CLEARCORRECT’S JARRETT PUMPHREY STAYS FLEXIBLE IN AN EVER-CHANGING WORLD
Entrepreneurs aren’t strangers to feeling like small fish in a big pond, or David facing down Goliath. But in the case of the Pumphreys and their company, ClearCorrect, they knew bootstrapping a clear aligner business would involve legal battles, and they were prepared.
As a successful Houston-based dentist, Willis Pumphrey helped numerous patients straighten their teeth with the help of clear aligners. At first, only one company made the aligners: Invisalign. When a competitor came on the market offering a more customized product at a lower price, Pumphrey made the switch. However, it wasn’t long before Invisalign’s legal team drove the competitor out of business. This left Pumphrey with some 300 patients he was currently treating with no access to the aligners they needed. So he felt he only had once choice in the matter: Start making his own clear aligners.
Legal hassles were sure to follow Pumphrey as he started his own clear aligner company, ClearCorrect, in 2006, as Invisalign was obviously set on driving any potential competition out of the marketplace. So Pumphrey wisely hired a Houston-based legal team, offering them an equity stake in ClearCorrect in exchange for their work fending off Invisalign. It was a sharp business move that has worked in Pumphrey’s favor. Where the former Invisalign competitor lasted just over a year, ClearCorrect has now been in business for nearly a decade.
Pumphrey certainly wasn’t the only dentist looking for an alternative to Invisalign. In ClearCorrect’s first year of business, the company took in $176,000. Within five years, revenue reached into the millions, and about 5,000 dentists were offering ClearCorrect to patients.
Jarrett Pumphrey, Willis’ son, joined the company as CEO in 2007, bringing with him a background in mobile technology that changed the way ClearCorrect sold their product — moving from an outside sales force to an inside sales team, along with bringing dentists into the office for demonstrations and workshops.
ClearCorrect has experienced not only an impressive amount of growth, but several significant changes since its inception. The entire operation moved from Houston to Round Rock in 2013, landing in a 30,000 square-foot building where the company’s 140 employees control all aspects of the business.
Technology has revolutionized the way ClearCorrect makes their aligners. In the past, they used a subtractive process for molds, starting with a solid block, then milling down the plastic to create the model of a client’s teeth. That process took about an hour per part initially, then, at its most efficient, about 12 to 13 minutes per part. ClearCorrect now uses an additive process to create molds, using 3D PolyJet printers to build the molds one layer at a time. The process now takes about six minutes per part—a huge savings in time. In addition, the new 3D printing technology is vastly more energy efficient and quieter.
“Our process has changed end to end more times than I can count,” Jarrett says. “This is probably one of the biggest improvements we’ve made.”
Of course, changes that result in time and money saved are always welcomed. And ClearCorrect’s customers certainly seem to approve. More than 15,000 providers now use ClearCorrect with their patients. In 2015, the company went international, selling to providers in Australia and Canada. In 2016, ClearCorrect’s reach will extend even further, as the company takes its sales into Europe and Asia.
ClearCorrect’s legal team continues to stay busy, as predicted. But the good news for ClearCorrect is that so far, they’ve been successful in proving that the company doesn’t infringe on any of Align’s intellectual property, and the patent office continues to side with ClearCorrect.
“Without those guys, we probably wouldn’t be around today,” Jarrett says of the Houston-based lawyers. “There have been four actions that Invisalign has filed against us, and all but one of those has essentially been resolved.”
The company’s size hasn’t hampered its ability to remain flexible and open to change, and that’s something Jarrett feels has attributed to ClearCorrect’s success.
“If I have to say there was one thing that’s really contributed the most to us growing is our willingness to listen to our customers and the ability to change in response to that feedback,” Jarrett says. “The product today is in a lot of ways nothing like it was five years ago. And that’s in large part because our doctors have told us what they needed, and so we make the change and the adjustments necessary.”
Technological advances are a sign of the times, but in the medical field, making rapid changes can be difficult. That’s not the case at ClearCorrect, where the team has worked to make huge advances in production as quickly as possible.
“We are pretty agile. That’s not something you’ll find in a lot of medical device companies,” Jarrett says. “We found a way to strike a balance between maintaining that flexibility and making a quality product that conforms to the rules and regulations we have to meet.”
Jarrett suggests other bootstrappers looking to jump into a new business make sure they understand what’s in store, and then get started as soon as possible.
“One thing we did right, was we just started,” Jarrett says. “We just got going. We figured out a lot along the way.”