For those in Singapore with crooked or crowded teeth, a great smile comes with a hefty price tag. Conventional orthodontic treatment can cost more than SGD 8,000, or around USD 5,500.
There is one startup that is changing that. Founded in 2018 by Julian Artopé and Frederik Krass, Singapore-based Zenyum is on a mission to provide dental services and products at affordable prices. The company integrates technologies such as 3D printing into the practice of orthodontics, specializing in aesthetic corrections to front teeth.
Artopé, who is also the company’s CEO, recounts that he had the idea for Zenyum after meeting an orthodontist friend who told him about 3D-printed invisible braces. He was intrigued by the intersection of innovations in teeth straightening and his own experience in the tech sector. “It was such an interesting space. Moreover, no one in Asia was doing anything like it at the time,” he told KrASIA in a recent interview.
By using novel technologies and narrowing down the scope of treatment, the company is able to produce effective results at a much more affordable price—at SGD 2,400, a whopping 70% lower compared to other invisible braces that were available. “We take on cases that have mild to moderate levels of complexity as they tend to be more predictable, which is also the key factor contributing to our low prices,” Artopé said.
Prior to co-founding Zenyum in Singapore, Artopé served on the executive boards of payment platform Skrill, German social network StudiVZ, and Southeast Asia’s biggest online shopping aggregator iPrice. He also built the largest digital classifieds and content network in sub-Saharan Africa, together with the global media player Ringier.
Singapore was the obvious choice
When asked about why he launched Zenyum in the city-state, Artopé explained that Singapore was an obvious choice due to the country’s strict and comprehensive regulations. “Being a Singaporean company gives us a competitive edge when it comes to quality standards.”
With aspirations to expand across Asia, he knew that conquering a skeptical Singaporean market could pave the path to growth in the rest of the region.
In November 2019, Zenyum raised USD 13.6 million in Series A funding from RTP Global, Sequoia India, TNB Aura, and Enterprise Singapore’s investment arm Seeds Capital, among others. It was also part of the inaugural Surge cohort, a rapid scale-up program for early-stage startups in India and Southeast Asia, launched by Sequoia Capital India earlier in 2019.
When Zenyum first launched, the biggest challenge was convincing customers that their product was genuine. “Getting them to believe in the legitimacy, quality, and effectiveness of our product was an uphill task,” Artopé said. “This is where having licensed dentists in all the cities we operate in helped us a great deal.”
Local partnerships open doors
What distinguishes Zenyum is a combination of teamwork with its partner dentists, ensuring that everyone receives personal treatment, as well as a stellar customer success team, which provides step-by-step assistance. Many positive reviews from happy customers burnish the company’s reputation.
Artopé claimed that Singaporeans used to have only two options for straightening their teeth—metal braces or invisible braces that cost upwards of SGD 8,000. “With Zenyum’s technology and affordable pricing, we created a new niche in the orthodontic market.”
Riding on the success of their current line-up, Zenyum is creating a new category of products called “Smile Cosmetics.” “It’s an exciting time to be developing this niche market in Asia today. We plan to launch new products in this category, the first being Zenyum Teeth Whitening,” Artopé added. The company is also looking to grow its operations across Asia by reaching into more cities. According to its website, Zenyum currently operates in Singapore, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Thailand, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Vietnam.
“New competitors keep popping up,” Artopé said. “Some are cheaper than us and some more expensive. Prices keep fluctuating.” DIY solutions, in particular, are being advertised to consumers. “Instead of booking in customers with a qualified dentist, they provide at-home impression kits or unregulated ‘scan shops,’” he pointed out.
There are many things that can go wrong without an in-person dental check-up. For Zenyum, the first priority is customer safety. The company follows all regulations and only partners with licensed dentists who can provide the right supervision and duty of care. Zenyum received its rave reviews for relentlessly building a great initial product—invisible braces—through research, in addition to working closely with local clinics early on.
Artopé thinks that one of the best decisions he made was to establish meaningful and mutually beneficial relationships with local dentists. They helped to bring on more Singapore clinics and convinced dental practitioners in other markets to partner with Zenyum. In turn, the company was able to make solid guarantees about what it offers.
This article is part of KrASIA’s “Startup Stories” series, where the writers of KrASIA speak with founders of tech companies in South and Southeast Asia.