In less than a decade since graduating from dental school, Dev Patel has already achieved enough to fill several careers.

He lets us in on the entrepreneurial mindset that fueled the founding of diverse dentistry tech and social businesses. He talks us through what it takes to crack the US market and describes the pains of securing the funding needed to make it work.



“You’ve got to risk everything every day.”- Dev Patel


In This Episode

00.25 – Backstory
06.25 – The Dental Circle
09.12 – On partnerships
14.21 – The portfolio
18.21 – Funding
26.48 – Cracking the US
37.33 – In practice
49.41 – COVID
55.03 – The plan
57.06 – Black box thinking
01.01.34 – Last day and legacy


About Dev Patel

Dev Patel is founder and CEO of Dental Beauty Partners, one of the UK’s fastest-growing dental groups. 

He is also the founder of award-winning smart toothbrush tech company Brushlink and co-founder of the Dental Circle online networking platform.

Dev achieved 38th place on the list of most influential UK dentists and was named Best Young Dentist at the Dental Awards 2016.

Dev is a national lecturer and a mentor for NHS England’s Clinical Entrepreneur Scheme. He also sits on the editorial board of and Young Dentist magazine.

Payman Langroud…: But you’re a glutton for punishment, dude, yeah? Because you keep on doing it again and again.

Dev Patel: Well, that’s what… I think that is the definition of an entrepreneur, right?

Payman Langroud…: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Dev Patel: You’ve got to risk everything every day.

Payman Langroud…: Yeah.

Dev Patel: If you don’t do it, you’re not an entrepreneur in any way. You’re just doing what’s easy. I think that’s why a lot of people just stay in their comfort zone. They stay in the zone with their comfort. They never want to leave it. They don’t want to take any risks, and that’s why they don’t have rewards.

Speaker 3: 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.

Payman Langroud…: It gives me great pleasure to welcome Dr. Dev Patel onto the podcast. Dev can only be described as a serial entrepreneur, in my book. Ever since I’ve known him, he’s always been talking about some sort of venture that he’s doing. He has already done a bunch of ventures. The Dental Circle, that I’m sure many people know about, Brushlink, and lately, what are you calling it? The Dental Beauty Partners?

Dev Patel: Dental Beauty partners, yeah.

Payman Langroud…: Very nice. Very nice. Nice to have you, bud. Where did you grow up, buddy?

Dev Patel: I grew up in Bexley, in Kent, which is just on the border of London. Greater London, south east.

Payman Langroud…: What kind of kid were you?

Dev Patel: Good question. In my mind, I thought I was quite a fun kid, but I think everyone else thought I was a pain in the ass. Very hyper. Always running around trying to be mischievous and cheeky, I guess. That’s what everyone tells me. Yeah, I didn’t really kind of focus much when I was younger, for many years, until probably GCSEs. Yeah, I was a bit of a rebel.

Payman Langroud…: How did dentistry come into the mix? I mean, at what point did you realise or want… What was the first time you thought, “I want to be a dentist?” Are there dentists in the family or anything like that?

Dev Patel: Yeah, my older brother’s a dentist. He was at King’s University. He’s about three years older than me. To be honest with you, I always wanted to do finance, in the banking world, investment banking, up until probably the point of choosing the university, which was, I think, lower sixth, right? Yeah, at the age of 17. Then I think at that time, my brother and family had just said, “Look, go to something a bit more stable, and more of a guaranteed income,” which obviously was dentistry.

Dev Patel: Got a bit of business out of it, because obviously you’ve got the business side of the healthcare industry, but also, you can get that kind of guaranteed professional income, which as you know, most Indians and families like to have. Yeah, I kind of gave in eventually, but I always did say to myself, and all my friends knew, as well, at university, I was always going to do something businessy around dentistry. No matter whether it be owning a practise or doing something else, so yeah. Kind of got stuck into it, and then…

Payman Langroud…: Have you got that sort of classic wheeler dealer childhood, or no?

Dev Patel: Definitely.

Payman Langroud…: Really?

Dev Patel: One story which is quite funny is when I was in year three, which is seven years old, I think. Is that right? Yeah, seven years old. I got a detention, which means you get told off. You know what detention is, right? I got detention for selling 24 Capri Suns for, I think, £2 each. Obviously, you can get a box-

Payman Langroud…: The drinks?

Dev Patel: Yeah, the little Capri Sun drinks. You can get a box of 24 of those, I think, for three quid. It was good markup, but apparently that was not allowed in cash on the playground. Yeah, that was probably… Summarised my hustler/wheeler dealer spirit from a long time ago. Obviously since then, I’ve realised you can’t do that anymore. You can, but in a different way, I guess.

Payman Langroud…: When you qualified, how soon after was it that you set up your first practise?

Dev Patel: It was two years. I was looking, literally, the year after I kind of finished off… Well, since I finished my FD year… My BT year, should I say. I was looking, but before that, I was looking, actually, when I was in about fourth year of university with my brother to find a practise together. Obviously, he was already graduated, working in the U.K., so we were looking probably a couple of years before I actually finished university. I got quite used to looking at P&Ls, adjusted EBITDA, kind of looking at perhaps in terms of the pros and cons quite early on. Yeah, I think he ended up going to Australia, left me behind here, and then I had to kind of just venture out on my own about a year and a half after my FD year.

Payman Langroud…: When you open a practise two years after qualifying, you’re pretty clueless about all the things around that, right? The staff issues, the regulatory, and all that. Did you find it difficult to start with, or were you just one of these types who just knew what, knew how to do it, quickly did it?

Dev Patel: I don’t ever think, even now, I never think about practise management, to be honest with you. I know most of it, and I think more to do with clinical side of running the business, the revenue, patient journey, basics about what you need to have as a set up, but I’ve always believed, and I still do, that’s it better to have people around you knowing more than you do, because then you can rely on them, right? I was very fortunate I had a really good practise manager when I first did my first practise on. Had a really good team around me.

Dev Patel: Even working as a VT, and a year as associate, I learned a lot at that practise. Just kind of understanding, just visualising and seeing what other people do, how to do things right, how to do things wrong, listen to staff, what they like, what they don’t like, because I think it’s easy to always think, “Oh, that boss could do this better. That practise could be run better in this way.” You always think, “I could do this better,” right? As an associate, or working in a practise, but when you’re on the other side of it, and you realise the shit, essentially, you’ve got to deal with as an owner, it’s not as straightforward.

Dev Patel: I definitely saw the other side of being an owner compared to being an associate, where you kind of go into work, go home again. It’s easy. Listen to staff problems, but you’re not really listening to all the problems. But yeah, I feel… Not being arrogant, but I feel like I generally had a quite good gist of running a practise pretty quickly, but at the same time, I had a good team around me. That’s always been my number one advice. Make sure you’ve got a good team.

Payman Langroud…: How soon was it after you started… The Dental Circle, when did that start?

Dev Patel: That was the same year.

Payman Langroud…: Same year as you opened the practise?

Dev Patel: Well, let’s put dates in this. 2012, I graduated. 2014, Dental Circle essentially kind of really formed. I’m sure you remember our launch we had in London, at the Henry Schein venue. It was a very kind of a small startup. Me and Amit just literally just set up a website and said, “Let’s do this.” We had zero members, and it was basically a £0 startup, so yeah, it was from nothing. That was year before, 2014. Then 2015, I actually got the first practise keys at the beginning of the year, so yeah, it was just kind of a few months after. Six months after setting up Dental Circle, opened the practise.

Payman Langroud…: I thought you and Amit were like best buddies throughout university or whatever, but once I asked him, and he goes, “No, we just met that year.”

Dev Patel: Yeah. Really random. Really funny.

Payman Langroud…: How did that work out, man?

Dev Patel: We had mutual friends. He worked with one of my associates, in my first practise working in. We always, obviously… Our mutual friend talked about me to him, and vice versa, and said, “You guys would get on really well.” A year later, I was just at home reading Dentistry magazine, just flicking through, and I saw Amit write an article about his idea about setting up a website, a dental network website. Originally, I believe it was like a Yellow Page dentistry. It was like just a listing of all dentists in the country.

Dev Patel: I literally just picked the phone up and said, “Amit, I’m Dev. Nice to meet you.” We had a chat about what his plan was, and obviously, I was coming from more the, “How are you going to monetize this? How are you going to build a business plan out? What’s the long-term vision?” Da da da. He was like, “I haven’t really thought that far ahead. I’ve literally set a website up, and I just thought, ‘Let’s see what happens.'” Yeah. We started chatting, had some brainstorming ideas. Met up, and then next thing you know, we started the company. I think that was really interesting, because it was… I kind of felt like we should have known each other for longer, because we are like best mates now, obviously, but we just never actually met.

Dev Patel: I think I had that same scenario with some of our partners now in my group, where I don’t know what it is, but I think dentists who are on that entrepreneur mindset in dentistry, if they’re the same agree group in the U.K… I’m sure it’s the same as you and Sanj, right? Like, you just get on so well that you just think… I can think what he’s thinking without even saying it, almost. I think I just had that kind of relationship with some of my partners, now, as well, which is really nice to have. We’re all best mates, so it’s good.

Payman Langroud…: But you must have… Some people can get on with anyone.

Dev Patel: Yeah.

Payman Langroud…: You must have that, right? Because now, along your journey, if I look at everything you’ve done, it’s always been with partners.

Dev Patel: Yeah.

Payman Langroud…: By now, you must have a bunch of partners, because each one of these Dental Beautys is a partnership situation, right?

Dev Patel: Yeah. Yeah, yep.

Payman Langroud…: But for instance, me and Sanj, we studied together since the first year of university, so we know each other that way. It intrigues me, because Prav’s not with us today, but Prav, he can partner up with anybody. Anybody at all. He really can. He can make the business work, and he’s so cold and calculated, and everything is just done, whereas me, I feel like I’m the opposite way around. I’ve got to really, really, fully trust the person before I can go into business with them. You do seem like the kind of guy who gets on with everyone, but you must have had, along the way, partnership issues, right? Tell me about it. Expand a little bit.

Dev Patel: Yeah. I mean, it’s a good point, because I think one of the things that I have always had to do because of time, specifically, is I could never physically do anything on my own, because if I wanted to do a practise, and Dental Circle, Brushlink, any of these companies, really, there’s always been either time, financial backing required, or something that you need a partner for, right? But at the same time, it’s also more fun. Especially when you’re having a brand new venture, to do it with people that you like and you get on with, because then, it’s not work. It becomes more fun, right?

Dev Patel: I mean, I could genuinely do any of my businesses with these guys I’m in business with now, and if it failed, we wouldn’t care. We would just be like, “Eh. Tried it, didn’t work out. Oh, well. Let’s just have some more fun now,” right? I think that’s what I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve never wanted to get into a business where I don’t know them well enough, initially, anyway, right at the beginning a baby entrepreneur startup, get in business with someone that you don’t really know at all, and then find out after a year that you’re just completely different people, different ways of working, different trust, all that kind of stuff. I think trust has always been my fundamental thing. At least at the beginning, right?

Dev Patel: Eventually, you’ll want to take on partners at a certain stage, when you grow, that you don’t know them as well, because you’ll get too big, right? But at least initially, it’s always been with people that I can get on with really well and I enjoy myself with, but I’m now realising how important it is. I have learned, obviously, from… I’m not saying it’s always been perfect, every single partnership, right? There’s been some things that haven’t worked out, and some things have worked out, but I think I’ve learned that you need to make sure that everything’s laid out at the beginning, legally, and everyone knows what their roles are, responsibilities, and time commitments, because I think it’s very easy to say, “Oh, yeah. We’ll do this, we’ll do this, we’ll do this. We’ll get this done.”

Dev Patel: Then actually, you might realise that someone’s doing 80% of the work, some people are doing 20% of the work, or what value are you bringing to the table? At the beginning, what kind of cash are you bringing to the table at the beginning? All that kind of thing. You need to really have that set out, and it’s not easy to do, because if you are mates with someone at the beginning, having that discussion is so awkward and kind of almost… You’re really getting deep very quickly. I generally find that even now, I still struggle to do that sometimes. I mean, obviously you’ve done it enough times now to kind of know that this is a normal thing, but even the last two ventures I did, I didn’t do that initially, to the point where I should have really sat down and thought about it beforehand.

Dev Patel: Kind of just went into it all guns blazing and after a year realised, “Mm, should have really done something a bit better in terms of this kind of layout,” right? Yeah, I think it’s very important if you are going to do partnerships, to make sure you lay these kind of fundamentals of who’s doing what, and really specify exactly what everyone’s roles are and commitments are, because you could otherwise get burned. Especially if you are a really hardworking entrepreneur and you do most of the work, you can end up realising that, “Well, this hasn’t worked out as planned, in terms of what the initial structure was,” right?

Payman Langroud…: What does your role tend to be in these companies?

Dev Patel: I think all three of them have been kind of CEO, kind of founder, entrepreneur, driver of the business, business side of things.

Payman Langroud…: You seem to have a real talent for finding cash. The sort of CFO, maybe.

Dev Patel: Yeah, I think… Do you know what it is, right? I think as a CEO, you have to be able to show your vision and your passion for the business, i.e. sell it to anyone, whether it be customers, to investors, or to your team. That’s basically what the role of a CEO is, isn’t it? If you have that, then you’re right. You technically are… I mean, look. As CEO, it’s also going to sell the brand and the whole business model, right? To anyone, whether it be investors or not.

Dev Patel: Typically, you would get a CFO [inaudible] but we haven’t. We’ve just recently got a CFO for the group, but you don’t typically have that for startups, so you have to do every role, right? You’re jack of all trades when you start up. Me and Amit were essentially head of everything for our company together, for Dental Circle, and same for the practises, and for Brushlink, too, initially. But then when you start bringing in specialists in each different field, then you start to divest back to doing a bit more what you do best, which is driving the team and strategy forward, and focusing on growth, right?

Payman Langroud…: Let’s go through the companies. Dental Circle. For those who don’t know, kind of like a social media for dentistry, is that right?

Dev Patel: Yep. Yeah. It’s an online networking platform, but social media, that’s what you can call it, as well.

Payman Langroud…: Yeah. What’s the business model on that one?

Dev Patel: We initially just wanted to… I mean, without sounding a bit simple, we wanted to essentially bring Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter in one platform, but make it professional, and LinkedIn, should I say, as well, but a professional and just dedicated to dentistry platform. That’s what it was, initially. Just kind of grow it, get members on there. We knew that if we had members, like Facebook did, eventually, you could monetize it. Obviously, there was always a strategy behind that, which was initially sponsors, then it was recruitment, and events, and courses, networking, as well.

Payman Langroud…: Parties. Don’t forget parties.

Dev Patel: Parties, as well, which never made us any money. We always made losses on those ones, because we spent too much money on alcohol, but it was good fun. But you know what?

Payman Langroud…: Some of the most legendary parties in dentistry, man.

Dev Patel: Yeah. Yeah. You know what? You know as well, right? Having a good party and getting just something positive in dentistry is worth… Well, it’s priceless, right? Because it doesn’t happen all the time, and just getting that kind of positivity and a really good night out is worth it. Even if you don’t make money from it, because it’s just good. It’s good, and I think that’s what we need in this industry. We have so much stress every day, especially with all the regulatory stuff going on all the time, now COVID, and all the other crap that we deal with, just having a good time and everyone getting together is worth it. That was always one of the highlights of the year. Unfortunately, we had to cancel the last one because of COVID, but hopefully we’ll do one next year. Let’s hope.

Payman Langroud…: Look forward to it.

Dev Patel: Yeah.

Payman Langroud…: What about Brushlink? Tell us about Brushlink, because we had Nikunj on the podcast, and what a genius he is. But for someone who doesn’t know about Brushlink, talk us through. Explain that one.

Dev Patel: Brushlink was essentially just trying to do something positive for the actual dentistry as a whole, in terms of the actual fundamentals of what we do. We spend a lot of our time fixing teeth, literally every day, variants on prevention. I mean, unfortunately, even across the U.S. and around the world, prevention’s still not there yet, and we should be just saving teeth rather than cutting teeth down and fixing them all the time. The fundamental kind of business plan was let’s try to create affordable, scalable model which uses technology like apps and IoT, like a device you can attach onto any toothbrush that could link up to an app and show you how to brush in real time with accurate data, and then through that data, you could then incentivize patients to brush better with good health and behaviour.

Dev Patel: That was the kind of basic fundamental why we did it for, because you were selling toothbrushes from Sonicare and Oral B for like £100, £200. It was like, “Who could afford that?” Only the rich. The rich could afford it. Everyone who needs the help can’t afford that. They’re not going to be able to benefit from that data, which wasn’t even great data anyway. We just said, “Look, let’s kind of go in that £20, or £15 price point and make it affordable for everyone, and get that data going,” because we know that people can use Fitbits and other IoT for medicine and healthcare to improve their health. That’s obviously taken off massively, but in dentistry, no one really did anything about it, right?

Payman Langroud…: Did you come across the technology, or did you have the idea and then go and find someone to develop the technology? What was the story?

Dev Patel: Well, obviously there was, I think, Phillips, or maybe… Not, I think Oral B had their Genius toothbrush out at the time, which was a very basic kind of… It was a Bluetooth connection to the toothbrush. That’s what it was. That was the inspiration behind the thought behind it, but the actual building the technology itself was from scratch. Like, literally, we just built the whole thing from start to finish. U.K…

Payman Langroud…: No, but walk me through it, dude. You had the idea, was it?

Dev Patel: Yeah, yeah, yeah. We’ll go through it.

Payman Langroud…: I have 100 ideas every day, right?

Dev Patel: Yeah, yeah.

Payman Langroud…: So then what? You said, “Right, I’m going to find someone to build this?”

Dev Patel: I had the idea first, then obviously spoke to a few of our partners initially who were mainly investors and said, “Look, guys. I think this has got some legs to it.” Raised the seed capital of 150K or whatever it was, and then-

Payman Langroud…: Go on. Where from? Where from? Tell me.

Dev Patel: Two of our friends, basically.

Payman Langroud…: Okay.

Dev Patel: [inaudible]. Essentially, that was for the SES scheme. It’s obviously quite a good investment scheme, anyway, for any investor, because you get half your money back off your rebate for your tax. Essentially, yeah, we decided to actually build the product in the U.K. first, just to get the prototype that could work, and make sure it actually was there. Spoke to a few firms. One engineering firm actually built the physical product. Another firm built the app for us. We literally just kind of built the prototype first, and after we realised it worked, ended up speaking to a couple of insurance companies in the U.K. Didn’t realise how small insurance in the U.K. was.

Dev Patel: We do, obviously, have research, and there was only one or two massive players, actually. Simplyhealth was one of them, and obviously Practise Plan’s kind of the second, kind of the biggest one out there. Spoke to both of them. Started to feel out for a bit if it could work in the U.K., the model. Started getting into the deep business plan behind how they make money, which was very small margins, and actually, there wasn’t much in it, really. We very quickly pivoted just to make the software first and the actual product, and go to the U.S. Pretty much after we laun.ched, about two months after, we went straight to the U.S. and didn’t look back, really.

Payman Langroud…: What rate did you burn through this 150 grand?

Dev Patel: Very quickly. Very quickly.

Payman Langroud…: That’s what I mean.

Dev Patel: I mean, I think probably within the first year.

Payman Langroud…: So in the first year, you’d spent the 150. You had your device. Did you have lots of them, or just like one?

Dev Patel: Literally like five or six.

Payman Langroud…: Okay. So then you have to raise more cash, right?

Dev Patel: Yep, yep, yep.

Payman Langroud…: Go on. Explain it.

Dev Patel: We did another fundraising round where we had to raise… I think we raised about 750K in the end, on the next round, but that was after the prototype was ready, after we had a couple of letter of intents from some of these insurance companies showing some interest, after we had some trials going on with some of these insurance companies. We kind of had a product, an app, that was working, and showed that the device actually could track the data and work. The software was still starting to be built, but not fully kind of developed. Very basic. Literally just tracking where you’ve brushed your mouth, for how long, at what angle. That was it. It was just very basic, and that was it. Yeah. We went to a couple of-

Payman Langroud…: Where did you find the 750 grand from?

Dev Patel: Literally every single person I know in the whole world. Called them all up and asked them to ask other people. It just completely…

Payman Langroud…: Just like that.

Dev Patel: No, no. It wasn’t easy. I’m not going to lie. It didn’t happen overnight. I mean, it took a good eight months to finish it off, but once you get the first two or three investors on boar.d, it does start to become easier, because then people are saying, “Oh, we’re not the first ones now,” and they’ve kind of weighed about half of it on. You then go to Seedrs to do the crowdfunding for the last 200K or whatever it was, but it’s such a weird world. I mean, it’s so difficult, because it’s literally cold selling, isn’t it?

Payman Langroud…: Yeah.

Dev Patel: You’re cold calling people up and asking for money. The dentists… You don’t do that, normally. I mean, it’s not hard when a patient’s sitting there. They’ve got problems with their teeth, they’re coming to you already. You are literally going to people you don’t even know, never met them in your whole life, and asking them for money, and pitching your business plan to them. Most of these guys who are obviously high net worths are business people. They’ve already made their money from knowing what bullshit is, right? They can sniff through it very quickly, and they know when it’s a scam versus an actual model with some legs.

Dev Patel: Had to very, very quickly learn about forecasting, business plans, how to look at shareholder agreements, SPAs, articles, association, all these things are really important when you start to really talk to sophisticated investors. Especially when they’re grilling you, right? It’s literally an hour and a half of grilling. That’s all it is, and if they go, “We like you,” then they invest. It’s like Dragon’s Den, basically, every single time you’re talking to anyone. But it could be for 10,000, it could be for 100 grand, it could be for 50K. You’ve just got to talk to every person.

Payman Langroud…: Did you get knocked back a lot, then?

Dev Patel: Oh, yeah. I mean, it was like one in 100.

Payman Langroud…: Wow.

Dev Patel: If I had 30 investors in the end, 50 investors in the end, whatever it was, I must have spoken to 300 people.

Payman Langroud…: Wow. Did you know that that was the way it was going to pan out?

Dev Patel: No.

Payman Langroud…: It was just something in you, tells you to keep going.

Dev Patel: Look, I mean…

Payman Langroud…: The next man, if you’d seen 30 people and they all said no, would have thought, “Well, probably not a good idea,” but you kept going.

Dev Patel: Yeah. I think… The problem was, in my mind, if I think that something’s going to work, and I genuinely believe in it, and that’s why people invest in me when it comes to anything, I won’t stop until it’s done. I get the job done, no matter what. Now, there’s only some things that I can’t control, which is obviously whether the rest of the world then likes the product, right? It’s like when you had Enlighten. I’m sure you were like, “Are people going to buy this or not? Are they not going to buy it? Is it going to be a failure afterwards?” You always have that doubt, but you need to back yourself, and you need to back your idea, otherwise it’s pointless doing it at the beginning.

Dev Patel: That’s just number one. You have to have that as a minute. You just can’t stop. Then obviously after that, you need to find the right investors. Now, the problem with ventures, which is one of the biggest stumbling blocks, or should I say hold backs or challenges, with Brushlink that I’ve found, which was frustrating as hell for us, was that there was so much investment out there… I mean, talking about billions of dollars of investment around the world in healthcare, in startups, in tech, but nothing in dentistry. When you say the word dentistry, people are just like, “What? That market’s tiny. Who cares? The addressable market for dentistry is like a few hundred million. Who cares? That’s nothing.” But with most things, it’s a few hundred billion, right?

Payman Langroud…: Yeah.

Dev Patel: No one cares. You’re literally trying to find people who might have the slightest tiny bit of interest in dentistry, which you can imagine is like one in a million, right? No one cares about teeth or dentistry, generally. You’ve got to find the right people who understand healthcare, understand the opportunity, and are willing to take the risk in that area. Most of the time, you would have thought dentists would be great people to go to, but actually, none of them want to invest anything, because they just want to invest in stuff they know, which is dentistry, right? As in their own stuff, normally, which is practises and easy-to-make money, straight away guaranteed income, because they don’t want to risk anything, right? They want to have like 80% guarantee, 20% risk. Startups are like 100% risk.

Payman Langroud…: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But I mean, you’re right. You’re absolutely right, because the kind of person, the angel investor that you were talking about, generally has made a lot more money than your average dentist. The other thing is investors want to hear billion dollar stories.

Dev Patel: Exactly.

Payman Langroud…: They want to hear that dream. In dental, it’s quite hard to. It’s hard to make a billion dollar story up from an industry that’s quite cottage.

Dev Patel: Yeah. Exactly.

Payman Langroud…: But you did it, right? You got your 750. Went to the U.S. to talk to the U.S. insurance companies.

Dev Patel: Yep.

Payman Langroud…: Is that right?

Dev Patel: Yep. Yeah. Yeah, that was really, really positive, because I think after the U.K., realising that there’s only two options for insurance in the U.K., no one really wants to… When I say invest, as in bring in a product that would basically save teeth and be focused on oral hygiene in the U.K. It wasn’t like… I mean, if you go to a practise right now, they’ve got 10 things on the list of things to sell, right?

Dev Patel: Number one is always going to be high-ticket items. Ortho implants. Then it’s going to go down, down, down. Whitening’s in the middle there. Right at the bottom is toothbrushes, and toothbrushes to sell. No one cares about that kind of stuff. If you start saying to dentists, “Oh, yeah. You can save people’s teeth. You can help them to brush better. You can [inaudible] oral health.” You only actually had one out of 100 people actually care, generally, and that’s just the way the U.K. is, right? We’ve got a very tough market to work, and that’s not because of anyone not caring, it’s just because the business model and the amount of things you’ve got to do in a practise.

Dev Patel: You have to make it like a turnkey solution where you don’t even think about selling Brushlink. It just becomes a part of a package of something that you give to patients just as a freebie, almost. But the data is where you make the money. You monetize it, and the insurance in the U.S., obviously, is like 200 million people have got U.S. insurance, right? Dental insurance. The big market there to go to. Insurance companies have obviously got lots to save, because if they can reduce the problems of teeth, they can save the payouts at the dentists, right? There was always a need for that, and it was a much bigger need than it was anywhere near the U.K. I mean, Simplyhealth’s got that.

Payman Langroud…: Where did you even start? Where did you even start getting in touch with U.S. insurance? Was there someone on your board that was experienced in that area? What did you do then?

Dev Patel: No. You know what?

Payman Langroud…: I would have just curled under my blanket, at that point.

Dev Patel: Our board was just like, “Don’t do it. Don’t go to the U.S.” Most of them were just saying, “No one’s cracked the U.S. before. Don’t try it.” Not in a negative way, but just a realistic way, right?

Payman Langroud…: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Dev Patel: You’ve only got X amount of money, in terms of cash to burn. If you try to burn all of it too quickly, you’re going to lose it, right? I didn’t have any real backing from our board of actually going to the U.S. and going big there. Initially, they were just like, “If you want to, you can try out a few cold calls, but don’t waste too much time there.” I literally did everything myself from scratch. LinkedIn, just messaging CEOs on LinkedIn. Every single insurance company in the U.S.

Payman Langroud…: You are kidding me.

Dev Patel: Surprisingly enough, most of them actually got back to me.

Payman Langroud…: I love that. I love that.

Dev Patel: I’m talking about some of the biggest insurance companies in the world, yeah? Like, $50 billion companies.

Payman Langroud…: I love that story, because when you told me before that you were looking at American insurance companies, I thought, “Wow. That Dev’s really connected, man. He’s got a friend in America,” whatever. You know?

Dev Patel: No. I wish it was that easy, man. I wish it was that easy. I literally just did that. Just cold emailing. February 2019, started emailing every single insurance company I could possibly think of. Literally got lists from online of every insurance company in the U.S. in dental. Emailed them all. Messaged them on LinkedIn, the LinkedIn message, whatever it’s called. Did that constantly, and I mean like…

Dev Patel: You know those annoying people on LinkedIn who love to send the same message four or five times to get your attention? It was like that. It was literally just proper cold messaging them. I would sometimes even wait until they were online, just to message them so they could see it. That’s how annoying it was. I got to the point where I had to do it, because that’s the only time you get those guys’ attention. These guys are pretty busy guys, anyway. They don’t have a lot of time to be wasting on other things.

Payman Langroud…: Dev, tell me this. Tell me this. Tell me this, dude, yeah? When you’re doing this, you’ve got, I don’t know. It’s probably not a piece of paper, right? You’ve got a list of names and you’re going through that. You must be quite an organised person to keep at that, number one.

Dev Patel: Yep.

Payman Langroud…: Number two, I’d like to know what’s the driving force when you’re doing that? Is it that sort of, “I’m going to succeed, come what may”? Is it, “I’m spending other people’s money, and I can’t let them down”? What is it? What is it that’s driving you?

Dev Patel: I think it’s a combination of three things. The first two things you said is definitely there, but the third thing I would say is that I genuinely believe, especially at that time, when you were like, got a product that can work, that they’ll be interested in it. Like, I knew in my mind, if I was in front of any of these guys who had these insurance companies, they would be almost… Not stupid-

Payman Langroud…: Stupid not to.

Dev Patel: … but it would be very difficult for them to say, “No,” shut your door in front of your face, because actually, this has got nothing to do with what I need in my life. As an insurance company, if I can save you hundreds of millions over the next 10, 20 years, why would you not even have one conversation with me? That’s what, in my mind, I was thinking, right? And luckily, that’s what [crosstalk].

Payman Langroud…: Was that your pitch? Was that your pitch, when you were contacting them? Were you saying, “I can save you millions?”

Dev Patel: No, no. Do you know what it was? I’ve got to be honest. A lot of these companies already were looking at innovative ways to promote oral health, becoming a bit more focused on value-based industry, so they were all looking into it. It wasn’t like we were the first ones who were doing it. I mean, a company called Beam, in America, they were already five years ahead of us. They already created a toothbrush that had linked to an app, and they had made their own insurance company after that. Once they made their own insurance company, they were valued like a billion dollars within five years, so they were already kind of a competitor to it. Other old school companies hadn’t changed their model for 30, 50 years. I think we already had a bit of a step forward.

Dev Patel: It wasn’t completely out of the blue, as this new thing that’s come out. It was new in terms of technology and what we were offering, attachable to any toothbrush, scalable for the whole U.S., but it wasn’t like the first time the concept was out there. I think I had already that kind of first step to get these guys’ attention, but I genuinely believe that if they had an hour with me, they would see that there’s some value, some need for this product for their company. Luckily, that worked out really well. Say if I had the top 15 companies. Out of all of them, maybe eight of them got back to me. Maybe 10 of them got back to me, should I say, actually, so three quarters of them got back to me, and then I would say I had meetings with six of them within a month.

Payman Langroud…: Wow.

Dev Patel: It was really, really positive. I mean, the U.K., I spent about a year and a half. I’m not saying anything bad about U.K. business, but you know what it’s like. U.K. people, they don’t take well to cold calling. They’re very conservative. They don’t like doing anything innovative if they don’t have to. It was just… Took me a year and a half just to get one meeting with someone in one of the insurance companies in the U.K., which was like two million people in the U.K. on this insurance company. I’m talking to people in the U.S. who’ve got like 50 million people on one insurance company, and I got a meeting with them within a month, with the CEO.

Payman Langroud…: Amazing.

Dev Patel: It’s like, why would you not do that in the U.K., after a year and a half? I didn’t get a meeting with someone in the top level, even. That’s why America does so well, right? They’re innovative. They’re more willing to listen to ideas, and to invest in bullish ideas.

Payman Langroud…: What was the upshot of that? Where are you at with that now?

Dev Patel: This was a good two years ago, now. That was 2018, wasn’t it? 2017, 2018. Yeah, I mean it was lots of trips back and forth to the U.S. Just typical kind of journeys. You meet them first, get the pitch going, and they like it, then the next meeting is, “All right. We like it, but let’s see what we can do in terms of a trial, meet the board and make sure that the rest of the team like it or not.” After that, it’s kind of spending three or four months developing the trial, and then after that, it’s actually rolling the trial out, which is very slow with these big companies. Took me another six months to get that even sorted out.

Dev Patel: Took about a year after the first meeting to actually get the trial rolled out. Had a pilot with United Healthcare, who is the biggest insurance company in the world for healthcare. Cigna, the second biggest insurance company in the U.S. for dental, and obviously one of the biggest in the world for healthcare, and DentaQuest, which is the biggest kind of NHS version in the U.S., which is Medicaid. Medicaid’s like the version of the NHS in the U.S. for children provided in the U.S. Had three pilots which were fully paid for within a year, which is really, really positive.

Dev Patel: Then we kept… I think it was another year after that, the pilots finished off. Had more discussions with them. Got some really big orders in from Cigna and United Healthcare, which was really positive, because it now showed that we not only have got a market product that can be marketed, but also that there’s commercialization now, so you can actually see that people have ordered your products, right? That was really positive. I think getting to that point in itself is like…

Payman Langroud…: It’s huge.

Dev Patel: I think the stats are like one in 10,000 or something crazy like that, right? That was really positive. I think we got to a certain point and then we kind of got to the point where we had to do a series A. I think end of 2019, or beginning of 2020.

Payman Langroud…: So you’d run out of money by this point?

Dev Patel: Yeah, we basically ran out of money, which I think any startup will do eventually.

Payman Langroud…: Yes.

Dev Patel: But also, it was kind of ran out of money, but we had a lot of positive commercial aspects to the business that would then take us to [crosstalk].

Payman Langroud…: Yeah, you’d made massive, massive progress. You’d made massive progress.

Dev Patel: Yeah, but there was like… For example, there was two insurance companies that we were working with, Cigna and another one, that are actually going to make an insurance code for Brushlink.

Payman Langroud…: Wow.

Dev Patel: Essentially, you could use that code to literally get paid for handing it out.

Payman Langroud…: Wow.

Dev Patel: You could imagine, the NHS giving Duraphat out. You just basically go and take it, right? We had to scale up, and the insurance companies wanted us to have a U.S. base properly now, not just having this U.K. team in the U.K. kind of going back and forth for one-off meetings. They want us to have a U.S. base, and you need to have millions to be able to do that. We were at a juncture where we either chewed the bullet and had to raise a lot of money, give a lot of equity away for that, and at that time, it wasn’t the best time to be raising money. This was the beginning of 2020, right?

Dev Patel: A, it was just before COVID. B, even without COVID, it would have been hard, because you’re asking a handful of maybe 10 VCs in the world who understand dentistry to invest in an idea that was still quite infant in terms of revenues and sales. It wasn’t doing millions and millions of revenue. Very difficult, and that’s one thing that I struggled, because it was like… At the time, I still had loads of practises to… Not loads. I had about five or six practises at the time that I was running in the U.K., Dental Circle, as well, and trying to raise this huge fund for a U.S. company that I wasn’t even in the U.S. for. It was getting to the point, and I’d just had a little baby, as well, which I’m not saying is a bad thing, but it definitely kind of made things a little difficult, right?

Payman Langroud…: Yeah.

Dev Patel: Anyway, yeah, it was all going on at the same time, and then COVID hit. We were approached by a company in Silicon Valley who said, “We’ve got a portfolio of different products, dental technology. We want to add yours to it.” Then they acquired our U.S. business in July last year.

Payman Langroud…: Oh, really? Excellent.

Dev Patel: Yes. It took a bit. I mean, I’m not saying that we can retire now, we’ve made loads of money from it, but it was good enough that we actually… I think one of the biggest problems with having a startup is at any day, at any point, you can just fail.

Payman Langroud…: Of course.

Dev Patel: Close everything down, and that’s it. Done. You run out of money, your product doesn’t work, no one says yes to it, no one wants to buy in. You could always close up on day one. I’ve always wanted-

Payman Langroud…: How did you meet the buyer? How did that happen? Did they come to you?

Dev Patel: Yeah, because we made so much noise in the dental insurance industry in the U.S. Everyone was talking about us, right? It was like a hot thing. I mean, I went to an insurance conference, like the version of BBA in the U.S., and after a few companies realised that the two biggest companies in the U.S. were buying our product and rolling them out, everyone was like, “Oh, I want to hear about this now. What’s going on here?” Kind of thing. It started to get word, and actually, one of the companies that we had a pilot with, who did a clinical trial with us, as well, their results came out at the same time and the other company who ended up acquiring us was doing a pilot with them, as well.

Dev Patel: They were like, “You guys should really talk,” because we had a product that was really good for technology for any toothbrush. They had a smart toothbrush for kids, that was a game. They were like, “Well, it should make sense. You guys can work together.” Yeah, I think we took the decision that it was the best time to, and a good price, and kind of parted ways then. Yeah, that was pretty much it. And then with COVID, I was pretty much just focusing in the U.K., which was good for family and also for practises as well, right? Because [crosstalk].

Payman Langroud…: I take my hat off to you, man. I take my hat off to you. To be running practises while you did all of that, and a kid. I take my hat off to you. Tell me about the practises, then. And it’s quite an interesting unique kind of business model, isn’t it?

Dev Patel: Yes.

Payman Langroud…: You kind of partner up with… Go on, tell me. Tell us about it.

Dev Patel: I think it’s… I actually picked up from the U.S., to be fair, because obviously, I spent a good year and a half out there, pretty much, back and forth. What I realised was dentists shouldn’t actually be… When I say shouldn’t, it’s very rare to find dentists who are good at clinical and business. Typically, they’re good at clinical. That’s what they train for five years to do, and probably another five years of more training afterwards, right? That’s what they’re good at.

Dev Patel: When you start looking at practises and how they’re run, I’m sure you know this better than I, they’re really poorly run businesses, most of them. The majority of them. Like, 80% of practises in the U.K. are pretty badly run. If you look at a business and you think, “What are you guys doing?” That’s why I think people like Chris Barrett, [inaudible], when they talk to people, they’re life changing. I’m like, “Guys, this is not rocket science here. You’ve got a run a business in a normal way.” It’s pretty straightforward stuff, but you don’t get taught this stuff at university. You buy a practise because you’re a dentist. That’s it.

Dev Patel: I think what I realised was in the U.S., the DSO model is a back office who does all the business side of things. Marketing, compliance, HR, accounting, blah blah blah. Fundraising, all the accounting side of things. You’ve got the dentists who own a percentage of the practise, but they’re the clinical guys on the ground in the practise who actually know what clinical dentistry’s about, and then leaders in the practise in terms of team leaders, right? That’s the whole U.S. model. The whole U.S., which is like 100,000 practises.

Dev Patel: We have this completely different model which is obviously broken, because all the big groups have all failed over the last… Whether you see it or not, they’ve all failed financially. If you look at all the big groups, I’m not going to name any names, because I know all of them, but all the big, big groups have failed in some form. The main reason is because of reputation, culture, and you get this kind of negative connotation with a group being like a factory, right? You get told what materials to use, lack of clinical freedom. You don’t get the same level of kind of care and quality as an owner would be if you were there in the practise, on the ground.

Dev Patel: I’ve never once thought it was quality. I’ve always been like, BACC level kind of thinking, “I have to have the best quality at any practise we do,” because if you don’t have quality, you will lose patients, you’ll lose teams, you’ll lose all your talent. That’s the worst thing for any business. That’s why big groups have failed over many years, because you eventually get to the point where you have like 10 layers before the [inaudible] office can do anything. And in each layer, you’ve got non-dentists telling you what to do, from Sainsbury’s, saying, “Hey, you’re a dentist, but I know what I’m doing because I’ve worked at Sainsbury’s last 10 years. Use this implant tool. It’s cheaper. Do what I say.” You know? That’s the kind of factory.

Dev Patel: I just thought, “What is going on? This is not how healthcare should be run.” And if you look at [inaudible] and Optum, as well, right? They’ve both got this partnership model, as well, where it’s very much franchise, back office does the head office stuff, front office is the healthcare professionals. I just thought, “Why has no one done this yet?” Did a bit of research into it, and I thought, “Okay, let’s start doing it.” Also, at the same time, had a lot of dentists in my age group from network, as well, from Dentist Circle, asking me, “Hey, I want to buy a practise. How do you do it?”

Dev Patel: Bought my first practise in 2015, doubled the turnover within a year and a half, won a few awards, and I think as a result of that people are like, “You kind of understand the blueprint in this now,” and they wanted to know how to do it. I said, “Look, I can help you. I’ll help you as a friend, anyway, always will, but if you really want my kind of full-time attention, I need to do this was an investment with you, right?” I partnered up with a couple of close friends at that time who obviously wanted to buy a practise, and it’s expensive to own a practise on your own.

Dev Patel: Fortunately, I did quite well from a couple of my ventures, and the first couple of years of working, to have enough savings to invest with them, alongside them, so we could buy a practise together, which would normally be very difficult to do with only five years out of university, because you just don’t have the cash these days. I mean, you’re looking at paying eight times, whatever it is these days, for the market. You’re putting in hundreds of thousands initially, just to buy a practise, right? Around London, anyway. Not many have got that kind of cash. You’re going half and half with a partner, and the banks can back me in terms of knowing that I can do it once, and a few times over, you get a much better facility and lending. That was also a big reason why it would make sense for a partner initially.

Payman Langroud…: Are you going in 50/50 with them?

Dev Patel: Yeah. Yeah.

Payman Langroud…: 50/50?

Dev Patel: 51/49.

Payman Langroud…: 51/49. Okay.

Dev Patel: When I say 50/50, we have… I would say it’s the other way around, whereas I and my head office team work for our partners, because in the end of the day, if they’re happy, we will make money, because they’re the ones who will develop the practise and grow them, right?

Payman Langroud…: Of course.

Dev Patel: We always say, “Look, 51/49 is more for a structure for the group, and financial, and all that kind of stuff at banks, but actually, in real life, and actually on paperwork, too, it is 50/50. Like, we have complete half and half decisions on anything. It is a complete partnership, at the end of the day, which is what it should be, because that’s what you’re going into.

Payman Langroud…: Go through the stuff that you take care of from head office. Is marketing part of your responsibility?

Dev Patel: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m not going to lie, when we first did the first few practises, it was very much me, my partner Arjun, who’s my brother-in-law, and maybe one or two of our kind of really good PMs and managers who would help us run the whole group, and was really fortunate to get a few partners within the first kind of few months. We had, I think, eight practises by the end of the first year, and we only started buying them the beginning of 2019, so we literally had eight within a year. We bought pretty quickly, but I think once you had the blueprint and the backing financially, in terms of the bank lending, it wasn’t difficult to do that, because actually, just rolling out the same model each time we open a franchise, but initially, we did all of that. We would do business development, business planning, HR, recruitment, contracts, marketing, compliance, finance, payroll. Pretty much everything you could think of, that’s basically it.

Payman Langroud…: Bloody hell. What kind of team did you have to do all of that? Just the four people?

Dev Patel: Literally just four of us, yeah. It was a lot of work. Obviously, that’s where I suppose equity is involved initially, right? But we soon realised after the first eight that it was working, and that we could… We pretty much doubled the turnover of almost every practise within the first year, which was what we were planning to do anyway, because they were smallish practises that had a lot of growth potential. Weren’t run properly in the first place. 10,000 UDAs, roughly so not many UDAs, but I could add two or three chairs from day one.

Dev Patel: If you can get the right team in, which obviously Dentist Circle helps quite a lot, and you can get the right model, should I say, in terms of patient journey, quality, taking photographs for the teeth, giving them 45 minute practise appointments for new patient exams, on NHS, not even private, just anyone, give that same journey, offering them everything in-house, bringing specialists in-house, every single practise, bringing CEREC Omnicams, digital X-rays, and everything you possibly can to make it the best practise possible, it shouldn’t be difficult if you’re in a populous area, around the M25 belt, to grow, because the population is there.

Dev Patel: Patients are always calling up. I mean, every practise we buy, people are saying, “Yeah, we’ve never accepted new patients. We stopped accepting new patients 10 years ago.” I’m thinking, “Why would you not accept new patients? No matter how many days you do, accept them. Talk to them. Show them what you can do, at least. You’re saying no to new sales, and that’s why they don’t grow.” It’s not rocket science. All we’re doing is literally just kind of opening the doors up and letting people come in and give them the best service. Yeah. I mean, I think it was quite a [crosstalk] to roll it out.

Payman Langroud…: Sorry. Yeah. You say double turnover. Things like Invisalign, where it wasn’t there before.

Dev Patel: Yeah. They don’t normally have any of these cosmetic treatment options in-house. They don’t do much ortho in-house normally. Almost no implants. Aren’t offering much bonding, because they don’t know how to do it in the first place, let alone offer it. When you bring the right team in who can do that work, then you can start offering it, and obviously, our marketing is quite, I would say, cutting edge, so we would use this stuff.

Payman Langroud…: What’s in the marketing mix? Is it internal, mostly?

Dev Patel: Yeah, it’s fully internal. We don’t waste… I mean, not being rude to any of our marketing people out there. I’m sure there’s great companies, but I’ve never believed in marketing agencies, especially in dental. I feel that the amount of money I would get, just organic growth and just doing the right things in practises, and tracking things properly, and actually being there was 15 times better than spending thousands of pounds on marketing each month for other companies. I’m not saying that in a bad way, because I think I knew what they were doing anyway, so it was like I was paying someone to do something I knew, so I’d much rather just do it ourselves and save the money. But then tracking it [crosstalk].

Payman Langroud…: One thing’s for sure. one thing’s for sure, here. There’s so much unmet demand for work in your existing patient base.

Dev Patel: Exactly.

Payman Langroud…: It’s only once that’s been taken care of should you even look outside.

Dev Patel: Exactly. Exactly, yeah.

Payman Langroud…: You see this all the time. People tell me, “Oh, listen, I want to do adverts to get bleaching patients in.” I know they could quadruple the bleaching in their practise just with their own patients if they were saying the right things, and following up correctly. You’re absolutely right about that. Tell me this, dude. What happens when you come to sell this behemoth and half of it is owned by the dentist, and half is owned by you? I mean, do they just get the value of their bit goes up by however much it goes up? Is that the idea? I mean, who decides? If you’ve got eight different partners to deal with, because you’re 51%, can you sell it whenever you want then?

Dev Patel: In theory, we could. Yeah, legally, we can, but I think it’s always going to be a decision for all the partners to make together as a group, because it has to make sense financially, but I think from day one, it’s always been obvious that we’re in this to make good returns. No matter what happens, whenever an exit may happen or not happen, it will always be on a good return, so everyone makes good kind of money back. But the model will never be to sell the whole thing in one go and just leave, because otherwise it wouldn’t work, right? The whole model is based on the partners and the practises and that level of quality.

Dev Patel: There will always be a kind of a swap mechanism whereby eventually the partners will sell their shares to new partners who want to eventually come on board, as well. Same as America. In the U.S., a dentist might own 25%, 50% of a practise, or whatever it may be, but they just sell their shares in that business to another dentist. The back office just stays the back office. We wouldn’t typically sell our shares in the same was a partner would sell their shares, because actually, it’s different. Our shares aren’t really linked to anyone in particular. It could be anyone running the back office. It could be anyone, as long as they’ve got the right people leading it. It’s just financial backing, isn’t it, really? That’s all it kind of needs.

Dev Patel: The front office side of things, the dentist side of things, need to have a dentist there, because otherwise it wouldn’t work. They need to be able to make sure the model doesn’t just fall over, because there have been some partnership models in, I think, Europe, no names mentioned, where they’ve fallen over because they’ve sold the whole thing in one go. Everyone got a really good return, and everyone left the month after. Which is great, because obviously I made money, but then the people buying it are like, “Well, I paid X amount for the group, and now it’s not worth half that, even, because everyone’s left.” You’ve got to have a good kind of partnership model which is fair but also realistic that you can still pass on and transition on afterwards, which we’ve really worked hard in the last 12 months or so to make sure that there’s a very easy kind of turnkey operation.

Dev Patel: When somebody does want to eventually leave, they can just kind of swap in, swap out, and we can buy them out, or vice versa, or they sell to other dentists. There’s always a way out. It just depends on… Everyone’s different as well, right? Some of the partners want to work for the next 10 years, 20 years, in the model. They’re like, “What else am I going to do in my life? I can be a dentist, I get paid as an associate, I own the practise, I don’t have to do much work. There’s a head office. I enjoy the practise, I enjoy the team. I can see all new patients. It’s fun.” And then some of them want to be [inaudible] and do their own other stuff afterwards. It depends.

Payman Langroud…: How did COVID affect this group?

Dev Patel: You know what? I think COVID was the best thing that ever happened to us for a number of reasons. We were at that point where we just had the first eight practises, just over four or five months, the last few, and about a year for the first five. We had them for a decent amount of time to finish refurbishing it, kind of build up the new chairs, empty surgeries, grow into it, right? We had empty surgeries, which was great, because when COVID first came up, we were doing rotations, and we had space to do that without having to lose our capacity, which was great.

Dev Patel: Do you know the other thing that really helped during COVID, as well, was two things. One, it helped us take a step back, because I think, putting my hands up, we were running out of steam. Between four of us running the company, and we had like eight practises with probably 100-odd staff, we were kind of all over the place. Rather than being focused and systematic and saying, “We’re going to keep things organised in every single department,” we were running all the time, chasing our tails. We had a few months to take a step back, recapture, and work back, and say, “What did we miss out that we should have done last year?”

Dev Patel: We kind of got back and started organising our folders, organising our HR stuff. Organising everything you just don’t think is a priority at the time. Compliance, all those stuff. Kind of got that time to reset back and kind of get organised again. I think we were fortunate enough to be well-connected within, obviously, the dental industry around the world to know what we needed to do to get back to our feet again very quickly. We opened up pretty much fully on June the 8th. We were ready to go. We had PPE ready to go, all the masks fitting, everything. We were literally ready to go before that, even.

Payman Langroud…: I guess most of them had these NHS contracts, so you were being paid during the lockdown, too.

Dev Patel: Yeah. I mean, it wasn’t much. We only have 20% of income from NHS.

Payman Langroud…: Oh, is it?

Dev Patel: We were very small. We never have been a focus group on NHS anyway. It’s there, and it’s good to have it to treat patients, and we treat all our patients as if they’re private, anyway, but we weren’t making profits or anything during those two, three months of being closed, but actually, those months were amazing, because we got time to train teams properly. Talk to our dentists, talk to our teams about what was working, what was not working. How are we going to pivot and change our model to become more digital-focused? Which we were digital anyway, but more digital focus after COVID. Virtual consults, all that kind of stuff. We actually build our margins up, as well.

Payman Langroud…: Are they all branded?

Dev Patel: They’re all Dental Beauty branded, yeah, whichever location you’re in, but we also built out some marketing assets, marketing platform in Salesforce, all these things that really helped us just become best in class when it comes to getting out there and being the best out there, when it comes after COVID. Yeah, I mean, it was a slow start initially, but we’ve bounced back really, really well. Probably one of the best.

Payman Langroud…: I’m not qualified to tell you your business, but it sounds like you need to hire some more people here.

Dev Patel: Well, we did. That’s the other thing to do with costs. Yes.

Payman Langroud…: You need more than four people to run that.

Dev Patel: [inaudible]. You’re very much right. I mean, that’s what we did, literally, in COVID. We hired, I think, three more people in-house during that time, so we had probably a full-time team of eight people by then end of COVID, so it was good.

Payman Langroud…: That’s more like it.

Dev Patel: It was a much better team then. We still had another four more practises in the pipeline, so we knew we had to grow anyway, but you know what it is? It’s just when you’re growing that quickly, buying one a month and kind of taking over, you generally don’t have time to even take a step back and think, “What do I need now with the team?” I knew we had to hire people anyway, and obviously, luckily, the Brushlink think kind of helped me focus a bit more time on the group after when we exited the U.S. side of things, so I then had a bit more time to actually focus on the group, and spend more time. That actually helped a lot to then say, “What do we need to make this actually more scalable?”

Dev Patel: We hired more people on the team. Had a head office. We literally were the first people in London to hire a new office in London Bridge into June. I think we were the only people in London trying to get a new office. Everyone else was running out, and we were like the only ones trying to find an office. It was really good to get a good deal, at the time. It was good. But we were the only ones to buy an office, I think, at the same time in London, during June. That was quite interesting. Yeah, we just took it from there, and went kind of stride by stride upwards. Yeah, we’d identified another four more clinics within the few months after COVID, but yeah, it was good.

Dev Patel: I think because a lot of our practises, and I’m not saying anything bad about it, but a lot of them weren’t open for many months, and probably weren’t open until even the end of last year, because of whatever they were taking time for. Took them time to get their PPE sorted out or whatever reasons they did. It meant we had loads of new patients coming in. Loads, and we accepted every new patient. Every new patient. Treated them as if they were private and family patients. Same as normal. Didn’t worry about the whole NHS side of things.

Dev Patel: Just treated them normally, and they, as a result of that, had a really good experience, and now we’ve got all of us are really busy. We could bank up a double capacity in terms of actual patients coming in. Maximised that kind of offline side of things, in terms of new patient consults, new virtual consults, and doing something with online booking. Our marketing online in terms of having head office booking patients in on a call centre. All that stuff, to me, it’s been so much more efficient, so we weren’t having to do kind of the old school way of walk-in booking, and that kind of the stuff.

Payman Langroud…: That’s a lot for you, man. I mean, it’s hard to believe you’re only five years out of, or is it, what, seven years out of university, right?

Dev Patel: 2012, so eight years, now, yeah.

Payman Langroud…: Eight years out. You’ve done a lot in that time, you really have. There’s no doubt about that. What do you reckon is going to happen for you going forward? I mean, have you got goals on this group? Have you got numbers of practises you want to own before you exit? What do you think?

Dev Patel: I think this word exit is quite important. We’re not going to ever kind of fully exit, I don’t think, because all our partners are the age of 30, 32 years old. What are we going to do the rest of our lives otherwise, right? I think we’re hoping to be in it for a long time. Some people will be longer, some people will be shorter, obviously, depending on what they want to do, but I think we want to keep growing, because we’ve got such a good model that isn’t just about the money side of things, in terms of… We’re growing, even though, really well. We’re doubling turnover, which is great, yeah? That’s all pretty straightforward stuff.

Dev Patel: It’s a business. I think the good part of it, actually, is the fact that we’re modernising basic poorly-run, not great, dingy, edge-of practises into state-of-the-art modern practises that they should be, right? My vision is that if I can get 50, 100 practises to do that around the U.K., we’ve made a big difference in terms of actual healthcare. I mean, imagine the patients that can now be treated in the right way. I mean, our kind of minimum is every single patient, 12 photographs, SLR, 60 inch screen, show them what’s wrong, 45 minute appointment.

Dev Patel: That’s what they get. They get a proper service. Not a five minute in, out, quick kind of mouthing the thumb, kind of leave out the door kind of thing. We want to get that consumer service higher to really offer the best service possible. If we do that, then I’m happy. No matter how much we’ve got, whether it be 20, 30, 50, whatever, I don’t really care. As long as we get that service high, and the quality is there, and dentists can also progress in their career in our group, i.e. get mentored, get trained up, and have a couple of years of really good hands-on training from great dentist partners we’ve got, it’s a win/win, right? I’m helping profession, helping patients, everyone does well, as well. That’s kind of… I would be happy, basically.

Payman Langroud…: I like that, bud. I like that. Tell me about your darkest day, clinically. Not clinically, professionally.

Dev Patel: Professionally. I think it probably must have been when I placed an implant… Oh, no. I’m going to say it out loud now. Placed an implant… It was my third implant I’d placed in practise, and I placed it pretty much next to… It was the upper left one. Placed it right next to, I mean, literally, it was almost touching the upper left two.

Payman Langroud…: Oh.

Dev Patel: I mean, I’m not saying that’s kind of the worst thing in the world, but it was pretty bad, because I’ve always had very high expectations of myself clinically, and genuinely, I never did anything really bad, clinically, to a patient, because I was always restorative-focused. You can’t really mess with something like that too much, unless you’re really kind of heavy-handed. Didn’t have many problems with restorative, any major, major issues. That was like, “Crap. Really fucked up.” Yeah, that was probably kind of one of the worst gut feelings I’ve ever had. Otherwise, yeah, I don’t think I would say clinically I’ve had that many major issues, or major problems.

Payman Langroud…: What about professionally? Like, as a business person, your darkest time.

Dev Patel: As a business person…

Payman Langroud…: So many, right?

Dev Patel: Yeah. I mean, my darkest day would have been every day of Brushlink, you know? All those days, just looking for space. I think, look, if I look at all my companies, right? If you look at Dentist Circle, we were very fortunate. I mean, Amin and I knew it, as well. We know it now, even, right? We had just a one in a million jumpstart, lock-it of a company, right? We went from zero turnover to X, really, really well growth, and had no problems.

Dev Patel: Literally had no… We never had one issue of, “Oh, we’ve run out of money,” or, “We need to get the money,” or, “We need to do this,” or, “We’ve lost…” We didn’t care. We just had fun the whole time, and it worked. That’s one in a million. Who has a startup that works, that has the biggest U.K. platform after two or three years, and just happens to happen straight away? That’s very unlikely, right? Brushlink was the opposite, because of constantly having to just grind and push and just look into open space every morning. You’re thinking, “I’ve got no guaranteed next day of what’s happening.” It was always open.

Dev Patel: Practise stuff was always easy, because practise, you buy it, you know what you’re buying. You know what you need to do, and you just do it. It happens, because it’s like a business. It’s a bricks and mortar business. Well, that was really tough. I’m not going to lie. It was the hardest thing I’ve done in my life, which is every day of just trying to do that company, because especially the end, towards the end, where you kind of have to think, “I need to raise £4 million in the world, and I’ve got 10 investors to talk to, and none of them have got even the interest, the appetite for this right now. How am I going to take my team, the payroll for the team, the wages, the investors?” All that on your back. You just think, “What’s next?” You never knew what was next. I mean, exciting, but also very difficult.

Payman Langroud…: Yeah. I know how that feels. But you’re right, the thing about it could all suddenly end in a day is a massive stress, isn’t it?

Dev Patel: Yeah. It is.

Payman Langroud…: In dental practise, that’s just not going to happen.

Dev Patel: No.

Payman Langroud…: It doesn’t matter. Like, even in these massive groups that you’re saying have failed, it’s not going to overnight fail.

Dev Patel: Yeah.

Payman Langroud…: It’s not the way it goes, but I mean…

Dev Patel: You know what it’s like. I mean, you set up Enlighten, right? It must have been the same thing.

Payman Langroud…: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But you’re a glutton for punishment, dude, yeah? Because you keep on doing it again and again.

Dev Patel: Well, that’s what… I think that is the definition of an entrepreneur, right?

Payman Langroud…: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Dev Patel: You’ve got to risk everything every day.

Payman Langroud…: Yeah.

Dev Patel: If you don’t do it, you’re not an entrepreneur in any way. You’re just doing what’s easy. I think that’s why a lot of people just stay in their comfort zone. They stay in the zone with their comfort. They never want to leave it. They don’t want to take any risks, and that’s why they don’t have rewards.

Payman Langroud…: You’ve got that smile on your face, dude, yeah? You’ve always got that smile on your face. I hope it stays there, yeah? But for me, it’s that sort of optimism, isn’t it? That you’re going to make it work. It’s, “Why not?” That optimism goes a long way, because like you said, you’ve got those three different groups of people. Your investors, your customers, and your team you’re going to have to make happy. If you’re not optimistic, then it’s not going to work out. It’s not going to work out for anyone. Very impressive, buddy. Very, very, very impressive. I was very impressed with you anyway, but very impressive hearing the steps one by one.

Dev Patel: Oh, thanks.

Payman Langroud…: Prav’s not here to ask his final question, so I’m going to ask it for him.

Dev Patel: Sure.

Payman Langroud…: It’s a kind of a multilayered question. It’s your last day on the planet. You’ve got your family around you, your loved ones, the five or 10 people you’re closest to in the world, and you’ve got to leave them with three pieces of advice. What are those three pieces of advice?

Dev Patel: Live every day like its your last day.

Payman Langroud…: Okay.

Dev Patel: Don’t have any regrets. Literally, just anything you want to do in life, just do it, because time is short, and you never know how long you’re going to be here for, right?

Payman Langroud…: Yep.

Dev Patel: When I say that, I don’t just mean about business. I mean like…

Payman Langroud…: Everything.

Dev Patel: Any personal goals you’ve got. You should have goals at the beginning of the year about your whole life, whatever you want. Bucket lists, or places to go on holiday. I’ve done everything on that side of things as well as my business side of things, right? Which I’m quite happy about, because I know that if I ever died tomorrow… I’ll tell you what, I don’t, hopefully, touch wood, but I’ve done everything I possibly can, physically. Eight, 20 years of whatever, I’ve had my freedom doing it, right? When you’re working, and before university, right? You can’t have any choice. You’re going to do what you’ve got to do. After that, you’re free to make decisions in life. If you can do what you want to do, and you want to do it, do it. Don’t talk about it, just do it. That’s kind of just…

Payman Langroud…: Take action.

Dev Patel: Take action. Second thing is invest in yourself. I think a lot of people, especially… Not just dentists, but everyone I speak to are like, “Yeah, I’m going to do this investment. I’m going to make 4% a year. I’m going to do this, I’m going to do this. I want to do all these different things.” I’m just like, “Just put the money in yourself, because at a young age, the best investment is yourself. Whether it be courses, whether it be investing in your own business for yourself, whether it be investing in time with yourself. Anything. All those three things, it is invaluable.

Dev Patel: When you’re young, you have to do it now, because you won’t do that when you’ve got a family and kids, because you always put them first, and you’re afterwards. The only time to do it is before that. If you don’t do it now, you’ve already missed the boat, and then what happens, you get into the stagnant circle of, “Oh, leave it next year. I’ll do that maybe next year. I can’t do it now. I’ve got my kids, and school fees to pay for.” You never do it. Hit 50 years old, 60 years old, you think, “Oh, I should have done all this stuff, shouldn’t I?” You know?

Payman Langroud…: Nice one. That’s a nice one.

Dev Patel: That’s something that’s really key. I think the third thing would be enjoy life. I mean, I know it sounds like I literally have the most boring life in the world. I just work all the time. But everyone who knows me knows that I work hard, play hard, too. You know?

Payman Langroud…: No. Absolutely.

Dev Patel: You only live once. Just have a good time, because if you don’t have a good time, and have good business, and people that you work for, you enjoy working with, enjoy people, you can get up to work and go, “I’m going to have fun today. I’m not going to just be going to work with miserable people around me.” You enjoy it. That’s what it’s about.

Payman Langroud…: I think that’s the most important one of those three.

Dev Patel: Yep.

Payman Langroud…: His next question is how would you like to be remembered, legacy-wise? Dev Patel was…

Dev Patel: In family or business?

Payman Langroud…: Both.

Dev Patel: Hope I’m a great husband and a great dad, great son, great brother. All of the above, family-wise. In dentistry, I just want to make a difference. I just want to hopefully be able to make a big impact on hundreds of dentists’ careers, for mentoring, education, development, potentially business and making them money, too, and hopefully patients, too. Make a difference to patients, and hopefully change the culture of the U.K. of this kind of backward thinking, in and out dentistry, 10 minute appointments. Big groups, and just doing the same kind of factory dentistry. To make it a better quality. Improve the level of standards. I’d be happy with that.

Payman Langroud…: Dev Patel improved the standards of dentistry. I like that.

Dev Patel: Yeah, man.

Payman Langroud…: And his last one he’s kind of brought in is, God forbid, you go to the doctor. He says, “You’ve got one month to live.”

Dev Patel: Yeah.

Payman Langroud…: What would you do with the month?

Dev Patel: Spend it with my little daughter and my wife.

Payman Langroud…: Where? How? What?

Dev Patel: Probably go somewhere that we haven’t been before that we really wanted to go, which is either safari or maybe tour India, even. I’ve never had a chance to tour India. I’m Indian myself. I’ve never had the time to properly tour India. I mean, we’ve done a lot of other holidays with myself, my wife, and my daughter, even. She’s been on like 10 holidays, and she’s only one year old, but yeah. I think we want to keep exploring the world. I love it. I literally am an adrenaline junkie. Climb Kilimanjaro with them. Climb Mount Everest one day, but I think it’s one of those things where I just need to spend more time with more family if I can. If I’ve got one more month left, I’d do that.

Payman Langroud…: I love that, buddy. Love that. It feels like we’ve only scratched the surface, bud, because you’ve done so many things with your time, but I’d like to check in with you in a year or two and see where you’ve got to. It’s been absolutely lovely having you on, man.

Dev Patel: No, thanks for your time.

Payman Langroud…: Hopefully when things are a bit better we could have another big party. Joint Dental Circle, Enlighten do.

Dev Patel: Oh, that would be dangerous. That would be very dangerous, don’t you think?

Payman Langroud…: Imagine.

Dev Patel: I’m just going to have paramedics outside, waiting.

Payman Langroud…: Yeah. Helicopter. Thanks so much, buddy.

Dev Patel: See you. Thanks for your time.

Payman Langroud…: Thanks so much for doing it, buddy.

Dev Patel: Take care. Bye.

Payman Langroud…: Take care, man.

Speaker 3: 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: Thanks for listening, guys. If you got this far, you must have listened to the whole thing, and just a huge thank you, both from me and Pay, for actually sticking through and listening to what we had to say, and what our guest has had to say, because I’m assuming you got some value out of it.

Payman Langroud…: If you did get some value out of it, think about subscribing, and if you would share this with a friend who you think might get some value out of it, too, thank you so, so, so much for listening. Thanks.

Prav Solanki: And don’t forget our six star rating.

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