Welcome back to our ‘Startup Spotlight’ series, which features relatively under-the-radar but interesting European tech startups on a weekly basis. This time, we shine a light on UK-based dental appointment-booking startup Toothpick.
Founded in 2013, the startup has now taken over a million bookings across its technologies and generated around £25 million in revenue for participating dentists.
Here's a Q&A with co-founder Jozef Wallis on how Toothpick started, what makes the company different from other medical appointment-booking services and how the entrepreneur balances life/work.
How would you describe Toothpick in a couple of sentences?
Toothpick is an online booking platform for dentist appointments. We strive to make it easier for patients to access up-to-date and relevant information about dentists in their area and book their time slot online or on the phone. At the same time, we act as a trusted growth partner for our dentists, helping them scale their businesses and fill spare capacity.
Where did the idea originally come from?
My co-founder Sandeep , who was a practising dentist at the time, came up with the idea for a digital emergency dental-booking service in central London. After being introduced to me, due to my experience in digital entrepreneurship and media, we quickly came the conclusion that the demand from both dentists and the public was much broader and also an international problem.
Around the world, patients were spending an inordinate amount of time chasing a suitable dentist and appointment time, as well as relevant information on services, by calling around their area. Only a handful of dental practices had informative websites, and many were not even contactable by phone. Meanwhile, there was spare capacity in many dental practices, and clearly a demand for their services.
We also discovered that many Brits simply don’t see a dentist regularly – for various reasons. Considering the longer-term health implications for them, and for future generations who adopt the same behaviour, we realised there was scope for us to have real impact in a variety of ways – turning the whole dental experience into something more approachable, accessible and modern. We now invest a lot into not only technology, but also content and educational resources in new media formats.
How did you meet your co-founder? What were you each doing before starting the company?
I was introduced to Senghera through serial entrepreneur and now Toothpick investor Satish Jayakumar. By that time, I had accumulated more than 15 years of experience in startups and media, while Senghera could bring substantial dental domain knowledge to the table.
He spent many years working as a dentist in a number of capacities (NHS, private, emergency) and had built successful practices from scratch, so was well-placed to navigate and understand the sector. Meanwhile I had online media and digital technology experience from advertising, geo-targeting and weather, and had built teams across international jurisdictions. Our competencies matched well and we had an interesting problem to solve together.
What makes Toothpick different from other healthcare appointment-booking platforms? (Zesty, DocPlanner, etc) The main difference is that we’re sector-specific and have not branched out into other medical specialisms. The reason we choose to start with dentistry is that we understand the unique characteristics of this industry. This is true on the dentist-side with specialist diary management considerations and preferences. The same can be said for the consumer and patient-side, especially in the UK, which is characterised by a poorly understood split between NHS and private service provision and has a whole host of complexities.
We have more live dentists than many of the umbrella bookings platforms have total providers, and coupled with the fact that we still only have a small proportion of the dental market we believe there is plenty of room to expand within the sector in the UK and around the world. That said, we are not ruling out applying the deep expertise we’re accumulating to other verticals in the future.
Where is the service currently available?
We manage dental booking platforms in the UK, Holland, New Zealand and Australia. We tend to seed a market with other proprietary technologies first, to build up enough relationships before launching the consumer-facing www.toothpick.com. The full service is as yet only available in the UK but this month we’re proud to be announcing a new large partnership that will help take us into new markets.
How much funding have you raised? Any plans to raise more?
We have had one extended seed round at this stage, certainly overshadowed by the funding received by most of our counterparts in the UK and globally. We’re proud of what we have achieved to date but will be readying ourselves for our next fundraising that will allow us to bolster our current offering and achieve real traction in key markets.
As an entrepreneur, what does work/life balance mean to you? Is it something you strive towards?
I have a young family with two girls under three, so it’s an especially taxing at times. Not oblivious to the fact that we work in the area that coined the phrase “startup widow” when it was discovered how much time most founders invest into their businesses.
Balance can be a hard thing to find at times – but I think some of us are just programmed like this and I wonder what I would do if I didn’t build businesses. It’s certainly not the best fit for everyone, but if you’re going to do it, get organised and surround yourself with good people and good advice for both sides of the coin. Lastly – enjoy it! It’s important to make a great environment for you and your team, nothing is a guarantee in this industry and with the sacrifices you make on your own time. It’s imperative that you enjoy the time you spend on the business.
How big is the Toothpick team atm? Where does the company have offices?
We are currently 13 happy Toothpickers based in various locations. HQ is still TechHub in Google Campus.
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The interview has been edited and condensed.