Doug Hudson

Master of Business Administration, Class of 1994

CEO, Tend

Could you provide a brief recap of your career since graduating from Owen?

Over the last two decades I’ve been building direct-to-consumer healthcare businesses. I look for spaces that are built for the professional and see what we can create if we come into the industry and rebuild with a mindset of putting the patient first. The first company we created with this mindset was HearingPlanet. It was the first direct-to-consumer hearing aid business online. We grew that to be about 1,100 clinics across the country and ended up selling it in 2006 to Sonova. That was the first meaningful business that got scaled and taught us how to build businesses in regulated spaces. The next category we went to was diabetes. We did DiabetesCareClub and RxCareClub which we sold to Alere. We also did CPAPCareClub which we sold to Verus Healthcare and most recently did SmileDirectClub which is in the orthodontics space. Now we’re working on Tend which is in the dental space. It’s the same playbook: come into a space, rethink it with a fresh perspective and try to create something with the patient first. All the companies have consistent themes. They’re direct-to-consumer healthcare, built on technology and require heavy consumer branding. It’s been a fun journey.

What is your company and where did the idea come from? What served as the biggest motivator or influence in starting your company?

I think the business ideas come from different sources. HearingPlanet was from working at my dad’s business, thinking how we could do this in a better way. The diabetes business came from another company that had tried to acquire the hearing aid business. It was Liberty Medical. As they were asking me questions, I was asking them questions about their business. At the end I thought they had a fantastic business. When HearingPlanet was ultimately acquired by a different entity I decided to compete with Liberty Medical. You have to be open minded to look for opportunities wherever they are. 

The company I’m working on now is Tend. We took the first four letters of the word dental, mixed them up and created a word that said, “we’re going to take care of you”. With a patient-first mindset I said, “let’s build a dental company that people look forward to going to”. People would laugh and think there’s no way you’re going to make people look forward to going to the dentist and I said — but if we do it’s going to be awesome. Tend was formed to do just that. If you think about it, other spaces in healthcare have had this happen. One Medical did it in primary care, Warby Parker did it for vision and we did it for orthodontics at SmileDirectClub. At Tend, we started a business that reshaped that entire customer journey — what it felt like to book an appointment, what it felt like to go to an appointment, pricing transparency, this digital front door and a really cool experience. We launched it in October 2019 in New York City and it’s scaling quickly. We’ve attracted the attention of Juxtapose, Red Point Ventures, Google Ventures, Tiger Global, and Stanford’s Endowment Fund so we’ve got a very top tier capital stack. This business Tend is such an enormous opportunity in the $140billion dental space.

What is the most challenging thing about being an entrepreneur and how have you worked to overcome this challenge?

The biggest challenge is the first 12 – 18 months when you just have an idea. You don’t have a platform, you don’t have a team, you don’t have systems and sometimes you don’t even have a brand, yet you have to start building. It’s almost like building in mud — sometimes it molds together and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s that initial period that’s the hardest part. Being crazy or masochistic enough to see it through so you start getting some traction to it is probably the most difficult time of a new build. Then you do it a second, third, fourth time.

What qualities are most important to possess as an entrepreneur?

I think you have to have a level of tenacity to keep doing it day in and out. That’s definitely required because who’s going to motivate you? You have to motivate yourself a lot at times during those early days. I think it’s a given that you are tenacious and you’re going to make it happen and going to create something — but the other thing is that you have to think big. Additionally, you have to think differently and take the focus off yourself. You have to reset your “mental cookies” and think like the customer about things that are most important.

What are you most proud of about your business?

It’s totally the team. It’s one of the reasons I do this, you get to work with brilliant people. Many times I say I’m the dumbest person in the room because each person we put on this team is a franchise player. It’s great when you get the opportunity to work with people like that. It comes back to having to think big, you have to think differently and put the patient first. If you can line that up in a market that’s large enough, capital is not a problem.

What advice do you have for students as they launch their business? Are there any tools you consistently use as an entrepreneur?

Make sure that the market is large enough to create something amazing. Many times when an entrepreneur comes for advice and they’ve got this great idea that they’re so excited and passionate about but it’s solely a product, not an entire company. The opportunity isn’t large enough. Look for big categories and look at your idea. You have to really pay attention to what the potential could be. 

For resources, be a voracious reader. You don’t have to invent it all yourself. There’s so much good knowledge out there. For example – just go to Google Scholar and the body of knowledge is already out there. Power users of Google and Google Alerts can keep you up to date on all your competition. Build that. When you’re stepping into an industry consume everything you can and then funnel it out to your team to take advantage of. Sign up to every trade publication you can, set all the google alerts for keywords, be following crunchbase. The literature of existing research is a powerful thing that is often overlooked.

The other tool is that we financially model the business very early. To give you an example, we did 107 revisions between our seed round and our series A because as we’re learning through our beta and tightening up assumptions, we’re constantly recasting. It can get you to the point where there’s a lot more confidence in your model.

What do you do to live a balanced life? Do you have any interesting or fun hobbies?

I do now. I can’t say that I always did. There were a number of years that I had the motto 25/8 but now I’m embarrassed about that. It’s not a healthy way to live and not a great way to be a leader. The last couple of years I’ve been a lot more balanced. I work pretty hard Monday through Thursday but Friday, Saturday and Sunday are sacred. We try to focus on family and we’re really careful about what we let get in our lives that could be a distraction. We have a family farm. Agriculture, being outside, cattle, horses — it’s the complete opposite of what I do Monday through Thursday so it’s a good balancing, grounding thing that the whole family can participate in.