Inspiring an Entrepreneurial Attitude- Part 2

October 10, 2016

PART 2- Reinventing Himself and His Field

After a successful career as a dentist in New York, Dr. Edward Zuckerberg followed his children (and first grandchild) to California. He quickly became a go-to consultant to dental professionals, helping to bring the field online in a meaningful way. After all, as both the previous owner of his own dental practice and the father of the father of Facebook, Dr. Zuckerberg is in a unique position to demonstrate the power of social media as a tool for small businesses.

Read Part 1 here.

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Becoming a Facebook Liaison (and Unpaid Consultant)

In 2010, Dr. Howard Farran of Dentaltown called up Dr. Zuckerberg for help. Dr. Farran couldn’t add more than 5000 friends to his Facebook business account, and needed to expand his business reach beyond his first 5000 contacts. “I said, gee Howard, as far as I know, Facebook will let your business have as many friends as you want.” It became clear that Dr. Farran had set up his page as a personal profile, limiting its reach to 5000 friends. Luckily, Dr. Zuckerberg knew a few folks working at Facebook. He made a couple calls and had Dr. Farran’s profile converted to a business page.

“I quickly realized that dentists didn’t know anything about [social media].” In fact, others had already started reaching out to Dr. Zuckerberg, requesting he teach dental practices how to properly use Facebook. “At first, I was leery of whether this was something I wanted to do and whether I could effectively teach. I had never taught [anything except the card game] contract bridge to some beginners.” Nonetheless, Dr. Zuckerberg began lecturing, received great feedback, and enjoyed giving back to the profession that had given him so much.

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Dr. Zuckerberg found himself receiving feedback about Facebook directly from small practices. He would communicate the feedback to his son Mark’s personal assistant. It quickly became too much for the poor personal assistant, and Dr. Zuckerberg was given a point of contact on the small and medium business team.

“We would meet periodically and I would convey feedback [I’d received] from when I gave a talk. I’d show them my presentation... They would say: ‘You may want to delete that slide because we are deleting that feature,’ or: ‘Here’s something new we’re going to be doing you may want to include in your presentation.’ They loved the feedback [as well], and incorporated some of my ideas. I was basically a low-level unpaid consultant, giving feedback from the end users.”

Today’s Dental Social Media Users

When he first started lecturing, many dentists didn’t have Facebook pages for their practices. Back then, he taught how to set up an account from scratch. Today, most dentists have accounts, but by are not using them properly. “My talks are now geared towards those that have some experience, but are not killing it.”

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These days, Dr. Zuckerberg is particularly excited about the potential of machine learning and human-computer interaction. That includes the future of Facebook Messenger, as well as other communication platforms like Chatbox that can handle appointment requests and information access. “The goal is ultimately to automate some of the tasks that take a lot of time away from the person at the front [desk], and have them handled in a confident and professional manner by an application.”

Dr. Zuckerberg has several talks lined up in the near future. He has developed a new presentation to target people using Facebook improperly. “I want them to really kill it and make [Facebook] a tremendously valuable tool for the office. It’s important to not be complacent and constantly retool. Keep your eyes open. Realize who your patients are and what they want.”

An Evolving Dental Ecosystem

The dental industry is entering a state of flux. So much more is changing than increasing adoption of social media and online tools. Dr. Zuckerberg brings an entrepreneur’s perspective to the shifting landscape, identifying what he sees as the scope of change and opportunities created by it.

Until recently, most dentists were small businessmen who owned their own practices. Today, the growth of corporate dentistry is the buzz of the industry. Corporate entities allow dentists to treat patients without worrying about running a business, but can impose financial pressures that lead to compromised patient care. Dr. Zuckerberg sees it as part of the widespread change in healthcare. “I think unfortunately that [trend] will continue, but I think that this is part of [the] broader issue of how healthcare is going to be delivered in our country.”

Dentists today do have certain advantages they didn’t have 30 years ago. Tools of the practice are much more technologically advanced, making offices more efficient. Furthermore, a wave of internet-enabled companies is primed to enter the dental space. Supply Clinic (a MATTER company), for instance, has brought transparency to the opaque arena of supply costs, giving dentists more choice and information while saving them money. Chat and scheduling applications will surely improve office efficiency as well.

Nonetheless, fewer and fewer dentists are becoming practice owners. Entrepreneurial dentists are increasingly looking beyond the traditional practice of dentistry.

The Next Big Things in Dentistry

Dr. Zuckerberg is in a unique position to keep his finger on the pulse of medical and dental innovation, based on his own knowledge as a practitioner and his family’s experiences in the startup space. “New startups in the medical and dental field come to me and ask me for advice, opinions, etc.”

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And these companies target a wide variety of areas. “Some companies are using motivational applications with the iPhone or phone products that can connect people to their offices.” Others are geared toward disrupting the insurance industry. “One of the biggest things we need to conquer is how we have allowed insurance companies to… become our boss and dictate fees we can charge to our patients.”

Others still focus on patient retention. “Most entrepreneurial dentists are fixated on new patients. Gotta have 30 or 50 new patients a month. Dentists don’t value enough the amount of dentistry that’s already in their practice.”

Of course, as is the case with all entrepreneurial ideas, words are cheap and actions are difficult. “When dealing with something that nobody has tried before… this is where risk-taking comes in and where we need at some point to rely on our own vision and judgement... If something feels right, don’t be afraid to make the plunge."

Dr. Zuckerberg has watched his career evolve from a traditional, albeit cutting-edge, dental practitioner to a proponent of social media to a sounding-board for younger companies in the healthcare space. He has taken many risks while turning down others along the way. Now, he brings to the table his own unique perspective, shaped by his family’s experiences as well as his vast knowledge as a healthcare practitioner.

He continues to be a go-to resource for the budding entrepreneurial community in the dental space. After all, Dr. Zuckerberg has spent most of his life fostering the entrepreneurial spirit, and he’s not slowing down anytime soon.

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