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Startup Grind Article

May 07, 2012

A brief look at our dental tourism and the role Dental Departures takes in this new and growing trend

First Report: Have you ever been to the dentist in unrivaled pain, only to be taken to a new level of Hell when the dentist tells you the cost to repair? Major dental work in the US can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $30,000! The ‘same’ work can be done in other countries for a fraction of the cost, but who knows what service you’ll get? Dental Departures is trying to solve this problem by finding providers, verifying their quality, and bringing them to you.

Dental Departures, a Seattle startup founded by ex-Expedia vet Paul McTaggart and Aaron Stagl, is disrupting the US dental industry in a big way. Last month the bootstrapped company impressively did $500,000 in revenue, up from $300,000 in December.

The need came out of hearing about an acquaintance with a $30,000 dental bill, decided to go to Thailand with his wife for $8,000 and get his work done there. “Dentistry has been around since the Romans and now everyone can afford the type of work the 1% get. In the US dentists work 32 hours a week and make $200,000 a year. In Costa Rica they work the same and make $50k-$70k,” Paul recently told me.

But what about the quality of service? I can’t imagine a worse scenario than going overseas to save money on dental care and something going wrong. That’s the definition of screwed. I lived in Europe for six years between the ages of 7-15 and we never saw a dentist. We also came back to the states for dental and doctor check ups as part of our summer trips. Aaron is well aware of this concern. Dental Departures homepage

“We have clinics fill out questionnaries. If staff have committed any crimes then they’re out. We visit clinics in all the countries. Every single clinic in Mexico and Thailand has been personally visited by a company representative. Our litmus test is “would you send your grandmother or mother here?” We also have better photos and more reviews than our competitors.” Paul adds that “A lot of the products these dentists use are the same as the ones used in the US, only they acquire them at a fraction of the cost that US dentists pay for them.”

They have 360 degree pictures for a lot of their dentist’s offices so you can see exactly where people will be working on your precious teeth. I was impressed at how many of these places looked much nicer than the dentist I go to in Palo Alto.

It’s hard to argue with the cost savings. A $10,000 procedure in the US might be $2k-$3k in Costa Rica. A $30,000 procedure can be as little as $6k-$8k. They have 950 dentists in 25 countries including Hungary, Czech Republic, Costa Rica, and Singapore. A teeth cleaning in these cities can be as little at $20.

So are you ready to try this out? Doesn’t matter because a lot of people are. This bootstrapped startup has managed to build a $6MM run rate after being live for about 12 months. They had 400 appointments in March which was about 20% of the total appointments they have had to date. 40% of their Audience is from the US and another 40% from Australia. They recently raised $100k from friends and family and are trying to raise more. Check out their AngelList profile.

Paul told me, “This is just another evolution of globalization,” and the market agrees. If this small team continues to grow at this pace we could see some massive disruption in the space.

Originally published by Derek Andersen
at Startup Grind