This week, Prav and Payman get wise to the world of Nikuj Sondagar and Saeid Haghri.
Nik and Saeid talk about their Wise 360 – a digital learning platform connecting dentists with training providers.
This relatively young pair has form – between them, they’ve already established several successful ventures including a dental social presence, marketing and development company and clever plaque-reduction tech.
They talk through the challenges of developing Wise 360 as excitement builds for the launch of the tech in a few weeks.
“You get to a point where it’s all about meeting the demand, demand, demand. And then you’ve met demand, what do you do after? You realise, I’m actually happy doing what I do.” – Nikunj Sondagar
In This Episode
00.49 – In the beginning
05.03 – Awards
07.54 – The Wise 360 concept
14.10 – Marketing and development
23.18 – Reviews
29.25 – Being in business
38.57 – Dental school and giving back
44.03 – The guide to purchasing a practice
51.51 – Why dentistry?
54.24 – Turning back time
About Nikunj and Saeid
Nikunj Sondagar and Saeid Haghri are founders of the Wise dental brand including Wise 360 – a digital platform connecting dentists with training providers.
Nik: Long story short, started making websites for people, expanded into different industries and bigger clients. And now we’re fortunate enough to be-
Payman Langroud…: All along you were a dental student, you were doing this as a dental student?
Payman Langroud…: In Hungary?
Nik: In Hungary, yeah.
Saeed: Dentistry must have been really easy in Hungary. Had the time to [crosstalk 00:00:19].
Speaker 4: This is Dental Leaders, the podcast where you get to go one-on-one with emerging leaders in dentistry. Your hosts, Payman Langroudi and Prav Solanki.
Prav Solanki: Welcome to the dental leaders podcast, and today we’ve got the pleasure of Nikunj and Saeed from the Wise 360 group. Just want to start things off by just asking you guys really how you both got into business together, how you first connected, heard about each other, and then how this all started. So could you just tell us your backstory, please?
Saeed: This is actually a very funny story. So I came up with an idea of doing an award ceremony for dental students and young dentists, because the whole idea was to bring the fun back into dentistry. And I thought my idea was unique and nobody else had told about this idea. So I had [inaudible] some time back and say, “This is the idea, what do you think?” I said, “Well, it’s a good idea. It’s always good to contribute in the education of dental students and young dentists.” And before I even had any chance of doing any preparation, somebody else somewhere else launched a project called Dental Student Awards at the time. And it seemed really interesting actually, Payman sent me a message saying, “Mate, the idea you had, somebody else has already done it.
Saeed: So I saw a picture of Nikunj in some Instagram post, and I had already spoken to Nikunj before about another project, so I knew of him. So I thought, you know what, he’s a great guy. I’m sure he’s going to do a good job. But let me contact him, see how things are going. So I contacted him. And we had couple of meetings, and we actually decided to do it together, which actually turned out really well. And for those of you that know, it’s been a great success last year, and we are holding the next one this year in October.
Nik: Yeah. And I think since the future of dentistry awards was the first thing that kicked things off, and then as we’ve grown both as people and in work in things, we’ve just allowed that relationship to mature and doesn’t get involved into more other businesses, and expand it accordingly.
Prav Solanki: So I think that was a really interesting exchange there, because other people may see that as competition. Other people might see that as a rival and think, there’s someone out there who’s stolen my idea, or beat me to it. I need to work even harder now. But you took a different approach. Can you talk us through that initial exchange of contact, what it was like, what that initial … Was it a phone call or a meeting?
Saeed: For me, dentistry in the UK, or business in the UK, there’s so many different opportunities. You don’t really need to be saddened by the fact that somebody else launched something sooner than you. You can always do something else. There are great ideas and as long as you can execute something properly, you can just move into something else. So first of all, there is no hard feelings if somebody started something before you, you still have to try. And then the second thing is I had so much passion about this, I wasn’t thinking of doing this for money, which is not a profitable organisation. I had passion for it, so I thought if somebody else has passion for it, there must be some common ground here so if anything, I should connect with this person.
Saeed: And it was quite simple. If you’re living in a technological world, their Facebook message was quite sufficient to attract Nik’s attention.
Nik: Yeah. And also, I think having complementary skills as well was very helpful, because there are things that I’m very good at, and there were things that Saeed was good at. And we were essentially quite a good fit because my weaknesses were covered by Saeed anyway. And one of the [inaudible] I’ve always had in businesses like, always do somewhat take more of a collaborative approach rather than a competitive one. Because you’ll kind of go stuck in a rat race with competition, never find satisfaction, fueling your insecurities and collaboration allows you to not go down that way.
Payman Langroud…: So I was at that first awards, and it was a fun night. But more interesting than that was how big it was, for the first time of doing something like that. Because I remember telling you that, “Look, forget the first year you’re going … just work for the second and third,” but it was a huge number of people. How many people turned up?
Saeed: We had an excess of 400 people. Actually, we had to stop people coming. Well, a few people couldn’t actually join because we were overflown to be honest with you with the venue. The venue has a capacity of 400 people and we were definitely above 400.
Payman Langroud…: And with all the cynicism around awards, did you get any bad vibes from people about that as well that you starting awards at the student level?
Saeed: Obviously we did our homework very well. We spoke to quite a few people with more experience in dentistry, including yourself and we wanted to come up with a project where it was actually genuine, and we didn’t want to approach it commercially at all. And most importantly, we didn’t want to get into clinical aspect of dentistry. We are celebrating other achievements of dental students and young dentists. We leave the clinical dentistry to the universities. They are best place to assess individuals on clinical dentistry. We are assessing individuals on other great experiences and achievements they have which otherwise is not seen, because everybody gets stuck into the bubble of dentistry.
Saeed: So that’s the reason we don’t get any heat because we’ve got the best sports man, the best sports woman of the Year. I mean, nobody, people usually care about that, but you would be surprised to find out some of the dental students are in Olympics and they do other amazing things. That is a contribution to dentistry because that tells you who they are as an individual, not necessarily whether their occlusal composite is the best.
Payman Langroud…: And what are the some of the other categories? Have you got CSR … well, charity?
Saeed: We’ve got contribution to charity, we’ve got ethical students. So that is for a student to be able to demonstrate what measures they’ve taken to be able to develop in an ethical manner and provide ethical dentistry. We do have the audit of the year but that is something that is selected by the deanery. We don’t have any judging over that. So we are very careful not to impinge on something that we are not an expert on.
Prav Solanki: And so what was the selection/submission judging criteria and who was involved in all of that? How did you go about setting all that up?
Nik: Yeah, so the first thing that we wanted to do was to make sure that [inaudible] organisers of the event were essentially very hands off of all of that process. So we scouted around and found judges and spoke to a variety of people who are basically everyone from deans of universities, to actual clinicians in practises. And so people who would have had quite a multidisciplinary skill set with them, and not just all clinical and also with business or other skills. And so after creating this judging panel, then we allowed them to come up with a criteria and we provide … basically just passed on the applications to them. And the applications got judged by them and they did a rank, schooling system. And essentially the top scoring individuals were the ones who were the winners.
Payman Langroud…: So now your new project, Wise 360, talk us through that. What’s that all about?
Saeed: Sure. So Wise 360 is at the heart of what I was just saying with collaboration over competition. So Wise 360 group is basically our main parent company that essentially houses tooth wise, medical wise, which are our different brands that we advertise, tooth wise being in dentistry. And so with Wise 360, we are creating an educational platform where people can basically discover courses to go on to, to learn about medicine, dentistry, or whichever field that they’re in. And the whole point of this is for them to actually find courses which are suitable for them to make better decisions, and then also have a more powerful platform because a lot of learning is now becoming digitalized.
Saeed: So we’re helping these course organisers to actually take time away from the admin. And we’ll manage the admin side with the platform and with technology, and then instead they can actually focus their time on the clinical teaching of itself.
Payman Langroud…: The problem you’re solving with it is that … I don’t know what courses are available, firstly. All right?
Payman Langroud…: And then with the CPD bits and all that? [inaudible 00:09:12]?
Nik: Yeah. So there’s a part of automating the CPD certificates and things like that. So imagine, for example, the best way to describe it is booking.com, Airbnb. So the same way you would go into one of these websites to find a hotel for you, you would go onto our website and just search a course. So let’s say you want to composite course, you would just go ahead and search that. And then there’s filtering options, so if you want to filter it based on certain criteria, so price, location, if there’s verified or non verified CPD, if it’s a online or in person course, things like that. Or even reviews and the star rating.
Nik: And so then that way, you’re able to tailor your search based on what you want. And then we’ve already started including the things necessarily to be able to use AI so that you will able to actually guess the course for them before they’ve even thought about it themselves, stay tuned.
Saeed: Before Nick gets into algorithms and AI and everything that you don’t understand, he is very technical. For my point, I did dentistry in London and been a dentist almost 10 years now. I used to ask as a student to older generation, “Which course do you think I should go for? What should I do? And whether it is good or bad.” Nowadays there is this drive in dentistry. As soon as you qualify from dental school, you think that you should do further courses to even get better. And so I get asked this question very often, said, “What do you think? Which course should I do? Which one is the best one for me?”
Saeed: I think this platform will enable people to make their own decisions by being able to see the reviews of the courses, to make comparisons to understand where they are located, how much they cost, and create a long term career pathway for themselves. And that will be their decision. Alternatively, you’re going to have to ask 10 people, but if you have the opportunity of seeing all the courses in the UK and also abroad, you know that it is a golden opportunity for you to plan for your career.
Payman Langroud…: And it doesn’t cost anymore, the user doesn’t cost me any more to go through the platform?
Saeed: No, it’s absolutely free. Doesn’t cost you anything. You don’t even have to sign up to search the courses. But of course, if you want to book it makes sense that you need to sign up, but it doesn’t cost them anything.
Payman Langroud…: And so the business model is that you take from the course organisers?
Saeed: Yeah, we think that’s fair. We are going to also help course organisers to fill the seats that they wouldn’t otherwise fill, because they are welcome to do their own marketing by all means, if we are just an additional help. And yes, they will cover the cost of booking but we know that the average transaction fee whether you use PayPal, Stripe or any other measure is already about 5% anyway, and we charge something just above that, so it’s a no brainer. If you are a course organiser, you don’t get a booking from us, you don’t get charged, you get a booking, you get charged. There is no lacking in contract. You join and leave whenever you want.
Payman Langroud…: Then what if a particular course organiser doesn’t want to join it? Then that detracts from the service in terms of you’re not going to have as many … you’re going to have all the courses on, let’s say this six composite courses, and any three of them sign up.
Saeed: I think as I said, it’s a no brainer. Why wouldn’t you? If you’ve got pride in your course, and you think you’re doing a great job, you think your delegates are really happy with you, this is an opportunity for you to actually get on a platform where you can show off how great you are, get reviews from users. If you don’t want to join then, by all means, then you can go direct. But in our opinion that wouldn’t be a very smart move.
Payman Langroud…: So I see as a no brainer as a course provider and pay you, you’re on courses as well, let’s say so a little over 5%. As a course provider, would you give a 5% discount to a delegate who is ready to book a new course?
Prav Solanki: Of course you would. So you’re providing that booking at that rate you would normally give a discount for anyway. So that’s-
Saeed: That’s absolutely right. I mean, 5% is I think very, very generous. I know people that-
Prav Solanki: Give much, much more.
Saeed: … more than that.
Prav Solanki: Yeah, of course.
Saeed: We’ve done our homework very well. We’ve been working on this project for the past two years. This is not something we’ve come up last month, and we’ve already done extensive market research. I personally spoke to close to 50 course organisers across the UK, and understand to see whether this was something that would help them. And I would say 90% of them said they are on board, they are happy to get on board. We have had a couple of one or two people say “Well, my courses are already fully booked. Why do I need further bookings?” And the simple answer to that question is one, you can expand, just do more courses, get more tutors on your course and expand.
Saeed: And the second question is, if you’re really passionate about dentistry, you’re reaching people that are within your close proximity. You’re not reaching people from outside the UK, you’re not reaching people from other cities. And if you’re really passionate about dentistry, why would you want them to be disadvantaged? Reach them as well.
Prav Solanki: I see two big challenges for this project. So I’m sure you guys have overcome those. And I’d just like to hear how you have approached them. And the first one is, how do you reach the audience of dentists to make the booking? So one is lead gen. And the other one is probably for you, Nikunj is the technical challenges of building that platform must be immense. How do you overcome those challenges, and the bug, and all the techie programming side of things?
Nik: Yeah. So to answer the first question in regards to essentially what we [inaudible] this will in marketplace end of the day, and there’s two ends to a marketplace. One is the supply and the other is the demand. So the demand is where from the consumers and the supplier is from the actual course organisers. And so like any good shop, you have to have both of these things there. So, we’ve been building tooth wise for the past two years in terms of a social media plan and creating lots of content and really making sure that we have both that online and physical presence. Things like running the awards, which has been a fantastic success has also been a firsthand experience for us, as a company to understand from a cost organisers point of view what it’s like to run event.
Nik: This is a very larger scale event, but it still helps. And on top of that, so I always had that expertise where he’s organised multiple courses and events himself as well as listening to people. So, through that, building that initial brand, we will be using that and using those techniques, as well as doing a collaborative approach with the course organisers. So by providing them with a tool, which essentially allows them to fill delegates into our portal, we’re able to then provide different offerings, which creates a positive feedback cycle, which allows those people who have signed up to go ahead and discover more courses. So essentially we’ll kind of snowball our user-ship on them.
Prav Solanki: So if somebody registers for, let’s say, my course, and then they take that course, they become a contact in your database, essentially?
Nik: Exactly, yeah.
Prav Solanki: Which allows you guys to maybe make them aware of what courses are coming up next month or in a year’s time?
Nik: Exactly, yeah. And we would understand as well, their occupation, subspecialty and interests. And once we have this data, and we understand this data, we’re able to recommend better courses as well for them.
Prav Solanki: Okay, so playing devil’s advocate, I run a mini smile makeover course. And the only course I want anyone to do is my composite course. And so somebody books through your platform and my anxiety there is, they’re going to go and do my competitors course. What would your play off be to that? What would your response be to that?
Nik: Yeah. So for example, one of the biggest key decision factors is word of mouth. And what word of mouth actually brings to people is credibility on a course. Reviews is basically the modern day version of word of mouth. So it becomes a very black and white system where if you’ve got a composite provider A and composite provider B, and you’ve got … one’s got 400 reviews at 4.7 stars, and the other one has got 700 reviews at two stars, it’s kind of a no brainer to realise which one is the better course to go to. And so you’ve [inaudible] that’s what we’re doing is, we’re giving people the ability to transparently provide the views and give their opinions about courses so that they can be shared with other delegates just like themselves to then go on to the course.
Nik: So to answer your question, the question is, keep running better courses and encourage better reviews, period.
Payman Langroud…: What about the second part of his question regarding the actual building of the thing, and the startup world that I guess you guys are now in? What have you got? A group of developers? How much runway do you have? Are you raising finance? What’s-
Nik: Yeah, no. So my background, as you know applies all, and mostly being in the startup world and tech and things. So with the technology, and to answer the question, with the technology stack that we’re running, it’s a very versatile thing where we’re using Facebook’s React Native platform, which has recently been released a few years ago. And now that’s open source. And what that’s allowed us to do is be ready for mobile, when we’re ready to create actual mobile apps and things for the future. At the same time, you’ll realise … I’m sure you’ve done it with your own software’s that you developed or the dentists’ listing when they go and make a website.
Nik: A lot of the pricing in technology is done on an hourly basis. So the more you can reduce the hours, the cheaper the product that is going to be. So we have a mentality called lean in our minds, which is basically, running everything in a streamline and as efficient way possible, where we create the minimal possible version of basically a platform that’s going to achieve the goal. So long story short, we’ve got a team of developers, which is with my own agency, based in Hungary and the Ukraine, which are developing very hard and well for us.
Payman Langroud…: So how long will it be before it’s ready?
Nik: A few weeks.
Payman Langroud…: A few weeks? Wow!
Nik: The platform is actually ready to go. We are creating the supply on that now.
Prav Solanki: Just to give us an idea in terms of, to get your MVP or your minimal viable product out, which is I’m assuming going to be your initial beta version, that you’re going to improve on and add features to how, many developer hours has gone into that?
Saeed: To answer that question, actually, that is a very interesting question with regards to the MVP. Whatever project we do, we set quite a high standard. You would have seen that from future dentist [inaudible] like Payman was explaining. First year one of the best awards that anywhere ever seen in the UK. With the courses booking platform, we started with the MVP idea, but we wanted to make it so perfect. I’m not actually sure even if it is an MVP anymore, it’s probably a fully blown platform. So, for an MVP, it is pretty developed.
Nik: Yeah. So to answer the question, it’s let’s say a couple of thousands.
Prav Solanki: And that’s how many developers working on that at the same time?
Nik: So we’ve got six developers or a team of six in total, including a project manager, excluding myself and the designer.
Prav Solanki: Wow! Whilst developing that, have you come across any major challenges? I know we’ve developed software in the past, and sometimes we make some technical decisions that throw us completely off than anything, “Oh geez, if only I’d have done it this way or that way.” Or have you circumvented that by planning and mistakes that you’ve made in the past?
Nik: Yeah, it has been a lot to do with the planning in my experience with things, with the previous projects I’ve worked on and other clients and things. I think the biggest challenge that we faced with this is probably the payment side of things. And ensuring that the entire platform is so secure, especially with that payment. And one of the things that we wanted to actually overcome was end of the day, when you’re course organiser, they want money in their bank ASAP, right? And that helps their cash flow, it helps a variety of things. And so we were able to thankfully create a system and partner with a fairly big payment provider to actually be able to facilitate that for them. So that, as soon as a transaction is done by a delegate, we will get our commission and it automatically goes straight to the course organiser.
Nik: So it reduces that time delay for them. And the end of the day cash is king, right? So, yeah.
Prav Solanki: That’s pretty impressive. So we’ve worked with payment processors or in the past, and as you probably well know, more so than we do is that they hold on to your money for five to seven days or maybe even longer, and then pass it on. And you’ve developed a system that allows people to get paid same day?
Nik: So we work with whatever the payment provider’s rules and regulations are. There is obviously always going to be that delay when you transfer money from one place to a bank account.
Prav Solanki: Sure.
Nik: There’s always going to be that delay. But in terms of other platforms and things, for example, what they would do is the payment provider or whoever the platform is, for instance, they would actually only pay out at the end of every month or so. So we’ve been able to actually go out to them.
Saeed: What we’re basically been trying to do is to keep things the same for the course organiser. The course organiser currently, those that claim online bookings, they already take payment over their website. We’ve just tried to keep the time the same. So nothing is disturbed for them with regards to payment.
Nik: So there’s no disadvantage to them.
Saeed: Exactly. That’s the whole idea.
Prav Solanki: Let’s talk about reviews. This comes up in conversation for me loads, so practises come and go. I’ve got a negative Google review, somebody’s left. And then other practises say their competition are getting people to leave fake reviews. Just talk to us about your review system and how you’ve developed that so that it’s watertight and verified.
Saeed: Obviously, with regards to that, the reviews environment is a very vibrant environment and that needs to mature over time. So we have to see what the user behaviour is. Do we even have that problem? We hope not. With the people joining, with their registration number we know individuals, they are not random people. But we have already discussed this. This is very important for us. And Google is so big now that they either don’t care or they don’t have time to look at a single review anymore. But, before we get to that stage, there will be a few years. So in the initial instance, we are going to make sure that their reviews are genuine, because there are big platforms like for example, Amazon have systems in place where the reviews are actually genuine. They can check. Google isn’t one of them.
Saeed: But that is the approach we are taking to ensure that nobody can come and badmouth someone that they haven’t been to their course.
Payman Langroud…: Just to clarify, if I was to book on the say, mini smile makeover course or say [inaudible] ABB course, in order for me to leave a review for that you will be able to verify that I had taken that course or registered on your platform in order to do that?
Saeed: That is one of the routes, because there is also the argument that you may have had been to the course two years ago. You still have a right to write a review. The course is the same course. So as I said, that’s something that we have to look at the environment and make a decision according to that. However, being a practise owner myself, and having had multiple bad reviews sometimes left on multiple clinics-
Payman Langroud…: You know the pain.
Saeed: I feel that. I know the pain. So I definitely make sure that doesn’t happen to anyone else.
Payman Langroud…: Brilliant.
Nik: And we have a reporting system as well. So people, including the course organisers or other delegates, or people who’re just visiting the site can actually go ahead and review the course, I mean report to review. So then once that review is reported, then our team will then find out and then they will take the necessary steps. So the first thing that we will do is ask them for proof, “Have you been on this course?” If they went three years ago, for example. And if they haven’t then that review is obviously taken down and their star rating and things are restored back to what it was.
Saeed: Which is very fair. You work really hard for your brand and the last thing you would want us to leave yourself on the role.
Payman Langroud…: Is the plan to then scale it up to medical and international? What are you studying, dental in the UK?
Nik: So initially dental and medicine is the plan. So we will be-
Saeed: That’s the plan.
Nik: Yeah, absolutely. So medicine is a huge market as well. And there’s a great demand. Very interestingly, I’ve got friends studying in medicine and he had to do a course in hospital. And they asked him, “Could you pay for this course?” And they asked him for a piece of paper to put their card details on. And he was shocked. And he was, “I’m not doing this at all.” And he called up the admin person and gave the card details through the phone. But it tells you, the paperwork that we’re dealing with, but let’s put GDPR aside, let alone anything other like security, right? So-
Saeed: Well, the question sometimes we ask ourselves is, why are we launching in dentistry where medical business is much bigger and much bigger market? And the simple answer to that question is because we have passion for dentistry, because I’m a dentist and they used to be a dental student. That’s the only reason that dentistry industry is going to benefit from this first than medicine, just because the creators are kind of dentists.
Payman Langroud…: Yeah, good to start somewhere where you know what’s going on more, for sure. So let’s go to the past. Nikunj, you’ve done a lot of interesting things tooth wise, with some of your partners, right?
Nik: Yes. So tooth wise is something that I had initially started by myself-
Payman Langroud…: As a dental student?
Nik: As a dental student, finally … tooth wise has a very long journey. I was a very keen bean student in my first year, like most, [inaudible] that fades away, I guess sometimes. But I was very keen, and I wanted to essentially be very smart at dentistry, and I got really into learning and reading every single other magazine here and there. And so I wanted to create a platform that brings all of these resources and everything together. Just what resources? I wasn’t sure. And then further working with people Saeed and things and actually listening and talking to a lot of people and studying what the dental market is, we realised that the course’s platform is the best thing to do.
Nik: And so we’re fortunate to have been able to create a content driven brand up until now. And tooth wise, we wanted it to be very engaging, because I’m sure you guys know with social media views are one thing, engagement is a far bigger thing. And so when we created content we wanted to create content that was relatable and emotionally driven for people. The best way to describe it is we have this mentality of being the BuzzFeed of dentistry. So we’ll create 10 problems that dentists have, and then [inaudible] a funny caption with that. And it’s great because I’ll be, “Saeed, you’re number four, and this is hilarious.”
Nik: And the great thing that fuels though is that I am then commenting in Facebook and social and sharing that with people, so not only is my audience seeing it, than Saeed’s audience is seeing. And that creates a snowballing effect in terms of the engagement and the reach that your content has. So I think that’s why we’re able to be quite fortunate enough to be able to get about 450,000 unique visitors on our social every single week, because purely we’re creating great content, period.
Payman Langroud…: And also, as you were studying you started this marketing company as well.
Nik: Yeah, well, it was a tech … well, I say tech agency. It wasn’t even a tech agency at that point. It was just me making websites for people.
Payman Langroud…: How did that even start?
Nik: Okay, so that’s quite an interesting story. So I was in my first year, and I was studying in Hungary. I had a lease and I was studying in Hungary. It was probably because I messed about a bit too much in my school, honestly speaking, and then I met a great dentist called Sameer Patel. He runs Elleven Dental. And I shadowed him for a few days and I fell in love, because he showed me both the business and the dental side of things, and I absolutely loved what he did. And he’s treating all these celebrities and looked really cool. So this sounds quite good and I became very passionate. And then I realised … I looked at my results cards for A-levels and I was like, “I don’t even have biology or physics or half the sciences I need even study dentistry.”
Nik: So then I did a one year intensive A-level course, and thankfully I got straight A’s and all that stuff. So then gone … I’m conditioned off to go ahead and study in Hungary. And then so once I was in my first year of dental school over there, I basically left home for reasons I’ll probably not go into right now, but circumstances caused me to essentially leave home, and I was faced with position where okay, I have to make ends meet. What the hell do I do? And so I had to learn a business in the past which I basically exited to make money for university and then I restarted another major, started making websites for people.
Nik: Long story short, started making websites for people, expanded into different industries and bigger clients. And now we’re fortunate enough to be-
Payman Langroud…: All along you were a dental student? You’re doing this as a dental student?
Payman Langroud…: In Hungary?
Nik: In Hungary, yeah.
Saeed: Dentistry must have been really easy in Hungary. [crosstalk 00:31:30].
Prav Solanki: Your story really resonates with me because I’m my brother, right? So when we were at uni, I was ordering in 20 kilos sacks of whey protein from New Zealand, separating into one kilo sacks and selling it on eBay. My brother was building computers and business was ingrained through our blood, through my dad driving taxis and us working in the corner shop. Is there anything about your childhood that was influential in you being what seems to be like you have an entrepreneurial spirit?
Nik: It’s probably to do with the fact that, as people, we’re quite innately wanting to be providers for the loved ones and the people around us. And so, trying to like fulfil that for people, we want friends and family around us to be proud of us. And then we also want them to have the most comfortable life possible in both wealth and health. So I think that is the thing that really pushed me forward, was, I had my brother and my grandma and my girlfriend, everyone who’s around me, and just wanting to be able to deliver for them was probably one of the biggest driving factors. And then realising that business is probably one of the most efficient ways in a way, when those are the riskiest but then you look at the risk with the reward as well, and it’s basically, you’re taking cumulative risk for the award. So you’re hoping that the reward’s going to grow.
Prav Solanki: And so what you say there is completely selfless, right? You’re talking about you doing something for the benefit of others, in order … when people go into business it’s like, “I’m going to be rich. I’m going to make loads of money,” and you’ve just said that, actually, I’m looking at my loved ones, the closest people around me on wanting to do the best for them.
Saeed: Yeah, it’s very interesting, actually. I asked that question to Nik about two weeks ago, just before we had a business meeting. I said, “Well, Nik, you’re doing very well. You’ve got a team of so many people working and you’ve got enough money. If you make more money you’re not going get any happier than you are now. You know that perfectly fine. So what is the reason that you want to set off so many other projects?” And the answer to that question is because that is a way of life. You enjoy doing what you’re doing. He loves business. He’s selfless. He can provide for his family already. There’s no further need for business. And I keep telling that to him all the time because I’m a bit older. But when you do something well, and you enjoy doing it, I think that’s the reason you probably do it at our level rather than any sort of financial way.
Nik: Yeah, definitely, because end of the day once you get over that hurdle, because having been through it firsthand as well you get to a point where, okay, it’s all about meeting the demand, demand, demand. And then you’ve met demand, and then what do you do after? And then you realise that way, I’m actually happy doing what I do. And once you realise that, okay, this is something I’m very content with, don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love dentistry, but it got to a point where I had to make a decision when I left school was that which one was I more happier doing end of the day, and which one would be a better use of my time? And I found that technology and business was the thing that filled me, so I took the plunge.
Nik: It was a very risky move, very difficult to explain to people because especially Asian parents and stuff like that-
Prav Solanki: Totally mate, totally. You’re right.
Nik: Yeah, they don’t understand startups and they’ll just throw the dice, the whole statistic like one in three businesses only succeed and all that stuff. And yeah, so that was a difficult conversation to have. But I think being very passionate and happiness driven is the thing that really fuels both side and life forward.
Prav Solanki: And what is it about your mindset and your makeup that makes you say, you know what? Against all these odds, I’m going to do it. Have you been on any mindset coaching journeys or are you spiritual in any way? What is it about you that makes you say, “Do you know what? All these people think I’m going fail. One in three fail. I’m not going down the traditional Asian parent; doctor, lawyer, dentist, medicine, whatever. What is it about you that’s different?
Nik: I think one, it comes from having people like Saeed next to me who really fuel that. Because when you’re a leader essentially, [inaudible 00:36:12], your team will sometimes not actually believe in your business and your thing as much or as passionately as you. And so having a team which is able to actually really fuel the passion and the drive that you have, and actually say, “You know what? This is actually bloody possible,” despite whatever the odds of them that may be. Then that’s also very reassuring to have. And then a lot of it comes down from you’re essentially just weighing down inside, what are the facts, what are the data and what are the strengths that we have and how can we build on it? Now, I like to take it from a very OCD logical way of thinking.
Prav Solanki: You sound like a programmer.
Prav Solanki: What are the facts? What are the data? What is it [inaudible] my risk profile? Boom! I’m going to go.
Nik: Absolutely, yeah.
Prav Solanki: And having worked with lots of developers, you literally sound like such a logic minded guy that just weighs his risk [inaudible 00:37:10].
Nik: It’s a blessing and a curse at the same time.
Payman Langroud…: What about the work on the Brushlink?
Nik: Yeah, so Brushlink was exciting. So first year, I started Oxo, my agency. Second year, I co-founded Brushlink with the team, so that was very exciting. So I had the opportunity to basically take care of the technology for Brushlink. So for those who don’t know what Brushlink is, it’s a small device that attaches to the handle of a toothbrush, and then monitors the way people brush their teeth, and it connects to a mobile phone app. And so we recently completed a survey, so in our survey research study that was done by Liz Kay. And what we found was that brushing helped reduce pluck by 70%, which was a phenomenal thing and with the study basically there was another part of it which was just without Brushlink and that was only all the health instruction and that reduced pluck by 30%.
Nik: So to see that Brushlink reduced pluck by like a massive amount like that was insanely phenomenal. And that was a very interesting journey for me because that was to create a product and I have no idea how to make a product at the time. I knew tech, I knew software at most. I had no clue about manufacturing [inaudible 00:38:33].
Payman Langroud…: You did that as a dental student too.
Nik: Yeah, second year was the hardest. But pilot, you know in second year, in Hungary, okay, no joke. I don’t mean to-
Payman Langroud…: [inaudible] agreeing with Saeed about your dental [inaudible 00:38:49].
Nik: So that was just about-
Payman Langroud…: Too much for your time.
Nik: So that what was about to say, I don’t mean to bad mouth the Hungarian universities and things, but the dropout rate in second year 40% passed, period. Like, that’s it. 40% of students passed. It was immensely tough to actually get through.
Saeed: That’s what I heard. Very, very few people actually finish Hungarian dental courses in the normal time period.
Nik: Yeah. In second year you have anatomy, physiology. I was learning anatomy of the polonium and the legs, and constantly asking my teachers, “Why do I need to know this as a dentist? But yeah, it was tough, but I think just again, realising that like wow, this could be such a phenomenal, amazing product, really drove me to create something like Brushlink. And it was great because I’m waking up in the morning, having conversations with China, trying to take care of manufacturing between lectures talking to [inaudible] else, talking to developers and things every single … I remember being between [inaudible] had glasses at times. It was just responding to emails, being told off by the teacher to put my phone away and then came back at it.
Saeed: Don’t set bad example to the [inaudible 00:40:16].
Nik: Yeah, don’t do that, kids. Don’t drop out of school.
Saeed: Don’t try that at home.
Payman Langroud…: To say, your past also very interesting. I mean, to make a dentist, charity to the foundation, that came about because of the work you were doing as a dental student as well?
Saeed: That’s right. Yes.
Payman Langroud…: So what were you doing?
Saeed: We were-
Payman Langroud…: I was not doing this stuff when I was a dentist student. God ahead.
Prav Solanki: I’m just wondering why I was just weighing whey protein. [crosstalk 00:40:43].
Nik: Whey protein.
Payman Langroud…: Go ahead, Saeed.
Saeed: I think what you do in the next 10 years of your life is sometimes a reflection of what happened in the past 10 years of your life. I went to a state college in Ladbroke Grove called St. Charles Catholic College. Some of you might know that from the adulthood film. Before I actually started college, the headmaster of the school was stabbed outside the college. I went to an absolute gangster college. And I studied really hard for two years and it was, great because the library was always empty. I had that library to myself. And they were amazing to me. They were really supportive and I was the only student actually got into any sort of dentistry medicine from my dental school.
Saeed: It was such a big achievement for them that there is actually a massive picture of me on the entrance of the dental school. I was one of the successful students, so quite proud of that. So when I went to dental school I always had this thing that if people, if they are held, they can do amazing things. Because it’s people helped me and I could make some good life out for myself. And I always wanted to go back and help the students. The first ever project I set actually was to go back to the dental school and help the students to get into medicine and dentistry.
Saeed: And after a year of work we actually managed to get seven students into medical school, which was amazing. I mean, these students are people that came from really rough backgrounds and they had no idea what it means to sit down and study. I had no clue, but after the second year of working with them, they were sitting in the library for 12,13 hours studying for medicine. And having that background of wanting to help people for potentially also for my personal pleasure just to give something back, I had a conversation with Prof. [inaudible 00:42:35], which was the dean of Boston London at the time. A great lady, and she said, “Saeed, you did all this stuff in the UK, but how about doing something in Africa?”
Saeed: I said, “Well, what do you mean?” She said, “I’m from Zimbabwe, and is there anything you can do?” I said, “Yeah, of course, they may have a thing.” So I had a thing, and emailed her then the same evening, I said, “Yeah, I’m going to do something for Zimbabwe because people there definitely need the help much more than a lot of other people in Europe.” And we set up this project called Make a Dentist, and the idea was we would help the education of dental students in Africa. And it was very simple, we were collecting stuff that people didn’t want to use here anymore, recycling educational resources.
Saeed: And every year we were shipping tonnes of stuff to Zimbabwe. That was amazing for them. And that was books, scrubs, instruments. There’s so much money sometimes being wasted here in the European system where an instrument is a bit blunt, they don’t want to use it anymore. They put it in the bin. So we said, “Don’t put in the bin, give it to us. We’ll send it.” We send it off. And obviously to raise money to be able to ship those goods we had to set up events. And there was nothing better than setting up conferences. We set up conferences for, again, education of dental students in this country.
Saeed: So we were helping the education of students here and in Africa and also holding some social events for young dental students to bring the fun back into dentistry, because we don’t like the whole negativity in dentistry in our group anyway. And that’s how Make a Dentist started 2009.
Payman Langroud…: Before that you were putting out this booklet on how to buy a practise with [inaudible 00:44:10], but you hadn’t bought a practise yourself yet. It was really interesting notion. It was this detailed booklet, wasn’t it?
Saeed: Yeah, I had to send it to-
Payman Langroud…: What was it called?
Saeed: [inaudible] assessment. It’s actually been downloaded by over 1000 people. It’s quite-
Payman Langroud…: And you were just giving it out for free?
Saeed: This is really interesting because I got tired of working for someone else, as much as I love my boss. He’s an amazing guy and he helped me so much.
Payman Langroud…: Who was that?
Saeed: Mansur Kanji, very nice guy and I’m still in contact with him. But I told, “You know what? I want to run my own clinic.” So first option was to buy a dental clinic. So we started with Sanny, every single weekend, Saturday, Sunday planning, because we didn’t want to just buy a clinic. We wanted to buy a clinic and make it the best clinic in the UK. That was the plan, always be the best. And as a result, you will be surprised that we went and looked at 80 clinics. I think we went a bit over the top. We enjoyed doing it. We were just learning from all these businesses all the good and bad things because they tell you. But the funny thing is, we couldn’t buy any of them. Not because we didn’t have money, there was always something not quite right when we wanted to actually proceed.
Saeed: And as a result, we came up with a criteria, which was a set of questions we would ask when we went to the viewings. And once we went to the bank, we were going to buy this clinic in Milton Keynes 1.6 million pounds. I don’t own a clinic and I’m only an associate for three years. And I put this question in front of this lady, the general manager of healthcare in Metro Bank. And she said, “This is amazing. Where did you get this from?” So well, these are the questions we are asked when we go to look at the clinics. She said, “This is I mean. This is a business plan, it’s really good.” So we thought, actually, you know what? These questions could become like a booklet, like a questionnaire, like a business due diligence tool.
Saeed: And we always worked more on it. And we provided it for free, because for me … Okay, we could have sold it for five [inaudible 00:46:01], people probably would have bought it. But for me, it’s very important I think the young dentists to have the opportunity to buy and set up dental clinics. I don’t like the fact that you qualify, and then you’re going to have to go and work for someone else or corporates for the rest of your life. I just don’t like it. I don’t think that creates competition in the UK. I don’t think that helps with the quality of provision of dentistry. And I think that destroys a lot of young dentists’ dreams.
Saeed: It’s a majority of people’s dream to own their own clinic, and we just wanted to help them. And I think we’ve helped a lot of people because majority of the bank managers you go tell them about filing system, they’ve seen it, they know it, and that is a brilliant business plan that you can offer. That’s how I could afford 1.6 million being a dental associate for three years. But the funny thing is eventually I ended up setting up my own clinic actually. I didn’t actually buy a clinic. And I have bought a clinic since. We do have the experience in that as well. But yeah-
Payman Langroud…: What’s your top tip for someone who’s looking to have their own practise? Download them.
Saeed: Download the assessment. Make sense, download as is free. Well, the top tips are planning ahead. Don’t expect to jump in and be successful. It doesn’t work like that. Don’t work full time as an associate, work three, four days. I made more money working four days a week, compared to working five days a week. Because I was burning myself out working five days my brain wasn’t actually functioning. When I dropped my days, some of my friends told me I couldn’t believe my income actually went up. You can’t work four days a week as a dentist, you got three days left. You can either go and have fun, which is by all means really good. If you’ve got the financial, do that, I didn’t. Or you can plan. Plan ahead, keep your expenses low.
Saeed: Don’t go and buy a Porsche 911 second year out of the dental school, because by the time you pay for the finance of that and by the time you pay for a mortgage, you’re not going to be financial well place to be able to either set up or buy a dental clinic. You need to plan financially before hand as well.
Prav Solanki: Saeed, just offline you mentioned to me earlier that you’re now helping new practise owners. So what started as writing a booklet you’re now actually giving services and active advice, and helping younger, old dentists set up their practises and almost handhold them, right?
Saeed: That’s right, just to mentor them.
Prav Solanki: Can you just tell us a little bit more about that, how it works, how people get involved, and maybe two or three of your key top tips to somebody looking to sell their own squat?
Saeed: Sure. When I started with Dr. Sandy [inaudible 00:48:44], my business partner, when I started with him our plan was to open and buy 50 clinics before we stopped, okay. And then after three clinics, we stopped that for a variety of reasons. I didn’t want to get into the corporate model which I was always against from the start. And then we came up with this idea that we are such experts in actually setting our mind and our clinics, because the third dental clinic I set up, it broke even in the second week. Now, for those people that know, an average business in the UK takes 18 months to break even. So to break even in the second week is something completely unheard of. It is the most successful squat clinic in the UK.
Saeed: And if we can do that we thought, you know what? We always had the passion of helping and helping ourselves also in the same time helping young dentists set up clinics. So let’s just set up a practise incubator programme where we will partner with an individual who’s got the passion, but they don’t know how to go about it and set up clinic with them. Our first project just started in [inaudible] and it’s going to be an amazing project. We are working with an amazing dentist who is very passionate, very good clinically, but he just didn’t know where to start.
Saeed: And I went and asked people when I wanted to open my first clinic, I went to people like James Goolnik, like Seema Sharma, to people who I taught were successful in the business of dentistry. And that it was funny that they offered … well, Seema Sharma certainty did. She offered us money, and she said, “You know what? I’ll invest in you guys, you are smart, but I’m not going to invest any time.” Well, I didn’t need the money, the bank would have given the money anywhere. I needed the expertise. I searched for this, nobody would offer it at the time when I started. So we are offering something that we searched for, we couldn’t find it. There are other people searching out there.
Saeed: It’s a brilliant experience, because my business partner … well, your likelihood of becoming very successful is much higher, rather than doing it on your own.
Prav Solanki: Yeah. And I think what you’re doing is you’re accelerating people, maybe 18 months, if not just 12 months ahead of where they would be. It’s such a short period of time, it’s a great idea.
Saeed: It certainly is. I think it’s a good idea. But again, going back to the same thing that I said, the most important thing is I like doing it, because I’m really good at doing that. That’s the reason I’m doing it. I’m not doing it for money. Between me and Sanny and Nik, we probably run about eight businesses. There’s going to be another after finance year. We just like to do something that will keep up our reputation. I don’t want to do a project that I’m not successful. I want to only do things that is going to be greatly successful.
Payman Langroud…: I mean, it’s well and good, right, you want to do only things that are going to be successful, but projects do fail all the time, yeah? All the time. And maybe you kill them before they get to a point of being called the project.
Saeed: Yeah, sure.
Payman Langroud…: But we’ve all had it.
Payman Langroud…: Product projects. For me, if something is not failing along the way, I’m not trying enough things. But you are trying lots of things, it’s true. Why don’t you two just stick to being dentists?
Saeed: I am the dentist. I am practising as a dentist.
Payman Langroud…: So why do you stick to being a dentist? I mean, what is it about you that … Hell, I didn’t stick to being a dentist either, but what is it about you?
Saeed: I think it goes back to Prav’s first question to Nik, what’s your background? My family been in business for 100 years. My granddad was a banker. My father was a banker, he’s retired now. And not the banker in the sense of in this country, so they were in the exchange of currency business. And I grew up in meetings in our living room, there was always meeting and a variety of people coming and going and asking questions about business and doing business. I have a passion for that. I definitely have a passion for business. And I love dentistry, I’ve got so much respect for dentistry. Dentistry has given me so much than any other occupation wouldn’t have given me otherwise.
Saeed: And I wouldn’t for a second say I would stop being a dentist. I love doing dentistry, but I like to do dentistry while I’m enjoying it. I like to have financial freedom. I like to go to the clinic, do the treatment just because I enjoy doing that, not because I’m dependent on the money that is going to make from that treatment. Not everybody have had luxury. And it hasn’t been easy for me. I’ve been working seven days a week for the past 15 years to achieve that. I’ve recently cut down on my days.
Prav Solanki: You can tell he’s a grafter because he says work four days a week and then you’ve got another three days of week to work.
Payman Langroud…: But, be honest, if I gave you a billion tomorrow, would you still drill teeth?
Saeed: I would. And I tell you why. One of my cousins is actually a son of a billionaire family in Iran, and he’s a dentist. He’s one of the reasons I actually do dentistry. He does still practise, and they own over 50 factories, he still practise. And I saw one of his patients recently in London, because he would only send his patient to me because they moved to London. And my hands were shaking just not to make a mistake. I had to do a very deep feeling. So, yes, because it’s not about the money. I definitely know, from my background, I know more money does not bring you happiness 100%. It just doesn’t. If I do have a family, I’ve got kids, I would never ever work seven days and I don’t recommend anybody doing that. But in the same time, everybody’s different.
Saeed: I’m just not going to sit there every night watching Netflix until I fall asleep. It’s not my character. Some people like that and they might do that. Nothing wrong with it, everyone is different.
Prav Solanki: Guys, you’re too young to ask this question, both of you, but I’m going to ask you anyway. If you could turn the clock back and do it all again, what would you both do differently?
Nik: That’s a very good question. What would I do differently if I could turn the clock back? Probably study a bit harder during my A levels. I would probably … When I was in university, I would have probably taken more time to myself. I was really working my ass off during that time, to a level where, I can probably openly talk about when I was coming close to burning out, and it wasn’t healthy. So, I think taking that time and now I’ve obviously developed these techniques and figured out how to do this, but being able to get to a point where you’re able to balance the life a bit better, because it’s all great having all this passion and work, but it’s a hard game and it’s not easy.
Nik: You’re taking meetings and there’s people shouting down the phone and things like that, when things aren’t going right. And a lot of the times, things aren’t going right, and that is always more painful than any of the successes that we can talk about now. So I would probably just say, taking better care of myself when I was younger.
Payman Langroud…: But you’re still very, very young [inaudible 00:55:50].
Prav Solanki: How old are you?
Nik: I turned 27 last month.
Saeed: So when he says, “When I was young,” he’s talking about when he was 12. I definitely will second that. I did work seven days a week for a very long time. If I could turn the clock back I probably wouldn’t have done that. But it is easy to say now that-
Nik: It’s what made you, right?
Saeed: Exactly, it’s easy to say now, but what is very important for at least people in dentistry profession to know, because we’re talking about business at the end of the day, and startup [inaudible 00:56:28]. But it is definitely not a sprint. You definitely need to take your time. It’s a marathon. You don’t want to burn yourself out, because you’re going to be there for a long time. Spend more time with your family. That’s probably what I would have done. I’m definitely guilty of that. And have more hobbies and do more things that you enjoy outside. I think my problem or also Nik’s problem is that we’ve got caught in the crossfire between dentistry and business in the same time, trying to do two things in the same time and run out of time. Probably concentrate on one thing, and leave the other three days a week that you’ve got free to enjoy life rather than mourning.
Prav Solanki: Guys, it’s been an absolute pleasure. Thank you so much for your time today. And it’s amazing. I always find it’s amazing that you sit down with people who you’ve met as acquaintances at parties and events, and you learn so much in an hour.
Nik: Thank you.
Payman Langroud…: Thanks a lot, guys.
Nik: Thank you.
Saeed: Thank you very much, guys.
Speaker 4: This is Dental Leaders. The podcast where you get to go one on one with emerging leaders in dentistry. Your hosts, Payman Langroudi and Prav Solanki.
Prav Solanki: Thank you for tuning in guys to the Dental Leaders Podcast. 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 stories to the surface.
Payman Langroud…: 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. Thank you guys.
Prav Solanki: Don’t forget that six star review.