Untold Innovation: A few minutes with Dave Pechersky
By: Dani Clark
This year at Untold Content, we’re focusing on stories of Untold Innovation. As a firm committed to innovation storytelling from thought leaders across organizations and sectors, we have embarked on a journey to uncover stories of innovative thinking that are galvanizing change and growth in four main industries: tech, medical, science and human impact. We’ve asked you to nominate thought leaders in your field who are driving innovation, and you continue to deliver!
Our next innovation story comes from Dave Pechersky, CEO of Movemints. In our interview, we hear more about how real experiences enrich organizational storytelling, especially when introducing a new idea. When it comes to innovation, Dave reminds us to stay dedicated, care deeply about the work, and lean into surrounding support systems.
P.S. Keep sending in those nominations of others for us to highlight in our Untold Innovation series. You can complete our nomination form or email us with their information.
Dave Pechersky’s Innovation Story
Dr. David Pechersky is the owner of Pittsburgh Braces LLC, a private orthodontic group in Pittsburgh, and the CEO of Movemints, LLC, creator of the only edible accessory for clear aligners, such as Invisalign and Smile Direct Club. Dr. Pechersky is an alumni of the University of Michigan, Pitt Dental, and Tufts Orthodontics.
UC: What is your field of speciality?
DP: I became a dentist first, but eventually studied to be an orthodontist through a residency program. Now, I help people with the position of their teeth and difficulties they’re having with their bite. That’s one of the things that sets us apart–there are dentists out there that also perform orthodontic treatments, but only every so often, whereas the entire focus of our practice is purely orthodontics.
The concept for Movemints started back in late 2013 when I was treating myself with Invisalign. I had joined a practice in Pittsburgh that used a fair amount of Invisalign, but never really committed to including it as a treatment option for everybody in our practice–it was more like cherry-picking the easier cases. Between 2011 and 2013, I began to really appreciate the kind of patient experience that we were providing with Invisalign. I thought, “There’s no better way to understand what patients are going through than to treat myself and my wife with it.” My wife had never had braces, so she was really excited about it. I had a minor relapse and stopped wearing my retainer when I went to college, just like everybody else [Laughs]. So, it was a nice way to understand the impact I was having on my patients day-to-day. Honestly, I learned that there’s no better way to talk to people about what they’re about to go through than how you’ve gone through it yourself.
Since Invisalign was created back in the late 90s, it had only ever had one auxiliary implement that was prescribed by dentists called Chewies. It’s a little styrofoam tube that looks like a medical cotton roll, but it has a hollow inside and it’s made of polystyrene foam. It just made me gag every time I would try to use it–it would get gross and start smelling. Imagine it becoming like a kitchen sponge after a week or two.
So, I started experimenting in my lab with different types of edible candies. I was trying to figure out how we can keep our hands out of our mouths, and that’s how Movemints was born. Basically, I was looking to make a sugar-free mint with a shape that was functional, minimal, and fun. I ended up spending the next four years in research and development, trying to make it a consumer product. Now, it’s gained worldwide acceptance, which gives me the chills to even say because it’s been such a roller coaster. There were times I’d think I was running out of ideas or steam, and then get an email out of nowhere and it would start brand new again. There were times I just hoped the idea would live on, and now here we are–we’ve actually just sold our one millionth mint.
The idea is to take the plastic trays of this Invisalign, or nowadays any of the 20 different aligner companies that are serving our population, and seat them down onto the teeth repeatedly. That’s how plastic exerts its force, just like braces do. With braces, you tie a wire that’s actively in the braces, which is like a handle fixed onto a tooth. But with plastic, it just sort of hangs off the teeth a little bit and in order to get the pressures that you’re prescribing, you have to seat the tray down onto the teeth as many times as you can–the more the merrier. And so with the chewie, you just chew on it with your trays in and it presses and massages that plastic onto the teeth, which is what moves the teeth into their new position. Basically, the purpose is not to clean teeth but more so to help the plastic trays, exert their force upon to the teeth.
Movemints are not Chewies and in a curious kind of way. Movemints are hard, sugar-free mints that patients can use to perform the same chewing exercises as the chewy. However, if you’ve ever worn a retainer overnight and woke up with a stale taste in your mouth, you know how awful that experience can be. We know aligner patients all over the world are experiencing that terrible taste during their workday. And so, Movemints takes it one step further and actually enhances the patient experience while allowing them to continue to perform their chewing exercises like they had before.
UC: Where does your personal innovation story begin?
DP: For my orthodontic residency, I went to Tufts University in Boston, along with all eight of my co-residents. We had a couple of faculty who had invented things and their products were being sold by orthodontic supply companies, whether it was a brace or an instrument. We all thought, “How cool would it be to invent something like that and make all this money.” And you know, that’s what you think before you jump into this game–you think that literally all you need is an idea, when in reality it’s so much more than that [Laughs]. So, I would say back in my residency days, I always thought about something I could create that would make people’s lives easier as an orthodontist. But then I realized, there’s only like 10,000 practicing orthodontists in the country. And that’s not exactly the type of addressable market you want to sell to if you’re trying to build a big business. Being in the patient industry is much more rewarding in so many different ways.
UC: What do others in your industry have to learn from these innovations?
DP: It could be as easy as: If you’re not absolutely dedicated to your innovation, don’t do it. It can consume you. I was a full-time practicing orthodontist up until 2013 when my co-founder and I started exploring this path. We were just trying to see what would come of it. Then, the next thing you know, we got our first patent. Then, we incorporated. Then, manufacturing. It becomes your baby. It’s only worthwhile or fulfilling if it’s something that you absolutely care deeply about. It’s not something that I would recommend if you’re looking to make more money. If it weren’t for the personal satisfaction that I get out of it, I think it would be hard to envision entering this type of entrepreneur game. There’s also balance. Like with anything in life, balance is so important. Then, there’s the importance of support. For me, it comes from my wife and my family, but wherever you get it from, make sure you have it. Because yes, it was my idea, but I certainly couldn’t have done any of what I’ve done without the support system that I have in place.
UC: What role do you feel that storytelling plays in innovation? Could you describe the importance of storytelling to your own work?
DP: It certainly was a concept that was lost on me for the first number of years of this path. My co-founder, Drew Goldstein, had been in the startup industry before and would drop the storytelling line early on, and I would just sort of laugh it off. But I can still remember one of our first pitches to people who were in the financial industry who were looking to support local startup ventures. I learned that storytelling is critical to success in startup industries, primarily because concepts are born so far in advance of actual business modeling. If you’re not able to carry your concepts through storytelling up until the point where you’ve actually built a business that can be shown on paper, then it’s so easy to lose out on potential partnerships and fundraising efforts. The reason for this is that people out there are short on time and attention, and there’s a million different ideas. Storytelling was a huge learning exercise for me, and I was fortunate enough to be in an industry where I had financial stability. I had no external pressure to rush the concept that I was trying to build. And I was able to really tell stories out of real experience rather than trying to elaborate on what I really didn’t know much about. I wasn’t thrown into the fire, and I can imagine how stressful and difficult that would have been if my circumstances were different. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to tell stories from your heart and actual experience. It’s really a cut-throat industry–asking people for money. I think the majority of people can see through the fluff and just like any story, if it’s built from you know passion and real experience, it’s that much more compelling.
UC: What one piece of advice would you give to future innovators?
DP: You have to solve a problem. There has to be some sort of pain point that exists in whatever industry or process that you’re innovating in. That pain point has to be real, not just something perceived by you. One of the things that we’ve learned is you really have to dig deep to identify exactly what that pain point is and build your message around that. And not necessarily the biggest of pictures, which are more fun to talk about, because when people open up their wallets and make decisions, whether they’re shopping on Amazon or your website or an ad, the largest portion of the bell curve of our population does not spend money frivolously or for no reason. So, fun ideas aren’t always the best ideas. The whole notion of solving a problem was something that took years for us to figure out just exactly what that message was before it started clicking with the end consumer and my profession at large. I would speak with other orthodontists who would just scratch their head at what I was doing, even though I thought it was so obvious. Before you spend time, energy, and certainly resources building your brand and your message, make sure you think hard about exactly what pain point you’re relieving.
Thanks for reading Dave’s innovation story. You can read more about our Untold Innovation Stories series in our Untold Innovation Stories kickoff post.
*Interviews are not endorsements of individuals or businesses.