Dr. Avi Weisfogel had a plan when he was a young child. His plan was to become his own boss. His strengths in school were math and science. The middle child in a family of five, he thought about joining his father’s cardiology practice. However, as he got older the thought of being on call 24/7 for something he was not passionate about stopped making sense. As a senior in college he finally made up his mind to attend dental school. While in dental school he knew that he would be able to be his own boss, but the idea of being a traditional drill and fill dentist was not part of his plan.
Upon graduating, Dr. Avi Weisfogel considered many different business ideas in the dental field including cosmetic dental spas, owning and managing multiple dental practices and even working with nursing homes. However three days into his first dental job he met a patient who was in need of treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnea. This patient did not fit the mold of the typical sleep apnea patient. She was young, perhaps 30 years old, slim and athletic. The only reason you would have thought she might have had an issue with sleep apnea is she looked like someone who had not gotten a good night’s sleep in years. She had huge bags under her eyes. When she came into to his office she said “please you have to help me. My doctor sent me to you because she knew you treated sleep apnea patients. As you can see I don’t sleep much and I am at my wits end.”
The truth was, Dr. Avi Weisfogel had taken only one course on sleep apnea which was one more than every other dentist around him at that time. Avi took what he learned in that course and fabricated an oral appliance for this patient. When the patient returned to his office two weeks later she greeted him with a huge hug. She said to him: “You have literally just changed my life, I have no idea how I can repay you.” That’s one more hug than Avi has ever gotten after doing root canals and extractions. From that moment on, Avi was hooked and set out to build the biggest sleep apnea company in the country. The problem was, nobody in the world of Dental Sleep Apnea was having the success Avi dreamed of. He spent the next ten years trying to figure out ways to make sleep apnea treatment the focus of his practice.
This was one case of persistence paying off as, after ten years of trying different methods, Avi finally built himself the sleep apnea practice of his dreams. In 2014, he started teaching this business to other dentists. Dr. Avi Weisfogel has since worked with over 200 dentists in the past 4-5 years helping them to build huge sleep apnea practices in their local areas.
How did you get started in this business? What inspired you to start this business?
I met a pulmonologist when I was a senior in dental school. She told me I was graduating from dental school at the right time. Sleep apnea was about to explode, and I had to learn how to treat it. So I set about learning how to treat sleep apnea as a dentist. It started with a weekend course and led to me taking ten other courses. When it comes to sleep apnea, it turns out that there is only so much you can do as a dentist. In order to treat patients, we need physician involvement. Unfortunately, physicians who graduated from medical school more than ten years ago have exactly zero hours of sleep disorder education. Physicians who graduated more recently only have one 4 hour lecture. So you could be the best-trained dentist in the world when it comes to sleep apnea and unless you have a physician that is working with you and is “dental friendly,” you will never see more than a couple patients here and there.
I always wanted to do things a bit differently. My mind tended towards the business angle. So I knew I was going to do something in the business world I just was not sure what it was. Once I found a way to see what I called “an unlimited amount of sleep patients” I was only one guy in one area of the country. I thought it would be neat to start teaching this method of obtaining “unlimited” sleep patients to other dentists. I started giving a couple of courses here and there and word started to spread and more and more dentists started coming to my course In 2014, I put together the first ever support system coaching and mentoring program that was designed to help dentists see as many sleep patients as they wanted to. We have trained over 200 dentists in this method over the past four years, many of whom have had incredible levels of success. More importantly, they are literally changing patients’ lives. As a dentist there is only so much you can do to impact a patient. When you treat them for sleep apnea you have the ability to prevent stroke, heart disease, heart attacks and complete heart failure. On average, a treated sleep apnea patient lives 8 years longer than a non-treated one.
When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?
I can answer this on two fronts. When I wanted to see more sleep patients myself there was absolutely no one that was having the kind of success I desired. It seemed as if the wheel had not yet been created. I also quickly found out that when it came to healthcare the laws are vast and I knew none of them. I spent four years and an insane amount of time and money trying to figure out a legal way that I could see more sleep patients. Most people would have quit pretty quickly. This was one case where I am happy my stubbornness paid off. So, to say I had doubt on this working is an understatement.
As to how I handled the doubt, I am a pretty determined person. Once I decide to do something I start living my life as if it has already happened. Giving up for me was never going to happen. It was just a matter of time, effort, mistakes, and a lot of wasted money, but I eventually accomplished what I had set out for.
How did you get your first customer?
Good old-fashioned advertising. I saw a need in the field of dental sleep apnea and knew that I could help fill that gap. There was no one that was out there teaching the business side and it had become what I was good at. I started with some email marketing and soon enough started getting responses. I will never forget the first person who registered for my first course. It was quite an extraordinary feeling. Since then our advertising budget has grown and we continue to spread the word that dentists can become the leading sleep expert in their area no matter where they live, big city or small town.
What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?
It turns out that if you want to have a successful sleep apnea business, you have to go about things differently than most programs teach you. I was taught to go out and meet physicians and let them know that I could help their patients who were suffering from obstructive sleep apnea. This model of meeting physicians and waiting for referrals to come in was a model that led to business failure. Over a ten year period I saw anywhere from 0-4 patients a month.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
The hardest decisions are always the ones involving giving up more control in exchange for allowing your product to grow. Every business hits that point where you realize that you can only go so far in life by yourself. I got great advice when I was younger and having a hard time delegating. I was controlling every fact of my business and complaining when I would delegate small jobs to others and they would mess it up. My reaction was to say: “screw it, I will do it myself.” My mentor at the time yelled at me for this. His advice was great. He said, “You know what? You are right, they can’t do it as good as you, but for 10 bucks an hour it’s good enough.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
I hate to sound old fashioned but there are two things that lead to my success: hard work and drive. I am in the office for at least 12 hours a day and work most weekends. I am one of the few who absolutely loves their job. They say if you love going to work every day it’s not really work and that is true for me. In addition, the odds have been so stacked against me succeeding that I use it as a motivating factor for my drive. I am not going to let others get the best of me and will keep on going no matter how bleak the odds look
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
The most satisfying for me has to be our quarterly customer appreciation retreats. It is there that all of my customers gather together to talk about what’s working for them in each area. It’s pretty amazing when you see all of these wonderful people together all working towards the same purpose with common ethics, morals and goals. Each one of these amazing people would give the shirt off their back for each other. Sometimes when I am up there lecturing I get a little choked up looking out at this amazing group of people that have come together to do some good while building these amazing businesses
What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?
Our goal is to have all of our group together to be responsible for diagnosing and treating millions of people. The estimate is there are 40 million people in the US with undiagnosed sleep apnea. Our goal as a group is to be responsible for the diagnosis and treatment of at least 4 million of them. This is a huge goal and one that can only be done with more people, all of whom will need to step out of their comfort zone and put in some hard work to make it happen.
As for what I am most excited about, I am pretty sure that 100 years from now we will look back on the information we have right now and laugh. This is how it is from century to century. If you think about it, World War II was only 75-80 years ago. I am sure at the time they were looking back and laughing about how things were done 100 years before that. So, I guess I am excited to see what change comes next and how it impacts my chosen industry.
What is a recent purchase you have made that’s helped with your business?
Believe or not, the best investment I have made recently is just better computers and cameras to help record and put out material designed to help my clients succeed. In addition, advertising is always changing and there has to be some video to go with print-type advertising
What is the best thing about your current job?
I love what I do. I have the honor of waking up every day knowing that what I do is making a difference. We are educating a lot of dentists to become the go-to person in the sleep world in their area. In addition, I can literally do my job from anywhere as long as I have access to a phone and the internet. I truly feel like I am one of the lucky ones. One of those who dared to dream big and had the fortitude to keep on going while it looked like everything around me was going to crumble. These challenges have only made me appreciate what I do now even more. You can’t beat flexibility. That being said, I still wake up early every day, get to work ASAP and work my butt off, loving every second of it.