In just 12 months Smile Virtual (a SaaS company you’ve never heard of founded by a full-time dentist – and without a software developer on staff) scaled from $0 to $450k ARR without spending a dime on ads.
How’d they do it?
Let’s dig in.
What Is Smile Virtual?
Smile Virtual is a SaaS product and online training program that helps dentists hold free “virtual smile consultations” with prospective patients online who are considering having dental work done to improve their smile.
Smile Virtual was founded by Phoenix, AZ based cosmetic dentist Brian Harris at the very end of 2016. Brian tested and used the concept of virtual smile consultations in his own practice for approximately 1.5 years to great success before deciding to scale his system into a software product.
He utilized a dev shop / accelerator called CoPlex (also based in Phoenix – Analysis coming soon) to develop his software and take it to market. CoPlex takes a small piece of equity in the companies they work on and work on a contract basis with 3 milestones of progress. As each milestone is satisfactorily hit, CoPlex receives a payment. Based on interviews, it’s likely that employing CoPlex to develop this software product was an investment of approximately $75,000.
Brian launched Smile Virtual to a beta group of 15 dentists before launching to the public.
Since launching to the public, Brian has scaled to 75 dentists paying approximately $500 per month ($37.5k MRR) in 1 year and 4 weeks.
What Problem Does Smile Virtual Solve?
In his 15 years of cosmetic dentistry, Dr. Brian Harris realized there were massive inefficiencies in the dental consultation process.
A typical dental consultation looks something like this:
A lead would be generated from somewhere and would then need to call into the dental office to schedule an appointment. Then the lead would need to drive across town to actually show up for the appointment, undergo the consultation, and learn about the price for the first time in the dentist’s office.
At this point, most leads would have sticker shock, so they’d go shop around other dentists for additional opinions and prices.
After that (assuming the dentist didn’t lose the lead to a competitor), the lead would have typical financing / logistical questions, would need to get buy in from the spouse / significant other, and would then, finally, pull the trigger…hopefully with the dentist they had the initial consultation with.
Clearly, an inefficient process with a low close rate.
And dentists aren’t necessarily known for their salesmanship or followup tenacity.
Enter the Smile Virtual Process.
Utilizing a Virtual Smile Consultation, a lead simply takes a selfie of their smile and submits it online to the dentist.
The dentist then looks at the smile and responds with a 5 – 10 minute video consultation with their recommended next steps and a general price range of what the prospect should expect.
If the prospect likes what she hears, she then schedules an appointment to stop by the dentist’s office for an in-depth consult, and is typically closed on the spot.
So with a Virtual Smile Consultation, the lead to close process looks more like this:
A significantly better experience for both the prospect and the dentist…and the dentist only needs to meet in person with highly educated, financially qualified leads.
How Does Smile Virtual Make Its Money?
Smile Virtual makes it’s money through an onboarding + SaaS subscription revenue model, with dentists as the customer.
In January 2019, the revenue model was a $3,500 onboarding/set-up + training fee for new dentists and then a $500/month subscription which dentists paid to use the software and for ongoing support and training.
Based on interviews with founder Dr. Harris, the product has been actively revamped and streamlined for two reasons:
- To make it more affordable and allow it to scale to other dentists
- To reduce the amount of support / hand-holding customers require for the product
Since Jan 2019, the onboarding fee has dropped to $997 and the monthly subscription has dropped to $399 per month. This move downmarket is a deliberate move to streamline the product, scale, and reduce the amount of handholding and 1-1 support needed.
As of Jan 2019, Smile Virtual had 75 doctors using the software, indicating a $37.5k MRR + an additional $262k in one-time revenue. Dr. Harris indicated this acquisition of 75 dentists was purely via word of mouth and organic referrals.
Smile Virtual is now running ads to several customer acquisition funnels, which we’ll dive into below.
In terms of additional revenue (and while not public facing) comments made in interviews indicates Dr. Harris likely also upsells dentists into mentorship and mastermind programs, which makes a lot of sense (historically, dentists have been a market that is very receptive to these types of products).
How Does Smile Virtual Acquire New Customers?
Smile Virtual is running three primary customer acquisition channels:
- Podcast / PR Interviews -> Website
- Ads -> Evergreen Webinar
- Ads -> Content + eBook -> Evergreen Webinar
Let’s dive into each one.
Smile Virtual Podcast / PR Interviews -> Website Acquisition
Dr. Brian Harris is very much on the podcast and speaking circuit, which for his target market of dentists + the acquisition model of his SaaS product is almost a perfect match.
Dr. Harris will appear on podcasts targeted towards dentists looking to scale their practice talking about the success he’s had with virtual smiles and (as a perfect segway), the success of his Smile Virtual software company.
Curious dentists listening to this podcast will then visit smilevirtualconsult.com.
What’s interesting here is that this page is targeted at consumers. Which is a smart long-term, network-effects play which we’ll break down in the Areas of Opportunity section below.
You’ll notice the “I’m A Doctor” CTA in the menu. Clicking it takes you to a (relatively poor and non-descriptive) landing page where dentists can request a demo.
This seems like a missed opportunity to provide more information and pre-qualify dentists as to what, exactly, the Smile Virtual system is.
The only upside to a “blind” opt-in like this is if the Smile Virtual followup / sales system is so dialed they are optimizing for leads and are very confident in their ability to take a dentist from zero awareness to paying customer in a short period of time. Given that I don’t believe they have a full-time sales staff at all, I don’t believe this is the case.
That said, this form certainly drives leads for them, and given that most dentists would likely have never heard about this website if not for listening to a podcast interview or speech, the market awareness of these leads is most likely higher than purely cold traffic.
Smile Virtual Ads ->Evergreen Webinar Acquisition
This is where it gets interesting.
Dr. Brian Harris is running FB Ads to an evergreen webinar (hosted in EverWebinar) as what appears to be the primary conversion mechanism to converting dentists into customers.
He’s taking a proven internet-marketing acquisition channel and deploying it into an industry that is mostly isolated from this “internet marketing” bubble many of us are in. I have a hunch it’s crushing.
Here’s how it works:
Step 1: Prospect Sees An Ad Driving to A Webinar Registration
Based on my research, he has two ad variants that are driving straight to a webinar registration landing page (and what appears to be two different webinars…or at least two different webinar hooks).
Want access to ALL of Smile Virtual’s ads + the evergreen webinar + a detailed video analysis by Jordan of each step of their funnel? Join The Membership today for instant access.
Clicking on an ad takes the prospect to a landing page for a webinar that looks like this:
(Get access to the full landing page + breakdown by joining The Membership)
He’s using ClickFunnels for this landing page and EverWebinar for the webinar, which means (yes) the webinar is pre-recorded.
This is an interesting play and something I don’t typically see done when driving paid traffic to a webinar.
He’s making his prospects wait until Thursday to attend one of his webinars…which means prospects may have to wait up to 7 days after clicking.
Now on the one hand, this makes sense when you assume his prospects are dentists. They typically have busy schedules and likely need a couple day’s heads up to ensure they have an empty time available in their calendar to watch the webinar.
By running the webinars on a single day only, it also raises the perceived value / exclusivity of the webinar.
In practice, however, paid traffic is incredibly fickle. If you don’t snag your prospects’ attention now after clicking on your ad…you often lose them forever (which is the equivalent of lighting money on fire).
I’d be curious what his webinar registrant show-up rate looks like using this registration model.
The webinar itself follows a fairly standard Problem, Agitate, Solution formula. It’s hosted by Dr. Brian Harris himself in a very conversational way, which speaks directly to the market he’s targeting. The fact that Dr. Harris is himself a full-time dentist lends massive credibility to the content of the webinar.
At the end of the webinar there is a “registrant exclusive” offer to purchase the Smile Virtual program and receive a $100 per month discount off the list price of the software.
I thought the webinar pitch itself was well done. It was not over the top or hypey, there was no ridiculously false claims of scarcity for no logical reason. It was an offer, plain and simple, with a compelling reason to take action now.
The order form is hosted in Thrivecart and follows standard internet marketing best practices here. Dr. Harris or the person he has running his marketing has been doing their homework.
What I found interesting was the order bump for $37. This market (dentists) combined with the price point of this product ($997+ $399/month) could absolutely justify a higher-priced order bump. I’d recommend $97 for the exact same bonus. A $37 order bump doesn’t really move the needle from an AOV (average order value) perspective, and a $37 price point in comparison to a $997 offer feels cheap and out of place. If it’s only $40…why not just include it in the offer package?
Smile Virtual Ads -> Content Lead Magnet
Smile Virtual is also running ads to a standard Lead Magnet funnel. Here’s how it works:
Step 1: Prospects See an Ad Smiliar To This
The ad takes prospects to a “quasi-blog” landing page that looks like this:
At the bottom of the page is a CTA to download an ebook, with a button leading to a squeeze page for that eBook.
On that Thank-You page of the eBook, there is a second CTA to register for the High Dollar Cases evergreen webinar (very smart).
Want access to ALL of Smile Virtual’s ads + landing pages + a detailed video analysis by Jordan of each step of their funnel? Join The Membership today for instant access to this + dozens more Weekly Analysis profiles.
This is a smart funnel (targeting the dentists who would rather consume readable content on their own time vs commit to sitting through a 90 minute presentation), but there’s two problems with it:
- The eBook doesn’t send via email
- There’s no email followup to drive prospects who claim the ebook to register for the webinar. This is a massive missed opportunity.
Smile Virtual’s “X Factor”
A company’s “X Factor” (as defined in the great business book – more like a textbook, really – Scaling Up by Verne Harnish) is defined as a 10 – 100x competitive advantage. In this case, I believe it is very clear – the fact that the founder and personality behind Smile Virtual is a practicing dentist.
Dentists by default are going to trust one of their own, who is in the trenches working in and growing his practice day in and day out. This makes it very difficult for a non-dentist founded competitor to come in and introduce a similar product and compete on anything other than price.
What Smile Virtual Is Doing Well
Smile Virtual’s webinar funnels appear to be set up and running very well.
The webinar funnels, from my research, are very strong. The hooks are compelling and Dr. Harris is an engaging and authentic speaker.
The emails leading up to the webinar provided engaging content and compelling reasons to attend the webinar “live.”
Dr. Harris’ podcast and content play is also very well done. He has a perfect hook to get booked on dentist-facing podcasts and stages, and a great story to get people to buy into the concept of virtual consultations, at which point they are naturally going to visit the Smile Virtual website to learn more.
Taking a play out of Drift’s playbook, the #1 way to scale a startup is to create and name an entirely new category of products or an entirely new industry. Drift did this with “conversational marketing,” and Smile Virtual is doing this with “virtual smile consultations”
After ads, Smile Virtual owns almost every search result above the fold for “virtual smile consultations.”
Where Smile Virtual Could Improve
I see two main areas of opportunity in the Smile Virtual webinar funnel:
- Changing the evergreen webinar to happen 1x per day (or every other day), as opposed to only happening 1 day per week. While I understand the intent behind only having the evergreen webinar going “live” one day per week…in reality driving paid traffic to a webinar that may not happen for a full week is almost certainly a losing proposition. Based on past experience targeting dentists with ads, dentist leads are not cheap…and the show rate on a webinar happening up to 6 days in the future is going to be very expensive.
- Increasing the duration and volume of email followup post-webinar. Currently, Smile Virtual is only sending followup emails for two days after the “live” webinar, with multiple CTAs in each email (to watch the replay AND watch testimonials AND buy).
Overall, the emails are confusing, aren’t clear on the desired next step, and could use a copywriting overhaul. The subject lines look like the post-webinar subject lines of every other webinar in existence (though in fairness, the dental market is likely less saturated with webinar emails than the typical “internet marketer” demographic).
I’d be very curious to see what the clickthrough and conversion rates of those followup emails look like.
My recommendation would be an overhaul of the email followup, and at least 1 email per day for the next two weeks. Once the offer urgency expires, it would be very easy to send a daily case study email of a successful dentist who has used virtual smile consultations in her practice.
Lead Magnet Funnel
I’m a fan of Smile Virtual’s use of the Lead Magnet funnel in theory, especially given that dentists are short on time, and would likely rather have a piece of content they can read on their own time vs sitting through a 90 minute presentation.
That said, the current structure of the Lead Magnet funnel is to drive traffic to a quasi-blog post with a soft CTA at the bottom of the post to opt-in for an eBook.
This is not ideal from a CRO (conversion rate optimization) perspective, and to be frank, not much benefit from a branding perspective judging the quality of the quasi blog post articles being published. My recommendation here would be to utilize a conversion optimized landing page with the sole CTA and objective of downloading the eBook in question.
Of course, they’ll need to ensure the eBook actually is sent when someone opts in for it, which is another area for improvement. In my testing, I wasn’t actually able to receive the eBook when I opted in for it under multiple addresses, so it seems that something is broken here (likely a broken integration between Infusionsoft and Clickfunnels, which seems to be happening frequently).
Opportunities for Smile Virtual
Creating A Network Effect
The most exciting long-term opportunity for Smile Virtual that I see is in the (still very new) consumer-facing website.
If the Smile Virtual site is able to create a go-to platform for consumers to visit to receive virtual smile consultations, this will create a powerful network effect where Smile Virtual will own the consumer distribution and be able to match up consumers to a dentist near them that fits their needs and geography. Obviously building two sided marketplaces is a challenge, but given the current ownership of the “virtual smile consultation” mindshare, this seems like a realistic goal.
Doubling Down on Case Studies
Another massive opportunity in front of Smile Virtual, given it’s offer and market, is to rely more heavily on case studies. Growth-minded dentists are very receptive and curious about “what’s working now” for other dentists.
Instead of utilizing what is likely to be a semi-generic lead magnet funnel, take a page out of Klientboost’s playbook and utilize detailed, polished case studies diving into specific dentists using Smile Virtual and the results they’ve seen. You can put a high-level summary of the results and place the detailed case study behind a lead capture form, accomplishing the same lead-gen goals as the lead magnet and likely moving the prospect further down the funnel than a generic lead magnet ever would.
These could be used for retargeting ads, and a daily case study email drip campaign.
For this product, which is essentially inventing a new market, case studies are the best sales asset it has.
Smile Virtual’s Marketing Tech Stack
SmileVirtual is using the following SaaS products in its marketing stack:
WebinarJam / EverWebinar