Frugal innovation – a teachable moment

I guess we are at an age when all our teeth are not our own and, as sometime happens in those cases, minor emergencies like a loose crown can befall you at the most unlikely times and places. Friday at lunch on campus at IIT Bombay, I suddenly realized one of the crowns had loosened. Being away from home in US, and the weekend approaching, I called our family dentist in Mumbai and was informed by the receptionist that “Saab Monday ayega wapas (sir will come back Monday)”.

Mildly upset that I would have to walk around with an exposed nerve and a crown that I might likely loose, I griped to one of my colleagues. She suggested that I look up a new dental chain, Sabka  Dentist, to see if they might have a local office that could attend to my tooth. I pulled up their site on my phone and fortunately there was an office just outside the IIT gates. I called them and a cheerful receptionist answered. Yes, I could walk-in right now she assured me, and they would see what could be done.

Sabka Dentist, as I found out later, is a chain that targets middle income earners and does so by making it convenient to find one, much like Starbucks and McDonalds. The one I visited was literally in the same building as a petrol pump. Clean and cheerful, the compact office had a small reception area and a glass enclosed dental area behind. The receptionist had me fill a form, entered my data online, and I immediately got a SMS as a new member of the Sabka Dental network. The dentist saw me a few minutes later. After I explained my predicament, she had me lay back on the dental chair, flushed out and cleaned up the tooth, cleaned and glued back the crown and I was back in business in minutes. She typed up the invoice immediately and handed me the bill – a whopping Rs. 300!20190119_144216

I was at IIT to met with a cohort of startups that were being put through the paces of Lean Startup with a team of mentors and was expected to speak to them about innovation the next day. I threw away my notes and decided to use the Sabka Dentist example to show how innovation doesn’t have to be technology driven. Started by two young entrepreneurs, one of whom used to supply dental offices, the brand has grown since 2011 to a chain of over 100 clinics, for now mainly on the West coast, and over 500 employees and revenue of $8 million in 2016. Standardizing product, location and process has helped them keep costs low and provide transparent pricing for their clients. As a Sabka Dentist customer, I can go to any of their sites and my records will follow me. To address questions on hygiene that a low cost provider might raise, they have a prominent set of commitments and customer promises about the cleanliness and hygiene of their locations.

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All in all a very satisfying visit to a new brand of service offering that can make India more competitive and provide better quality, affordable services to their growing middle class.

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