The human mouth has thirty-two teeth—a fact that has not changed much for several thousand years. But in 2016, Ren Menon, founder and CEO of OrthoFX, found a way to tap into the rapid tech evolution to offer new methods for beautifying even the oldest truths of teeth. His systems for dental alignment focus on improving smiles with less pain, easier access, and more support.
“I’m a logical thinker,” Menon says. “I like to break down issues to create actionability and then deliver on an action plan. You need the idea and the execution.”
Menon’s journey through the industry started at Invisalign. Based on his engineering background, they hired him on as director of R&D and IT at a growth-focused phase in its IPO. “There were many good intentions but no coherent approach,” he says. Doing what he most loves, Menon took a look at the chaos, identified patterns, and reinforced those patterns to create structure. A consistent pattern of product release and adherence to customer need emerged as crucial to success.
Working with metadata analysis, observation, and observation of observations, Menon helped illuminate a core tenet for viability: “Doctors just wanted the product to work,” he says. While it sounds basic to prioritize efficacy in a predictable time frame, Menon knows how easy it is to get caught up in other aspects of development and allow them to take precedence if no clear plan exists.
In 2008, after several years with the company, Menon finished an MBA and a certificate in marketing and strategy management. He transitioned to lead the Invisalign professional marketing department until 2012, when he shifted to global head of product and innovation.
Years of working in several areas of the alignment industry illuminated opportunities to provide better experiences for consumers. Building from lessons learned about meeting promises, Menon made a friendly break with Invisalign and founded OrthoFX. He positioned his new company to ride with the waves of tech development. “Experience is as important as function,” he says. While Menon and his team develop new materials and software to improve the aligners, a major focus at OrthoFX is redesigning patient experience. “It is a process that requires support mechanisms,” he says.
OrthoFX offers a standardized approach to the treatment experience. This means they work with hand-picked doctors that are not only clinically qualified but also have excellent bedside demeanor. “We have a fourteen-point checklist to onboard dentists,” Menon says. Patients can connect with doctors online, cutting down on the expense and challenge of face-to-face appointments.
OrthoFX’s value comes not only from streamlined doctor-patient communication but also from transparency in pricing. The CEO says that his company’s product currently runs at half the price of Invisalign due to the technology it uses as well as the fact that he believes in reasonable margin-taking, and has set his gross margin targets far lower than Invisalign’s 75 percent. Also, while doctors are integral to the OrthoFX experience, the company controls pricing to the patient, not the doctor, ensuring a comparable and competitive product for consumers.
“I’m a logical thinker. I like to break down issues to create actionability and then deliver on an action plan.”
Down the road, Menon sees his retainer liners as a platform not only for teeth straightening but also for wellness monitoring. Because the retainers are in constant contact with saliva, they can collect period-in-time data and provide biomarkers for health and wellness. For example, Menon says, they could monitor saliva for pH and help correct halitosis.
Along with big visions for future implementations, Menon uses his humility and systematic thinking to tackle a basic focus of new businesses: building awareness and trust. He knows that the market is huge and has space for multiple providers. Thus, he looks to help people understand why teeth straightening might be a priority in general.
And his efforts are paying off. In its first four months on the market, OrthoFX had a patient base of around one thousand people and a doctor panel of 170 spread over most major cities in the US. And this is just the beginning. Nearly seven hundred doctors sit on the waiting list and OrthoFX intends to service 750 locations in 2020. “There are 200,000 dentists in the US. We want to sell to 10 percent—the best 10 percent,” Menon says.
They are not limiting themselves to the US. With eighteen full-time staff in the US and a global base of a hundred, including overseas software development, OrthoFX is exploring the European market. Meanwhile, customer service support and manufacturing are scaling up in the US.
Menon can attest to the quality of OrthoFX’s product, considering himself not just the OrthoFX CEO, but also an OrthoFX research subject. Although “blessed with pretty good teeth,” Menon says, he does have “a bit of crowding on his lower jaw.” After OrthoFX’s proprietary no-pain aligner material went to human trial, he put his mouth where his money is and began wearing a retainer. So far, he reports, the results are good.
A Love for Two Kinds of Canines
Along with supportive, pain-free teeth alignment, Ren Menon has another passion: his “little dogs.”
Menon did not grow up with pets. Several years ago, he found himself bemusedly in love with a chihuahua, his first of several. Recognizing the difficulty in housing older dogs, Menon has adopted several senior canines.
It is not just the challenges of older dogs that motivates Menon. His wife, a physician at the VA, observes a problem at her practice: veterans sometimes do not seek care, especially mental healthcare, because no one can watch their dogs. With his knack for designing systems, Menon envisions a care center for dogs—a place where return service members can feel comfortable leaving their beloved companions while at appointments or in the hospital. Menon respects and wants to facilitate the “incredible experience of having a creature that offers such unselfish love.”