Two Kerrymen walk into an LA bar … and emerge as tech pioneers

20 Nov 2008

Two brothers have key oral-health players ready to back online ad paradigm.

Six years ago, in a bar somewhere in LA, Tony McManus from Ballyduff, Co Kerry was winding down after a long day at the office.

His younger brother, Ger, joined him, and before long pints were flowing and a drunken conversation about Tony missing a dentist’s appointment gave way to a new business idea – software for helping dentists schedule patient appointments.

“I thought it was an amazing idea. Our mother didn’t think so, but we went ahead with it anyway,” Tony McManus explains. A new business, Elixity, was born, and soon over 1,000 dentists in the US were using the software to automate appointments by sending phone and email messages to patients to remind them of their appointments.

While it was a good idea, business was slow because something was missing. Then, the McManus brothers met with Nobel Biocare – one of the world’s largest oral-health firms – which was curious about what they were up to, and soon a new online business, DentalSenders, was born.

DentalSenders, which drives patient notifications from dentists via email and text, is emerging as a major niche advertising player in the US, and has struck key deals with major dental brands, including Philips Sonicare and Procter & Gamble (P&G).

The online business has also struck an endorsement deal with the Academy of General Dentistry in the US, which will result in DentalSenders reaching a potential audience of over 35,000 dentists and 100 million dental patients.

“Each dentist who signs up to use our technology has, on average, 3,000 patients, which means our subscriber audience grows exponentially,” McManus explains.

After their meeting with Nobel Biocare, the McManus brothers went back to the drawing board and studied what it was that was making internet firms such as Google grow so quickly. The answer was obvious: the technology was free and usage was driven by readers’ hunger for knowledge.

“We decided that instead of charging dentists $300 a month to send phone and email reminders, we would instead offer our software free, including text and email reminders.

“The technology mines the dentist’s database, and not only sends out a reminder to patients, but also birthday greetings, surveys and newsletters with info on dental hygiene.

“Dental offices don’t have the marketing budget for newsletters, but if those newsletters are sponsored or feature advertising from Colgate and P&G, it pays for itself. Also, for thedentist, it means that patients don’t slip away but can be reactivated and kept in the loop.

“Dentists and doctors can also use the technology to conduct surveys, and the more responses received means that the dentist goes to the top of their Google ranking in their local search area, so it doubles as an online marketing tool.”

According to McManus, DentalSenders is in the process of raising $5m in venture capital. “We already have private investors, and we are having executive-level meetings with companies like Google about what this technology is doing. Effectively, we are changing the game in terms of how advertising is being delivered to a connected audience,” says McManus.

“The key here is context and being endorsed by the leaders of a particular industry. If you look at why Google is providing technology for free online, it is deploying services so it can better target its ads.”

The strategy is paying off for the McManus brothers. In the month of October, 250 dentists in the US signed up for DentalSenders. “With the average dentist having 3,000 patients, we brought in 750,000 subscribers in October alone. Facebook averages 47,000 new subscribers a month,” says McManus.

The McManus brothers have been concentrating on beefing up the company board, which includes a chief technology officer who is an ex-Microsoft employee, and the company has issued licences to partners to export the model to Ireland, the UK and Australia.

“Our next step will be to take this model and bring it to the medical and veterinary fields,” McManus promises.

By John Kennedy

Pictured: Tony and Ger McManus from Ballyduff in Co Kerry are in the middle of building a major viral advertising business in the US focused on dentists and their patients. The plan has aroused the interest of firms such as Philips Sonicare and Procter & Gamble, and the brothers plan to expand the model into the medical and veterinary markets

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years