German-born techpreneur Julian Artopé has grown Zenyum from a promising dental start-up in Singapore into a leader in cosmetic dentistry products and services — a market category the company labels as “smile cosmetics”.

Identifying a mouthful of challenges in traditional teeth straightening treatments, he decided to build a business that would make high-quality clear braces accessible for everyone. Now in nine Asian markets, the brand boasts several product lines including 3D-printed invisible braces, toothpaste, electric toothbrush, floss, mouthwash and a mobile app.

What’s your overall goal with Zenyum?

We are aiming to build one of Asia’s largest consumer brands. Southeast Asia is the fastest-growing market for the dental category. While in the past most dental treatment was only done restoratively or to alleviate pain, Asia’s fast-growing consumer class is becoming more aware of their smile and is looking for cosmetic options. To build a large company in Asia, you can’t be in Singapore alone. Our operations span locally, and we are active in nine markets with local entities.

How did you come up with the brand name Zenyum?

The word “senyum” means “smile” in Bahasa, the language of Malaysia and Indonesia. We added the “Z” to make the brand younger, and stand out.

How is Zenyum positioned to focus on Southeast Asia?

The cosmetics dentistry market here in the region is $23 billion. Dentistry as a category is still nascent in Southeast Asia. Many millennials are going to the dentist for the first time because of our product. In the past six months, we’ve seen a 70% growth rate for Zenyum. With our full product line, we have synergy across the oral care market. Currently, our top revenue generator is ZenyumClear — the invisible teeth straighteners.

Describer your average customer.

They’re in the 25-35 age group, predominately female and often at the stage of having disposable income for the first time in their lives. Today's millennials are less materialistic and more focused on their personal brand: They might not care so much about fridges and cars, but more about education, experiences and beauty products which help their personal brand and confidence.

How does technology come into play?

We’ve developed a mobile app to remind you to wear your aligners. With the app, customers can take pictures of their teeth and submit the image to Zenyum or track the wear time of their aligners. We have roughly 80% of our customers using this app on a monthly basis.

What’s the differentiator for Zenyum against competitive brands?

We’re often more affordable than some big US players, and we offer instalment payments to customers. Our product is designed for customers in Southeast Asia, and we focus on more predictable outcomes.

How did you persuade VC firms to invest?

We’re in a competitive market with little technical IP. But we innovated the business model and customer funnel in a way that gave us our moat: execution. We have a tailor-made product with high inherent complexity and that is hard to copy. We also focused on effective customer acquisition and strong partnerships from the start. All of this results in a business that has higher conversion rates and efficiency metrics than many competitors, which attracted investors.

How is your direct-to-consumer marketing strategy working?

Customers send in an image of their teeth via our app to see if they qualify for the treatment. Then, there is a consultation with one of over 500 licensed dentists spread all over Asia. We’ve also launched pop-up shops in Hong Kong and Singapore to introduce our product on the high street, where customers can see and feel Zenyum. This creates “Instagrammable” moments.

What’s the secret to your success?

I’m not the most creative guy or best developer. I’m very focused on process engineering and tight operations, back-solving an end state and making it happen via good execution.

Is the company profitable yet?

Not yet. Profitability is a matter of choice. As a good consumer product company, as long as we can see market potential we will keep growing and launch new products.

How would you define your company culture?

Our values are defined as: speed, grit, candour, curiosity and light-heartedness. We’re ambitious, humble and hard-working, but we also want to enjoy life and do what our customers do: smile more.

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