Entrepreneurship Interview Series #3

Introducing Julian Artope MBA’17J, owner and founder of Zenyum – producer of invisible braces and other high quality, affordable dental products across the region. 

Name of your company and year it was established: Zenyum, 2018

Key takeaways after graduating from INSEAD: Many people come to INSEAD for a radical career change or at least upgrade. The school is amazing at distilling the why behind this desire which is much more important than the how. I also underestimated the strength of the INSEAD network: People from all paths in life helped to get Zenyum off the ground and there seemingly is an INSEADer everywhere.

What motivated you to establish this business? I wanted to build a large consumer company with products I can be proud of. Invisible Braces are superior from a consumer’s perspective in all aspects to their traditional counterpart. Why go for metal and wire brackets when you can have something which is invisible, removable, saves you time and money and is less painful? I loved having a strong first product which was technologically advanced and making a real impact in people’s life that could be followed up with a range of Smile Cosmetics, like our ZenyumSonic power brush.

What are the most fun and most difficult things about your business? We are changing an industry which is very competitive, which makes Zenyum an intense and fast ride. At the same time, we are sitting on a very deep category and have the chance to build a large, resilient business that dominates our category in Asia for decades. Zenyum got very lucky attracting the top of the crop in terms of Venture Capital, raising over $60M from Sequoia and LCatterton within three years. The optionality this brings is very exciting, but it also comes with a responsibility for outsized returns.

Any advice for alumni starting or thinking of starting, their own business? Make sure that your total addressable market is there. Your chances of survival when building a start-up are anyways low enough, so try to even the odds by getting your timing and macro-economic tailwinds right. 

Interesting / fun fact about yourself: I like aquascaping (basically artsy fish tanks) and lighthouses.

Knowing what you know now, is there anything you would have done differently when you first started out? No. Looking at the past too much makes you feel regret / nostalgia, looking at the future too much brings anxiety. The interesting parts of life are happening in the here & now.

How are you preparing for recovery after the pandemic? I don’t like using COVID as an excuse to change our approach dramatically. The best managers consistently beat the market. Due to the pandemic, two of our biggest competitors had to shut down their operations and brought us into the leading position in our play in SEA.

Book you are reading and another book you would recommend? Currently reading ‘Frank Slootman: Amp it Up’ and would always recommend ‘The Hard Thing about Hard Things’ by Ben Horrowitz

What is your leadership style? There can’t be one single style, it depends on the task-relevant maturity of the team and company around you. In the early days, I had to apply myself to every process and decision and probably would have been seen as a micro-manager. If I would display that right now, some of our best people would leave – they want to be given the deserved freedom to operate how they like. In start-ups you get to know what style to switch to depending on the context and stage of the company.

What keeps you up at night? Our OKRs. I wish I could tell you “I sleep like a baby.” but the truth is that our mission to make Asia Smile More has become one of the focal points of my life. The good news is that I love every second of it, even at midnight!