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SmileDirectClub’s Alex Fenkell Named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30

Five years ago, in 2014, Alex Fenkell and his business partner Jordan Katzman launched SmileDirectClub in Detroit. Inspired by when they were 13 years old and met at summer camp, the Michigan natives set out on a mission to “democratize orthodontics” and put an end to the experiences they had with unpleasant, painful, and uncomfortable metal braces and appliances, epically long visits to the orthodontist’s office, and prohibitively high costs that kept so many people of all ages from getting straighter teeth and the smiles they’ve always wanted. You can also check this guide about Dental Braces from

During those early days, when their business was still called SmileCareClub, Fenkell and Katzman were all but a two-man show. Together, they needed to field calls from customers, ship out each custom-made orthodontic appliance, and, most crucially, work tirelessly to recruit their first licensed orthodontists and dental professionals.

Since then, Fenkell has helped SmileDirectClub build a network of over 240 fully licensed orthodontists and dentists who assess photos of customers’ mouths, medical histories, as well as 3D images of their smiles and other clinical data points that may be needed to create custom treatment plans that typically straighten teeth within six months at a significantly lower cost than traditional options. With early success stories including that of Golden State Warrior Draymond Green, who would go on to become an investor in the company, they were able to build massive momentum, dominating their field and representing 95% of the doctor-directed, doctor-prescribed clear aligner industry.

As the business grew, they moved SmileDirectClub’s headquarters to Nashville, brought on over 6,000 employees, opened over 300 SmileShop locations in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland, and helped over 750,000 people get incredible new smiles. They have also recently partnered with HP, who are helping them print over 20 million mouth molds by the end of 2019 by using 49 of their Jet Fusion 3D printing systems at what is now the largest 3D printing facility in the United States.

Fenkell recently returned to Detroit for the Forbes Under 30 Summit. Sponsored by Quicken Loans, the event featured a food festival, a private music festival, and an extensive, industry-focused conference for young entrepreneurs. Fenkell spoke on a retail panel, along with FIGS founder Heather Hasson and Harry’s co-founder Jeff Raider, telling the story of how he built a hugely successful company in the direct-to-consumer retail space.

Speaking to Forbes in an interview at the conference, he said, “To be back here at the Forbes Under 30 Summit is humbling.” He told the story of how he and co-founder Jordan Katzman remembered their metal braces as a miserable thing, and how they knew that there simply had to be a better way to get a great smile. He then revealed the moment that he and Katzman knew that their unhappiness as teenagers had a model for an incredible, thriving business hidden within. They discovered by looking at Health and Human Services data than in six out of 10 counties in the United States, people simply don’t have access to orthodontists at all – a super massive opportunity to make a vital form of healthcare available at an affordable price to people who have long wanted better teeth.

When asked if he had any tips for aspiring entrepreneurs, Fenkell shared the three core values that he believes are vital to success in business. First, he says that all entrepreneurs need to have vision. They need to know what they’re setting out to accomplish and what intrinsic value they bring to their customers. Next, you need to be able to execute. Fenkell says that one’s ability to execute is “the lifeblood of any successful company,” and circled back to the Thomas Edison quote sitting on his desk, which reads, “Vision without execution is just hallucination.”

Finally, he called back to the importance of passion: “It’s what fuels execution when you’re starting a company from scratch and there are so many opposing forces that it’s easy to give up. Passion is that grip to keep going.”

And even in spite of the challenges they’ve faced, Fenkell and Katzman have proven that they have the passion to keep going as they build and grow SmileDirectClub. They are continuing to bridge the gap between the orthodontic services available in the world and the care that so many people need but can’t yet access, either because they live in one of many underserved areas or because the price point simply was out of reach for so long.

Fenkell’s story, as shared with Forbes, is also proof that the lobbyists they’ve fought back against from organizations like the American Association of Orthodontics are fearful of losing their power as gatekeepers. As SmileDirectClub has clearly demonstrated, lack of access is a major problem – and one that allows a certain group of industry professionals to keep great-looking straight teeth a luxury item that only a select number of people can afford or access, especially with the need for follow-up visits and checkups when working with traditional orthodontists.

The fact that Detroit hosted the summit was especially significant for SmileDirectClub’s founders. Originally from Michigan, Fenkell was honored and grateful to return to the city where he and Katzman launched their first startups, including a car-detailing business and a piece of software that simplified shopping lists. Their time in Detroit ultimately led to the launch SmileDirectClub – and the massive successes, challenges, and growth that followed – and Fenkell was thrilled to have an opportunity to help new entrepreneurs on their own journeys as they build the fast-growing companies of tomorrow as they democratize, disrupt, and revolutionize industries just like they did.

Click here to learn more about SmileDirectClub and co-founder Alex Fenkell.