call the fake book dentist, keyboard warriors. They sit behind the best case they’ve done all year and then that’s their standard of quality. That’s not reality. We all know that’s not reality. Especially if you’re working in the NHS and you’re seeing so many patients a day, then where do you draw your standards then? That’s why I decided a long time ago, I was never going to be involved in that process, because they’re two different worlds. The patient deserves to know what the reality is, what we can really do. It comes at a cost of course, but if you’re sick and you need the best medicine, you’re going to get the best medicine, aren’t you? You’re not going to cut corners. Teeth are exactly the same.
Prav Solanki: Robbie, it’s your last day on the planet, and you’re lying there, your kids are looking over you. You got three pieces of advice you can give them, what are they?
Robbie Hughes: I would say, don’t let anyone ever tell you that you can’t do something. If it makes sense in your mind and you believe in it, even if you fail at the end, do it. I would say even if it’s or your mom, because there was times where my parents told me not to do certain things within my business career so far, you know, I’ve took leaps and risks. The look on my mom’s face sometimes when I’ve said I’m going to do something. She’s like, do you really need to do it now? But that’s one definite thing I would say. Travel the world. I think I’ve gained a lot of knowledge, experience, reality, humility, everything really about morals, everything is from travelling and looking at how other people live and what struggles different people going through every day.
Payman L: What were some of your favourite places that you went on your world championship? You did the Far East a lot, right?
Robbie Hughes: To be honest, I didn’t go to the Far East a lot. It was very European and Western because it was Western kickboxing, it wasn’t Thai, but I travelled to a lot of Eastern block countries. You know Poland, Bulgaria, Serbia, Romania. So I won’t say any of them are my favourite countries, but again, you learn a lot about …
Payman L: People.
Robbie Hughes: People, yes. I see a lot of … I used to see people who were very, very talented within the sports from these countries. You’d have like 10 people on a team and they’re competing and then they’ve taken the gum shield out and the head guard and they’ve given them to the friend, so they can go and compete. You know, it’s just little things like that. It’s like you’re so much in love with this sport and it’s probably everything to you or you’re so limited in your resources, but you can still compete at this level.
Prav Solanki: You travelled the world. Number three?
Robbie Hughes: I would say, well there’s a couple of little quotes that are imprinted in my mind and my dad’s said to me since I was younger, one of them is if it was easy, everybody would do it. That’s so, so true, because sometimes … I’ve got friends who, oh, I’ve got this business idea. I’m going to open this shop, I’m going to do this. Good mate, good luck. Anyway, six months later, oh mate, I can’t do these hours. I’m going to sell it or … Like, because if it was easy, everyone would do it. Your visioning and what you want is amazing, but it’s going to take a long time to execute that plan. That takes a lot of hard work.
Robbie Hughes: The other thing my dad used to say to me, “Take risks while you’re young because you can always recuperate. When you’re in your forties, fifties and you’re thinking about the time in some of these things you don’t want to be taking your risks then. Take them while you’re young because if you fail, you’re big enough.” Like your time’s on your side. You can always bounce back. I suppose they’re the messages I’d like to get across.
Prav Solanki: I’ve really enjoyed myself.
Payman L: It’s been an absolute pleasure.
Prav Solanki: You’ve probably … I would say you’ve been the most open, honest and easiest person to talk to that we’ve interviewed.
Payman L: Yes, probably and I’d like to see you again in a couple of … I don’t know how long to say, maybe in two years time when the empire is a bit bigger, but yes, I feel like there’s so much more we could keep talking about, but really thanks so much for being on the show.
Robbie Hughes: Thanks for having me, pleasure
Prav Solanki: Thanks Rob, appreciate it.
Payman L: Thanks Robbie.
Robbie Hughes: Thank you.
Payman L: Cheers.
Outro Voice: This is Dental Leaders. The podcast where you get to go one-on-one with emerging leaders in dentistry. Your hosts Payman Langrudi and Prav Solanki.
Prav Solanki: Thank you for tuning in guys to the dental leaders podcast. I’ve just got a little request to make, if you’ve got a suggestion of somebody else who we should be interviewing or somebody who’s got a really strong story, powerful story to share with us, please send us a message and help us connect with that individual so we can bring their story to the surface.
Payman L: Thank you so much for taking the time guys. If you got some value out of it, think about sharing it with your friends and subscribing to the channel.