The Vue Podcast: Leaders in Retail | Julian Artopé


The Vue Podcast: Leaders in Retail | Julian Artopé

Did you know that the cosmetic dentistry market is expected to grow from $21.9 billion in 2020 to $30.1 billion by 2025? Increased awareness and focus on aesthetics is a major factor for the demand for cosmetic dentistry to rapidly grow even now. Additionally, the prevalence of oral health disorders and rising dental tourism in emerging markets, makes it a very exciting space to watch out for. In this retail podcast, we have Julian Artopé, co-founder and CEO of Zenyum. Zenyum is a consumer-focused health care brand with a mission to help Asia smile through its range of 3D printed, invisible faces and cosmetic dental treatments, at very affordable prices. Tune into this episode of The Vue Podcast, and listen to Julian talk about:

  • How the idea for Zenyum came about
  • How Zenyum ensures affordable dental procedures by using technology
  • The growth of cosmetic dentistry market and Zenyum’s product creation
  • How the brand is investing in various technology for a seamless experience
  • How Zenyum is turning into a lifestyle for people across Asia

Here’s the transcript, to make your experience easier:

Akshara Subramanian: Welcome to a brand new episode of The Vue Podcast. Your go-to destination for the latest in A.I. and retail. The cosmetic dentistry market is expected to grow from $21.9 billion in 2020 to $30.1 billion by 2025. And while the pandemic might have skewed those numbers a bit, there’s still no doubt that demand for cosmetic dentistry is rapidly growing. There’s so much awareness and driving focus on aesthetics and increasing prevalence of oral health disorders and rising dental tourism in emerging markets, which makes it a very exciting space to watch out for. Today, we’re about to find out why this space is so exciting from a company that’s disrupting the segment, specifically in the Asian market, with their cutting edge dental products. I’m very excited to welcome Julian Artopé, co-founder and CEO of Zenyum. Zenyum is a consumer-focused health care brand with a mission to help Asia smile through its range of 3D printed, invisible faces and cosmetic dental treatments, at very, very affordable prices. Welcome, Julian. Thank you so much for being with us here today.

Julian Artopé: Hi Akshara, thanks so much for the invitation. Excited to be here.

Akshara Subramanian: Fabulous. So, Julian, there are a lot of products in the market today that are focused on oral health care. But at Zenyum, you’ve almost made it something to aspire to. I notice that you say ‘brushing mindfully’ with the Sonic Toothbrush as a way to get consumers to pay attention to their brushing patterns. So talk to us about how the idea for Zenyum came about and what kind of products you’re creating.

Julian Artopé: Right. So, first of all, to highlight that I am not a dentist or an orthodontist myself. I have been building tech companies for the last 15 years. And in fact, I became a founder too early in my life and then made it a mission for myself to learn from great companies on how to build firms. And one thing that became clear, because, over the course of the last 15 years, I’ve been in everything from social networks to digital payments to content, to classifieds, to price comparison. And when I was ready again to found my own company with Zenyum, we wanted to set out to build a large consumer brand, so we were not so interested in building a B2B business or SaaS company, but we wanted to build something with consumers. And I myself arrived here in Singapore in 2016. And my personal take is that South-East Asia is probably the most exciting region in the world when it comes to the very fast-rising consumer class. And I studied here in Singapore, at INSEAD. And one evening I was talking to the husband of a good friend, who is an orthodontist, and it was a very interesting conversation because he said, I studied for 13 years and now I’m seeing the biggest disruption that orthodontics has seen in a long time due to 3D printing and due to CAD/CAM designers, which are taking over large parts of my profession. And that all sounded very intriguing. And so I started looking into that sector and learned about 3D printed invisible braces. I’m not sure whether you have braces as a kid, but I did.

Akshara Subramanian: I didn’t. But my sister had it and I do remember her absolutely dreading going to the dentist because it was very painful.

Julian Artopé: Right. It’s not a great experience in general. Right. You have that metal in your mouth. It’s very rough. You have to go to the orthodontist at least once a month to kind of tighten the wires. It’s very painful overall as a process because you do a lot of movement in one step. And what you have nowadays, you have a product innovation where you 3D print plastic aligners that slowly shift your teeth gradually over the course of 9 months, they can be as effective as traditional braces, but they have the advantage that they are virtually invisible. Most people don’t notice them when you speak to them if you have them and you can remove them at any given point in time to eat or to brush your teeth. And they’re moving your teeth much gentler because they do it over more steps. So you switch them every 5 days, every 10 days, and that can be less painful than traditional braces. And so we’re looking into that. I thought, wow, that’s a really cool product. And envisioning the company that could come out of it, that kind of clicked with the goal to say we want to build a very large consumer brand across South-East Asia. And I imagined that would just be a fun company to initially run. And the other thing was that it played in a sector that traditionally is not, let’s say, beloved by consumers. Dentistry is not the most popular sector. And so I thought that was a great challenge to take on and founded the company together with two co-founders. One of them is a dentist, back in 2018.

Akshara Subramanian: That sounds like quite a journey and one that’s happening in a very interesting space. You said something interesting about people not really taking to cosmetic dentistry so easy, right? I know that as a brand, you’re going beyond invisible retainers and you’re looking to build this whole range of what you call, Smile Cosmetics, to make it more affordable. So can you tell us how you’re doing that?

Julian Artopé: Right. As you highlight correctly, dentistry is not very sexy in itself. I know no one that likes going to the dentist. It’s usually associated with pain, with sharp things poking your teeth. But if you think about it, the difference that nice teeth make in a smile, in the pictures you take, but also in how you are being perceived by others, how it helps your personal brand is really incredible. And we see that so often because we do these ‘smile transformations’. We see people that never were confident enough to actually have a big wide smile on their pictures. And 3-4 months into treatment, you can see on Instagram that they really start to light up. Many people told us what big, huge impact that had. And if you think a little bit about what you’re doing there, it’s really like a self-care protocol to make sure that you have nice looking teeth. Now, we already have a lot of these rituals in our daily life. Skincare is one of them, right, like people are applying different oils and lotions to their skin, spending up to half an hour on that on a daily basis. And the people see that as me-time. And it really is a nice ritual that you do for yourself. Contrary to that, oftentimes brushing your teeth or making sure that you have white or straight teeth, is something that’s being seen as a chore. Most of us, and we did some research around that, when brushing our teeth we just zone out. We know it’s something that I need to get done. And so most of us are just standing in front of the mirror and space out a little bit while brushing their teeth. And we want to change that. We want to change that by providing products which we call Smile Cosmetics, that move this category from being a boring chore to an exciting ritual. And you can only do that by creating a certain awareness around the good things that happen when you start taking care of your teeth, pressure, breath, but also the impact you have on people. But on the other hand, also producing products that are fun to use, for lack of a better word, that makes people feel good when you can really feel an impact and within your smile.

Akshara Subramanian: I think something that stood out for me really is the self-care angle because every time we’re all brushing out but not really looking at it as a mindful activity, right? I can imagine why that requires a full mindset shift in how we view brushing. And I also imagine that a fun product can make the experience so much better. So I completely get you there. You know, I also wanted to touch upon the cosmetic dentistry segment a bit more. I know I covered some numbers in our introduction there. But clearly, Zenyum is at the forefront of this cosmetic dentistry segment, especially in Asia. You’re watching new consumer patterns, you’re seeing what they have an appetite for, and what they’re open to in terms of these products, right? How are you seeing the demand for the overarching cosmetic dentistry market grow?

Julian Artopé: Well, right. So I think what you’re touching up on there and that’s what really helped us very much in the beginning, is you have, for lack of a better word, a little bit of an old industry. But by putting a layer of technology on top of that, you can predict very much what are the patterns that are happening. We’re seeing some super exciting stuff. So there’s a couple of factors that play into that. The first one is the macro factors around the region here. South-East Asia is the most dynamic region in the world. 100,000 people come online every single day for the first time in their lives. It’s huge. And so eventually what you have is you have a large group of millennials that for the first time in their life have available disposable income. They never were able to use braces when they were kids because they might not have come from a family where that was actually affordable. But now they’re working for gojek in Jakarta or Pflugrad across the region and they have available disposable income for the first time in their life and they want to invest it into themselves. That’s also what’s different. If you think, for instance, about America in the 50s or Europe in the 70s, 80s, during these boom times, people are not as materialistic anymore. They don’t want to buy cars or fridges to the same extent, but they want to invest into themselves and to new experiences – travel, when that was still allowed, education and also self-improvement or beauty. So I think we’re uniquely positioned to build a very, very large company within that. And we believe it’s a double-digit billion-dollar opportunity that we’re sitting on right now here in South-East Asia. But then the second part to unlock this is with the scale that you can build nowadays with technology. So, we actually believe at Zenyum that the biggest innovation in the segment will not come from the purely technical sense, right. Whether your electric toothbrush is now doing 30,000 or 40,000 vibrations per minute, it’s not really going to be the big game-changer. But what it will come to is can you connect that with exciting software, with exciting engagement and experiences which we are offering through the Zenyum app, for instance, and to further enhance the experience. So to come back a little bit to that example of before, if you’re standing in front of the mirror right now and you’re just spending those 2 minutes mindlessly looking into the mirror, we actually believe that by brushing your teeth, you have already built what we call a habit loop. Most of us, especially if you are already brushing your teeth without thinking too much about it 2 times a day. That means that 2 times a day you have 2 minutes of me-time that you could use to build new habits, because if you’re looking a little bit into the existing research, then the easiest way to build a new healthy habit, whether that is, hey, I want to work out on a daily basis or I want to start a daily reading practice or I want to consume less sugar, whatever it might be. The easiest way to implement a new healthy practice is to hack into an existing habit. And so with the Zenyum app, for instance, right now, we actually support this by letting you choose what you want to improve in your life and then reminding you around your brushing time to set your mind into intention around it. And so I think what it will come down to is that we’re building these kinds of experiences around the Smile Cosmetics that we have.

Akshara Subramanian: I mean, I think it’s so interesting that this goes far beyond just the product. It seems like what you are trying to cultivate is more around habit formation and making dentistry, as a concept, more approachable. And speaking of making it more approachable, I know you said millennials have more disposable income and the ability to spend on what they want, but what do they come to Zenyum for, in terms of, I guess, the pain points that they’re looking to solve? I know the last time we spoke, I remember we briefly talked about the lack of accessibility for teeth alignment treatments and kind of, the fear, or the association that people have with going to a dentist or simply just the fact that existing solutions don’t do the job right. So can you take us through some of those things that you were solving for?

Julian Artopé: So I think the first thing you touch on is accessibility, and that is still a huge thing for us here in South-East Asia, even though the region is growing very fast, it’s not like everyone can afford an $8,000 treatment from the US when it comes to straightening the teeth. And so the solutions that we have built with that in mind, first and foremost, where we say we want to put out products that are not cheap, but that fit into the lifestyle of a very busy millennial here in Asia. The second part is that we say one of the things that are obviously the most precious, if you’re part of that millennial group, is your time. And so going to a dentist in a city like Bangkok or Jakarta, if you’re unlucky with traffic, will take you half a day that you’re losing. And so we built the solution at Zenyum with the doctors in mind. So you always see a dentist in person. We think it’s unethical if you don’t do that. But you can check in with your dentist via the Zenyum app. So you go there 2 times, in the beginning, to make sure that you get your teeth scanned, that you get x-rays done, that you get a safe treatment and you go there for the fitting of your braces. But afterwards, we’re using the Zenyum app to check-in remotely with your doctor. And most of the time the doctor or the dentist will say, OK, everything’s looking good, you don’t really need to come in. And that is saving a huge amount of time for our customers. And then finally, it goes also around education. And without now, badmouthing, the profession of dentistry, oftentimes what happens is you go to a dentist, you sit down in the chair, you open your mouth and you just let things happen to you. And what we are trying to do is that we create a service around that where before you go into the practice, you have somebody that explains to you step by step what is going to happen to you, why that is going to happen so that customers feel much more comfortable around that experience that they really know what to expect. So that also helps to take a little bit the fear out of the experience of dentistry.

Akshara Subramanian: Absolutely. And, you know, I think I see two big pillars here. One is obviously the ability to save time, and I can imagine with the pandemic, the convenience of the app must have been so much easier for people to check in with their doctors. And I’m sure that kind of added to the whole experience. And the second thing I think is really about education because you’re right, every time I’ve spoken to people about getting dental procedures done, they only know the name of it, like root canal or impaction. But they can’t always articulate what exactly the procedure entails. And I’ve also seen cases where if the anaesthesia hits a nerve if you go to some really painful swelling and don’t really know why. So I love that element of transparency and being able to educate the customer when they’re coming to Zenyum.

Julian Artopé: Right, exactly, yes.

Akshara Subramanian: Yeah, all of those things seem very essential and how experience is like this should be curated today, especially because consumers today are smart! They want to know what they’re paying for and they want the transparency so yeah, I’m completely that with you. And this also kind of brings me to the other part of the experience, which is innovation. I imagine that with so many of your customers going online since the onset of COVID and doing online consultation, that technology has a very large role to play in how you provide these experiences. So can you tell us a little bit about what kinds of tech you’re investing in at Zenyum?

Julian Artopé: Right, so there has been a huge part for the company you just mentioned, COVID, and obviously we saw, you know, we’re in 7 markets across Southeast Asia and we saw lockdowns in all of these 7 markets over the course of the last couple of months. And we had an amazing recovery out of it. So very, very happy by now with how the year is going. But let’s say around March, April, this was a very scary moment for us within the company where we were thinking about how can we preserve the resources of the company. And for instance, we did not go ahead with some of the investments into marketing, for instance, that we had planned. But one thing we kept investing in at all points in time was the product team because we said, this is so strategic for us to keep building and expanding the solution of the product. And I think what it did is, is it really gave us an advantage in the end. So if you’re thinking a little bit about what you can already get from our technology and what we’re building, there’s a couple of very exciting things. The first thing is an Automated Smile Assessment, and obviously, that’s something that you guys are helping with a lot. What that means is not everybody can use Zenyum. So if you need teeth extracted or if you need to change your bite completely, then we would probably recommend you to rather use traditional braces instead of clear aligners. And in these cases, and we don’t want to waste your time by telling you, ‘Oh come in for an appointment with one of our dentists’. And so what we have is a so-called ‘smile assessment’ where you upload pictures of your teeth to see whether you qualify for Zenyum. And this smile assessment by now can recognize automatically whether you’re uploading the picture of your teeth in a correct way and will feedback to you if you don’t do that. It will also, in the future automatically review the pictures and indicate immediately to you whether you are a candidate for Zenyum or not. Right now, this is done by doctors still. What this also will be able to do, and this is coming up sometime in the coming months, that we will be able to show you already when you upload the pictures of your teeth, how the Zenyum solution will be able to change your smile. So this is not just superimposing some pictures of perfect teeth, but this will be based on the actual movement of your actual teeth. So giving you a pretty accurate forecast of how your smile can look like after Zenyum. And then we also have some exciting use of technology within the clinics, for instance, you can go into some of our partner clinics and you can scan a QR code there to then actually see an augmented reality part where the doctor is explaining to you how Zenyum works and how the solution could look like for you. So really trying to implement new technologies also with our partners. And finally, and this is something that we think we are one of the most innovative companies, at least here in South-East Asia when it comes to that system, is that we will allow all of our customers to communicate with us with whatever channel they like and use a mixture between human and automated interaction to engage with them across all of these channels. So what that means is in Singapore, I might want to talk to them via email or via WhatsApp, but if I sit in Thailand, I want to use LINE. If I sit in Vietnam, then I want to use Zalo. And so with combining all of that into one solution where a customer can reach us 24/7 via whatever channel they have, they have any questions around the system and we use a checkbox and some A.I. To actually make sure that replies come fast and automated or get escalated to a human in the fastest way possible.

Akshara Subramanian: Wow. It does seem like they’re using technology across the board, but no, I think the smile assessment through A.I. Can be extremely valuable in determining the actual problem, I think someone’s going through and patient readiness, I want to say? And I also love the AR Connect concept because we’ve only heard of experiential retail, but to have immersive tech experiences at the dental clinic is definitely so much more motivation to go. I mean, I think I’d be excited if I ever had to do anything like that. But anyway, I know we’ve covered the growth of the cosmetic dentistry, the experience, what you’re trying to build. But this is something that I wanted to talk about a little bit more in-depth. And it’s kind of the personalization of this whole process because if you think about dental treatments, they look the same. You have an appointment to get it done. It’s standard stuff right. But I guess the biggest differentiator is that you’re first doing an assessment. You’re really understanding the individual needs and the context and then designing something that’s convenient for that person. So in a way, not two experiences or treatments or diagnoses are the same. It’s almost like you’re also not looking at Zenyum just as a range of products that help people, but more as a lifestyle, I think, so tell us a little bit more about that.

Julian Artopé: Right, so it’s exactly right, the first part that we need to crack, I think, is education and this is education for customers to take dentistry out of the medical thing and towards this notion of smile cosmetics. And if you, for instance, look into a market like Singapore, that is something where you already have an educated population where people know about the benefits of healthy teeth and the healthy smile, that’s a little bit easier. If you look into markets like, let’s say, Indonesia or Vietnam, then orthodontics only arrived there a couple of decades ago. So it’s a fairly young craft and you still need to educate a lot on the advantages. But it’s not only the education of the consumers, but it’s also the education of the dentists. So we really want to promote the profession of dentistry and at the same time be a supporting partner to our network of partner dentists by generating insights for them through technology and data that they didn’t have before. So we can tell the nurses whether how long the waiting time is for customers and how much that affects the experience for the customers in their clinic and whether that actually affects their retention rate for the clinic owners. And so there’s a lot of education to be done on that level. The second part really comes down to build products that are explicitly rather part of your lifestyle. Right, to move from that notion of a mindless chore to, ‘hey, I’m doing something good for myself’. And oftentimes that comes down to simple things like, yes, you need to have a product that is obviously in its functionality and top of the line. But at the same time, if you want a beautiful design, want beautiful packaging, you can actually rethink whether everything needs to be wrapped and packed in plastic or whether you can use organic materials during that experience. And so it comes down to being very broad when it comes to the markets we do in Asia, right? And South-East Asia is very fragmented. And we are also broad when it comes to the number of products that we are launching. And we have 4 excuse life and there is a lot that is coming in the coming months. But be very, very focused regarding the people that we are doing that for and regarding our target group and making sure that what we are creating really has to customer first in mind. And that will make that switch from a chore to lifestyle and that will make hopefully, that our mission come true to make Asia smile more.

Akshara Subramanian: That sounds like a very promising mission, Julian and at Vue.ai we’re very excited to see where that story goes. Before we come to the absolute end of the podcast, I do have a question for you. So, what’s the story behind the name Zenyum? Because I thought it might have something to do with being ‘zen’ and then, of course, how I think ‘yum’ represents the taste and good oral health, so I was pretty curious about that.

Julian Artopé: So that’s funny that you ask that because, no, it’s actually we like that, obviously. ‘Zen’ that’s a part of that but that’s not how it came about. Senyum with an ‘s’ means ‘to smile’ in Bahasa, which is the language spoken in Malaysia and Indonesia. And we put a ‘Z’ in front of it to make it specifically ours and a brand that we can own. And we just didn’t want to be, in the beginning, a thousand incarnations of Super Smile, Smile Every Day that you see in the segment where everything just has a smile in it. And but we wanted something that is specific for the region that we are in. But even though it might not mean much for many people, is a brand that we can really own eventually, and that over the long run stands out as something that is fairly unique by itself. And that’s why we choose a name that is non-descriptive for many people in the beginning, but that, in the long run, can really become one of Asia’s largest consumer brands.

Akshara Subramanian: That’s amazing. I don’t know why, I just thought that, for some reason, ‘zen’ had something to do with that whole mindful narrative thing we were talking about. But, you know what I think that the Bahasa meaning also totally works and it stands out. Well, anyway, this was a fantastic episode. Julian, thank you so much for joining me. And we had a great conversation, I think, trying to understand and learn so much about what Zenyum is doing in Asia and really the story of changing people’s habits from a chore to a lifestyle. So I think I learned a lot. And thank you so much for being on the podcast.

Julian Artopé: Thanks so much. I really, really enjoyed it.

Akshara Subramanian: For more episodes on what’s shaking the world of retail, log in to The Retail Podcast by Vue.ai for your weekly dose. Until then, see you, bye!

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