Interview with Pearl Ophir Tanz, Founder & CEO and Kyle Stanley, CCO.
There are no limits to how Artificial Intelligence can have a positive impact on the world, and the dental industry is about to learn that first-hand. The aptly named Pearl, led by Ophir Tanz, Founder & CEO and Kyle Stanley, Chief Clinical Officer, is changing the way that dentists diagnose and treat patients. Thanks to Pearl, every dentist in the world will one day have AI technology double-checking their work and making sure patients get the best care possible.
In this edition of the Silicon Valley Momentum Podcast, Roland Siebelink spoke with Ophir and Kyle. They discuss Pearl’s lofty goals to forever change dentistry for the better and the unique startup journey Ophir and Kyle have taken with Pearl:
Roland Siebelink: Hello and welcome to the Silicon Valley Momentum Podcast. My name is Roland Siebelink and I'm a scaleup ally for tech founders. So excited today to have with me Ophir Tanz and Kyle Stanley, respectively, the CEO and CCO of Pearl. Hello, guys. Thank you for joining the Silicon Valley Momentum Podcast.
Ophir Tanz: Hey, great to be here. Thanks for having us.
Roland Siebelink: Absolutely. The people looking into the startups that we invite for this podcast were so excited about having Pearl on the podcast. So Ophir, can you explain just your elevator pitch, what does Pearl do and how are you making a big difference in the world?
Ophir Tanz: Yeah, absolutely. So, we solve the problem of inconsistency in both diagnosis and treatment in dentistry by leveraging artificial intelligence. And specifically, we apply a form of artificial intelligence called “computer vision,” which teaches computers to see in much the same way that humans do to dental imagery to help ensure fast and accurate diagnoses. And ultimately, this increases the standard of care across the board, particularly for patients, which is our ultimate goal.
Roland Siebelink: Okay. But it sounds like your direct customers would be dental practitioners, dentists, dental practices?
Ophir Tanz: Yeah. We really service every major constituent in the dental category. So, if you go down the value chain, you have dental practices. And also the, you know, hardware that they're using. So x-ray sensors that they're using in their practices. But our services also exist for dental laboratories, for insurance carriers, and really anybody who's operating within the space.
Roland Siebelink: Got it. Got it. So really envisioning the whole ecosystem. I love it. And, Kyle, as a chief clinical officer, you must know everything there is to know about dental practices and that whole ecosystem. Can you, for the listeners who may not be that familiar with dental practices other than fearing going there, can you explain a little bit? What are the typical problems that dental practitioners run into? The painful problems that Pearl is trying to solve?
Kyle Stanley: Yeah, that's a good question. And you kind of brought it up a little bit, which is fear. I think one thing that Ophir already spoke to is the inconsistency. So you may go to my practice and I may tell you, you have two cavities. You may go to another practice and she may tell you, you have five cavities. And you may go to another practice and they tell you have 10 cavities. And all the dentists may think they're right. And for a patient, that's very difficult to have that inconsistency. Inconsistency in training, inconsistency diagnosis, treatment. So having something that is consistent and creates a standard of care is great for the patient. From the dentist side, the business side, you can have data-driven decisions. And that I think is something that my profession has never had. We've always looked at things and said, "Okay, you know, what kind of marketing should we do?" Well, how many patients do we have that have bone loss? You know, ask Sally up front and see what she thinks. Now we can go through and really have numbers on this, based on the radiographs and based on the imagery to allow dental practitioners or we serve a constituent called DSOs, dental service organizations, those are like big groups of dental offices. We can allow them to make really important business decisions based on facts and not on gut feelings anymore.
Roland Siebelink: Okay. So it's part of the, you know, business professionalization trend that we see in many professional services in similar areas. That it's not just about being a good technician anymore, if you will, or a good practitioner, but also that you become more of a professional business person in your practice.
Kyle Stanley: Yeah, exactly. So much in healthcare has gone to customer service as well. And so this allows the practitioners or the business people within those dental service organizations, or even universities, to make decisions on buying, on hiring, on firing, on patient experience, to ultimately have better care.
Roland Siebelink: That's awesome. What do we feel in terms of your go-to-market? Is this a play where you're bringing in a new software for something that people were doing only manually before? Or is it really about replacing some of the systems that they've already invested in, in the past? How do you see that?
Ophir Tanz: Yeah, it's a good question. So, our go-to-market strategy, you know, varies per constituent. But generally, across the board, we ask ourselves one question, which is: "How do we deploy this technology with the least amount of friction," right? Dentists aren't technologists, and neither is typically anybody else in the office. And the idea is they have an existing workflow. They've invested heavily in that workflow. And we want to be able to embed ourselves into that workflow so that when they go to work the next morning, sort of everything looks the same and feels the same. But suddenly, it's enriched with AI-driven detections and AI-driven insights. And that makes them more effective, even more profitable, and sort of again, able to increase the standard of care. So it sort of varies, again, depending on, because we have this application sort of exists across a variety of constituents. So whether you're talking about carriers or individual practices, there's sort of a different approach. But ultimately, the idea is to embed ourselves into the existing workflow as natively and naturally as possible.
Roland Siebelink: Okay. And is the vision then to become like the backbone of that whole ecosystem in a way for all dentistry?
Ophir Tanz: Effectively, we believe the technology that we're working on will be in every dental office in the world in the relative near term. And also be omnipresent throughout the entirety of the dental chain. So, our perspective is that, you know, whether it's Pearl or not, it's only a matter of time until that happens because the benefits that come from infusing this technology into a workflow are so dramatic. And are so scalable that it would be crazy not to do it. And that technology didn't exist really 10 years ago in the form in which it does now. And now it does exist. And we really think we've found that moment where, you know, the market is really primed and ready and excited, and increasingly educated about this capability. And the technology is really ready to deliver the value that it needs to deliver in order to become part of the standard of care.
Roland Siebelink: Yeah. Awesome. And going back to Kyle, one thing I often hear from founders is, you know, that they may feel quite ahead of their typical customer in terms of seeing what's possible. The customer may sometimes come across as a little bit conservative. You know, you have sometimes if you early adopters and then others who might want to wait a little bit to adopt a new tool technology. How does that play in the dental space in your experience?
Kyle Stanley: Yeah, that's an interesting question. With dentists, we are creatures of habit. Like many people, you know, we don't like to change. However, I think what's good about the business side of dentistry, and going back to the DSOs and even the insurance carriers and also these large laboratories that we work with. Like Ophir said, it's not a mom and pop dentist, you know, him or her running a business. You have private-equity backed. You have really professional business people running these entities. And so they get it because they understand what's possible with this. And then that ends up flowing down. And similar to what Ophir said, if the larger corporations are making these decisions and then it just shows up into the dentist workflow, it becomes much easier for them to adopt it and see the value of it.
Roland Siebelink: How big is this business really, Ophir? I saw you guys raised Series A last year, so VCs must be quite excited to be funding this, right?
Ophir Tanz: Yeah. So we actually spun out of a different company that I had founded back in 2008 called GumGum. That company is also focused on the application of computer vision, although outside of medicine and more for marketing and sports analytics. And grew that company to, you know, several hundred million dollars in revenue and hundreds of employees. Really, you know, we're focused on the same fundamentally sort of core technology there as well. And then last year, we made the decision to spin the entity out. I made the decision to step down as CEO of GumGum and come along with Pearl because I was so deeply excited about what I thought we'd be able to accomplish here. We raised a Series A round of financing for $11 million from Craft Ventures. And that was led by David Sacks, who obviously very well known in Silicon Valley. Investor in, you know, Facebook and Uber, SpaceX and AirBNB, and one of the founders of PayPal and CEO of Zenefits. And I've known her for a long time. I'm a huge fan of him and his firm. And, officially again, spun out in April of 2019.
Roland Siebelink: So can we talk a little bit about your go-to-market? You mentioned the technology was kind of ready when you launched. And then, you know, many founders will say, "Okay, I know my target group." But somehow, it's not that obvious. Like, how should I reach them? How should I go to actually convincing people, making them aware of my products? What have been your learnings in that space to the degree that you can share, of course.
Ophir Tanz: Yeah. It's been really interesting. It's actually largely gone according to plan. So, fundamentally to release the patient-facing capability that we call second opinion, that requires FDA approval, right? And that is a lengthy and very involved process. So we're in the very final stages of receiving our FDA approval. At which point, we're able to launch Second Opinion and distribute it across the existing infrastructure stack. And we already have the vast majority of those deals in place with the large OEMs and manufacturers to do that distribution. But ahead of that, there are a variety of applications that don't require that level of regulatory approval. Three in particular. One is in the laboratory space for helping automate prostitutes for dental laboratories. The other is what we call “practice intelligence,” which provides sort of deep business analytics and insights to DSOs and also individual offices. And the third is a variety of insurance-carrier oriented services, where you're able to deploy this technology to identify fraud, waste, and abuse, and also to help automate the claims review processes. So we're really engaged with all of those different use cases and seeing meaningful traction across all three.
Roland Siebelink: That's awesome. What many founders ask me is, you know, should I go broad and try to attack multiple parts of my ecosystem? Or should I really perfect this one approach for one part of the ecosystem first before I branch out? So, obviously, you've taken a slightly broader approach here. Can you lead us through your thinking on this? Why was this a good approach and how big is the team that needs to support all of that in parallel?
Ophir Tanz: It's a great question. And also, I would say a fair criticism. I'm a fundamental believer in focus and focus being critical. In our case, we have a market where you have a fundamental capability, which is second opinion capability. And different forms of that capability, or in other words, different software built on top of that capability, enables you to service a variety of different constituents in market. So you really have this one really hard technology that you invested heavily in building, and you're able to express that value of that technology with sort of software layers on top of it. And that's one reason why I think this is kind of unique. It's because that hard technology is the same across the board for the most part. And then you're kind of building software on top of it. And the other thing is, you know, it's our perspective that the adoption here is going to happen quickly and we want to own the market.
Roland Siebelink: What does that result in then in terms of your team? Are you set up to serve each of these use cases separately? Or is it more of a matter of putting people from project to project? What does it look like in practice?
Ophir Tanz: I would say that Pearl is very unique relative to GumGum. For example, where we came from because at GumGum, we were a very sales-oriented company. We had offices in 21 countries and hundreds of sellers that were sort of selling the offerings in market. And those were the dynamics of that market and how you needed to operate in order to be successful and scale. And I would say that Pearl is very different in that we're not focused on going after sort of lots of customers in market. We're much more focused on signing very large deals with very large publishers and achieving distribution that way. So because of that dynamic, we actually don't need to have a very large team. And definitely not a very large sales effort because we're able to capture so much of the market with a relatively small sort of business development team that is highly skilled. And I think that dynamic really makes it so that we're able to sort of have the strategy that we have in place because there's not a lot of this sort of, you know, fluff around the effort that is required to make it go. You're able to sort of sign for deals and capture an entire market category. I sort of refer to it as whale hunting. And that's what this is. That's this business. The dynamics here. And I think that they're very favorable. We want to invest heavily in attracting the best scientists in the world to continue to solve really hard imaging problems. That's the core of what we do. And I think that we're able to do that at Pearl because we don't need to invest as heavily in some massive worldwide sales effort.
Roland Siebelink: That's awesome. So, looking forward a little bit, you've already said this is a product that definitely is in kind of land-grab mode, trying to occupy the markets in different parts of the ecosystem. And it is a big market, especially if we look at it globally. So other than the FDA approval that you're waiting for, what are some key milestones that you're looking to achieve in the next year or so, Ophir? And is there something that any of our listeners could help with or it could contribute to?
Ophir Tanz: Yeah. Great question. So, look again, our goal is to deploy this technology in every dental office in the world. We think that is a lofty goal, but it's also a very achievable one. And one that will improve lives. So, we're really focused, again, across all the constituents through the work and with second opinion on just deployments and partnerships. So there's a ton of that going on. There's also, still relatively early days, so we're getting a lot of feedback on tweaks and modifications. But we are, you know, a revenue generating entity in market that is at the very early stages, I would say, of scaling this whole thing out across the board. I would say that there probably aren't ways in which the general listener could be that helpful. Just because what we do is very specialized B2B and sort of computer-vision-oriented stuff. I will also mention, though, that we recently led the launch of an initiative called the Dental AI council. Find it at dentalaicouncil.org. And the idea there is an independent sort of entity focused on education and research. And the leadership of that group is many of the biggest thinkers and sort of thought leaders in the dental category across all the major constituents. Over the coming months and years, we're going to be putting out lots of, I think, leading research as it relates to this question of consistency, efficacy of AI, and efficacy, with AI being applied to a variety of different use cases. So there's a huge amount of ground to cover there. Also, lots of interviews and sort of editorials and tons of content that's going to be coming out of there. So if folks are interested in that, I would encourage them to sign up to the newsletter.
Roland Siebelink: Okay. And other than that, it sounds like we all, as patients, need to start asking our dentists what AI solutions they're using to evaluate the quality of our dental work, right?
Ophir Tanz: Yes, definitely. Right.
Roland Siebelink: That's amazing. Okay. So, we already mentioned you raised a great Series A last year. Is that a path you are looking to stay on to raise more and more venture rounds? The typical series B C D progression? Or is it something where at some point in time you just want to be profitable and stand on your own feet, so to speak?
Ophir Tanz: Yeah. I never want to raise more money. It's never my goal. We actually grew GumGum to over a hundred million in revenue off of about $11 million as well. So, we have a track record there with that specific amount of money. So, I would love for this to be our last round of funding, obviously. I always feel that way. But I do believe that's it's possible here. With enough growth, that might be the case. But ultimately, you know, we are a venture backed entity. We have lofty goals. We want to see this technology distributed everywhere. And if more money from, you know, venture capitalists is the way to achieve that goal, then that's what we'll do.
Roland Siebelink: Okay, awesome. And, you know, since we have many founders listening to this show as well that are, you know, maybe earlier in their stage and certainly haven't got the benefit of a nice experience such as GumGum yet, what would be some points of advice, Ophir, that you would share with founders earlier in their startup journey? The key points for them to focus on to be successful?
Ophir Tanz: Yeah, I mean, there's obviously a lot that comes to mind. One thing I would say is to really commit yourself to being a learner. So, I haven't had many traditional jobs in my life. But I've started many companies. Every company I've started, I basically know nothing about that world or that industry by definition. So, you know, previously I had to learn a lot about, you know, how does marketing and sports analytics and the online sort of marketing ecosystem work. Obviously, at Pearl it's about medicine and dentistry and pathologies and a whole new world there. But I think that's the situation that a lot of entrepreneurs find themselves in because we have ideas that we want to apply to categories that we don't necessarily have deep knowledge in. But I think if you apply yourself; everyone at Pearl now is able to read radiographs, I would say, with significant proficiency. And we've all, you know, at least the folks on the team that are not clinicians the way that Kyle is, have really learned about the dynamics of the industry and the dynamics of dentistry in a way that makes us very functional and very capable team as it relates to applying this technology in a very native way. So, if you're not a learner, then you can't do it. So not only for me, but also for the people I hire, I want to make sure that they're folks that are curious and could learn quickly. And also, take, you know, a lot of complicated sort of concepts and tasks and really internalize them. The other thing I would say, which I just see a lack of, you know, doing a fair amount of advising and just being involved in the ecosystem, is that you can have very big lofty goals that are very ambitious, and that's great. But you still need to make very practical decisions every single day. And you need to be honest about where you are and what you are and what is going to enable you to live to fight another day to achieve those ambitious goals. So I think practicality and honesty just with yourself as a founder is very important. It drives me kind of crazy when I see founders drinking their own Kool-Aid. It just feels like they have the wrong idea. They're totally unconvincable, right? They just believe that they are right or not willing to listen to any other perspectives. And then you see them fail. I've seen this many, many times. And it's unfortunate. And I don't know how to get somebody out of that mode exactly. Other than to plead with them to just be open-minded.
Roland Siebelink: It's that rare combination of both being able to have the Kool-Aid to pitch your startup in an efficient way, but also, you know, mix some truth serum through it every now and then, right?
Ophir Tanz: I've always been very focused on the money that we have in the bank, understanding that that is a lifeline to be able to sort of identify product-market fit and live to fight another day. And some magical fairy isn't going to fly in the 11th hour and put more money in your bank account. You're either going to be in a place where you've earned the opportunity to raise more. Or you're generating enough revenue to continue to operate and grow. So I think that being heavily cognizant of your financial status, that in every moment and your runway and leaving yourself plenty of room to re-capitalize if you need to is also very important.
Roland Siebelink: Founders, be down to earth enough to keep your eyes on the bank accounts and on the real results achieved. And, Kyle, as the kind of clinician in the room, which I kind of translate as the expert co-founder, many people find themselves in that position, right? Whether they're coming from a software engineering background or a dentistry background or of whatever other expertise may be the case. That's not always an easy role, right? What would you say are some of your learnings and some advice you might apply to other people in that same role that you have, like the expert co-founder?
Kyle Stanley: Well, I've definitely learned a lot from Ophir and his, you know, vast experience. I, of course, have experience in the clinical side, which like he said, I've trained him on. He has experience on the founder side and the business side that every day I'm learning from him. But I think the biggest thing is to be able to adapt. You know, with traditional dental business, you kind of do the same thing every day, right? Intra-operatively, when you're working on a patient, dentists are very good at, "Oh, something broke. Now I need to make a new decision. Now I need to change." So I think inherently I had that ability to think on my feet. But a startup is that every day. Today, we're doing this and tomorrow we're not doing that. Now we're doing something else. Or, you know, we have a new opportunity that we need to go for and we need to put the other one on the back burner for a week or two or a month. So being able to adapt, I think is one of the biggest things that I've learned through Pearl that I would give as let's say the expert founder.
Roland Siebelink: Expert founder advice. That's awesome. Thank you so much. So, if people want to learn more about Pearl, where should they go and what should they download?
Ophir Tanz: Yeah, so they should go to hellopearl.com. That's our URL. We're also on all of the relevant social media platforms. You can also find us on LinkedIn. I mentioned the dental AI council, if you're interested in just more general sort of activity and research in the category, we'd invite you to go there. There is nothing to download from the website. If you are interested in working with the company, you could shoot us a note and we'd be happy to chat about it.
Roland Siebelink: Okay. And I'm personally looking forward to the viral YouTube videos with all of the horrible mouths around the world. I'm just kidding here. But, of course, it might make it a little bit consumery. So thank you so much, Ophir Tanz, CEO, and Kyle Stanley, let me get that right. Kyle Stanley, chief clinical officer of Pearl. Thank you so much for joining this podcast. I had a lot of fun and I'm definitely gonna ask my dentist about the AI solutions that he'll be employing on my mouth next time I go there.
Kyle Stanley: Thanks, Roland.
Ophir Tanz: Thank you, Roland. Appreciate it.
Roland Siebelink: Thank you.Roland Siebelink talks all things tech startup and bring you interviews with tech cofounders across the world.