Q&A with President and CEO of Boka – James Hagen
CEO and President of Boka James Hagen answered some of our burning questions as a follow up to the recent publication:
4 Dental Companies Jump on the ‘Subscription Box’ Trend – Does it Work?
We wanted to know a tad more about the business model and the experience he has had so far breaking into the oral care subscription business.
Q: What problem does the subscription model for dental products solve for patients or dentists?
A: There were a few reasons that we believed Boka could have a positive impact on oral health. On a basic level, people aren’t replacing their toothbrush as much as they should be (just 1.9x a year instead of 4) and the average brush is covered in 10m bacteria.
We also discovered that most adults have Periodontal Disease, the most prevalent and preventable condition. This chronic inflammation in the mouth is linked to a host of systemic health issues, and we felt the industry was failing to communicate this serious public health issue to individuals and also get them excited about taking care of their mouth and overall health. We decided using design and a positive voice with our brand could encourage people to rethink their relationship with their oral routine versus the clinical (and often shaming) brands. Everything that we sell is an elevated version of what can be bought in a supermarket or drugstore. We felt that the products had to be a cut above the rest if people would commit to subscribing to a dental box.
We also believe that this same thoughtfulness around taking care of one’s mouth can benefit the patient/dentist relationship. We’re in the early stages of partnering with dental offices and using Boka as a patient engagement tool for them.
Q: What is your #1 goal? How will you measure your success?
A: Our fundamental goal is to help reduce Periodontal Disease by inspiring people to take better care of their mouths through education and design. We want to make brushing and flossing special, not an unpleasant action that’s done mindlessly out of necessity. We want every Boka product to taste, look and feel exceptional. We’ve also partnered with Surge, a clean-water nonprofit that I’ve been intimately involved with since 2009 to help promote better hygiene and access to developing nations.
Q: Why did you choose a subscription business model over retail?
A: We aren’t going to rule out retail and we already have a lot of initial interest from dentists wanting to offer Boka. Still, the subscription model made sense because there’s a significant education component that we want to communicate on a regular basis and some of these items, like toothbrushes, are being used far too long and losing efficacy and even impacting one’s health. Finally, we felt that quality products were highly fragmented and we wanted to consolidate them in one place and automate the replenishment of them since they’re products we all use everyday.
Also, by having a direct relationship with our customers at this stage we can quickly iterate based on their feedback and products that they want but we don’t yet carry.
Q: Any lessons learned that you would share with people early on in their dental related start-up?
A: We’re still at the very early stages of our launch, so it’s hard to say what has and hasn’t worked at scale at this point. Our initial feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and we’ve had some surprising success with certain partnerships. The most important takeaway right now is that paid advertising can work to a degree, but more important are passionate customers who tell their friends and family about your products based on their own experience.
Not all subscription businesses are created equal. It’s much more difficult to create and keep customers if one is offering a discovery box these days. I’m seeing much more interest in elevated consumer staples that are replenished automatically, but the products really have to be better than what one can readily find at their local store. Lola, in the tampon industry, and Stowaway, in cosmetics, are two emerging brands who have a great value propositions. Some of the food delivery subscriptions are also providing a unique alternative to meal planning. Make sure your solving a real problem before diving in.