For some of us starting our own business is not on the agenda, for others, it’s in our blood. We sat down with Lucie Marchelot Shukla, a master of reinvention and serial entrepreneur to discover the story behind her newest enterprise, Straight Teeth Direct™…
HOC: Great to meet you, Lucie! Can you tell us about your journey to creating Straight Teeth Direct™ ? I see you have started businesses before, would love to know about your ‘serial entrepreneur’ journey….
Lucie: Yes! I have changed my career and industry quite a few times. I studied Law and then moved to London to study Art History at Christie’s. I worked for a leading auction house for a short while and very quickly realised that it wasn’t for me ; the corporate environment or the industry. In truth, I didn’t feel challenged enough.
I realised that I needed to do something else; entrepreneurship had always been my end goal and I thought why not now, after 1 year of working and training! I started my first business, completely alone. It was called the Indian Art Centre and it was an online gallery selling Indian antiques. I did everything from building my website, doing my PR, my own social media. I really enjoyed working on the business growth. But it wasn’t an exciting enough business or growth potential in that industry for a 25 year old. You also don’t feel like you are helping anyone; it’s not transformative and I didn’t feel fulfilled.
So that’s when I decided to join my husband and business partner at his private dental clinic in London. I was managing sales, marketing and operations; I really enjoyed this and helped grow the business; we doubled and sold it in 2016 and had discovered the cheapest way to straighten teeth! Because we had created a strong system to grow sales and attract the right kind of patient – adults looking to get straight teeth, quickly, without much inconvenience and without a super high price tag – we could support other dental practices to do the same. We created a marketing agency to help other dentists grow their businesses and help more people get straight teeth with online training courses, events and done for you systems. It worked really well but again, it was more like a lifestyle business; you couldn’t really scale it. We were looking for something with a global potential and we found that with Straight Teeth Direct™ !
So it’s been about transitioning from a lifestyle business to a high growth business; with a product, not just a service. Our business combines manufacturing, logistics and the digital platform ; it’s much broader and scalable than my previous businesses. Since we launched to the public in S/S 2017 we have had users from over 43 countries!
HOC: Who is Straight Teeth Direct for?
Lucie: Our solution is for busy professional who love to have everything delivered to them! The majority of our users are female at the moment but more and men are joining us. A lot of our users are people that haven’t been wearing their retainers and want to get their ideal smiles back.
Others travel a lot and might start treatment in one country and then need to move. They like our solution as it’s convenient and there’s no interruption in their treatment, or additional cost. At the end of the day, we attract people looking for a confidence and self-esteem boost through looking and feeling good.
HOC: Why did you create Straight Teeth Direct?
Lucie: As you saw in our first question; I love a challenge! I am ambitious and have big plans for my future. Straight Teeth Direct™ business model allows us to really transform an industry which is rewarding on both a personal entrepreneurial journey level and also more widely; we can reach and help so many more people to feel their best.
Being in the industry with our previous businesses, we saw there were clear problems to be solved and that’s what we’re here to do.
We saw the need coming for our service through our work in the industry; we would have many enquiries that wouldn’t get resolved ; in the end, to get treatment at a small practice is still quite expensive. From the other side, we knew Dentists wanted to work less and earn more and our solutions works with them in a smart way with a digital layer, not against them ; so Straight Teeth Direct™ helps both sides!
HOC: What was your very first job (when you were 15/16), can you see any relation to what you are doing now?
Lucie: If I really think back to when I was 15,16 ; I was helping out at my Dad’s business; a pharmacy. I was taking it super seriously and that’s something that really stuck with me! I always really care about what I do, whatever I’m doing. I also worked in a shoe shop in Greece when I did my Erasmus; I’ll always give it my 100%!
My Dad has always been my role model, in terms of entrepreneurship. He always inspired me to be my own boss. He was one of the first in his region to use robots to deliver medication to the counters! He always wanted to stay ahead of the game and inspired me to be a risk taker.
I have two siblings and we are all entrepreneurs- it’s the mindset we’ve picked up from our Dad. He really educated us to not take things for granted; you’ve got to work hard!
HOC: If you weren’t doing this, what could have career plan B looked like?
Lucie: It would have to be as an entrepreneur as I would never see myself working for someone! It’s in my blood!
I guess, if it had to be something absolutely different to having and growing a business I would say being a professional dancer.
HOC: I see on your LinkedIn that “being called a “female” entrepreneur can irritate you”, can you tell us more about this?
Lucie: I’m happy that we’re discussing this! In truth; I could talk about this for hours! This point around being a ‘Girl Boss’ or ‘Female Entrepreneur’ is not black or white and there are lots of different viewpoints; I certainly don’t want to upset anyone but I worry that always speaking about gender is limiting.
My thinking is that I don’t like labels or putting myself into a box that could restrict me in any way. We don’t have such a thing as dadpreneur so I don’t see why women should be constantly referred to as female entrepreneur or mumpreneur . Personally, I’ve never felt strongly about belonging to female groups or having female only mentors; my Dad was my role model and I have equally been inspired by strong independent women.
I feel that it’s dangerous to restrict yourself and limit your mindset. You could think ‘because I’m a female…’, you see everything through the eye of a female. Yes, I get sexist comments at work but I want to be recognised for my talents and achievements but not because ‘you’re female and we feel sorry for you, so we’re going to give you an award.’
It’s a delicate topic and we have to do things and raise awareness. Of course, in Europe we are privileged whereas in other parts of the world things are much much worse for women.
In Europe, I don’t see being female as a weakness, it’s a strength. When we have meetings with investors, and I’m in a room with 10 men and I’m the only woman, that empowers me.
HOC: What are your ambitions for your brand this year?
Lucie: So much is happening! We are doing a tube campaign and launching in major department stores across Europe this quarter. I’m so excited to see the response from our new retail model and keep experimenting with new channels. The goal is for our brand to be recognised as a leading e-commerce / leader in the aligner space in Europe by the end of the year…
HOC: How do you keep your energy and motivation up?
Lucie: Energy wise I used to go to the gym but with all the traveling and unexpected schedule it’s impossible to stick to sessions. So I try to stick to a few things:
- I am instead trying to keep my anxiety levels down with regular massages. I also eat super healthy; I’m all about an organic meat-free lifestyle.
- I also start my day, every day, with a small simple breathing and movement routine.
I am giving everything to this business at the moment and I know it is for a short number of years. Unlike with a lifestyle business, you know a high growth phase is not going to last forever, so that keeps me motivated! My immediate motivation is to see our customer satisfaction and positive feedback about their transformation and experience using our platform!
HOC: Your business marries technology and great customer service, what tech is exciting you at the moment outside of your product?
Lucie: I like tech that is useful and beautiful; I love to watch the direct to consumer space; that really excites me. I’m always looking for the new trends and getting inspiration.
I really like what’s happening in beauty tech with devices as well as in health; doing your own high end facial or taking your DNA at home, for instance. I’d love to see more innovation in fashion and retail. I went to a Reformation store in NYC and oh, I was so excited; I was taking a picture of everything!
Their store really inspired me and made me think about how we do things differently. They have a screen where you can choose your items to try on and then the items are already in the changing room! If you want another size you just select on screen in the changing room, close the wardrobe and then the rail automatically updates with your choice. It’s just really cool.
Everyone else in the store was all cool, waiting for their turn. And I was like, what is going to happen next?!
HOC: The ’10 years ago’ challenge is all the rage on insta at the moment, what advice do you have for the 2009 you?
Lucie: I’ve got two pieces of advice that might help others.
One, I would tell my younger self to keep going; you don’t need 10 years of experience to have the knowledge to do something great. You will learn along the way if you are committed to it. You will have to make sacrifices, of course. And remember, everything you learn along the way, will be transferable. Initially I thought oh god, I studied these subjects; I have to do something in this space. But actually, I learnt how to be structured from Law and developed my aesthetic eye through my Art degree ; now I use both in my work with Straight Teeth Direct™ every day! You don’t have to wait and have a long plan. Honestly, you don’t learn that much if you work for someone else; you have to get your hands dirty!
Secondly, my advice is to never regret anything, everything is a learning and growth experience. I would never wish I had done something differently.
To find out more about Lucie’s revolutionary teeth straightening business visit straightteethdirect.com