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What Dentists Can Learn From Tesla Motors

By August 5, 2015January 21st, 2022Practice Management

It felt weird. Being in a regular car. An engine – no, a really loud engine – sitting underneath the hood in front of me. I had to stick a key into an ignition and then turn the key to start the car. I couldn’t talk to the car. I had to go to a gas station to put petrol (refined fossil fuel) into the car so that, when I press on the gas pedal, tiny little explosions propel the vehicle forward. The car wasn’t connected to the Internet. I was stuck with the version of the car that was purchased as state-of-the art a decade ago; but it didn’t keep up with the times. I had to actually use the break to slow down and stop the car. The car didn’t know or care about my preferences when it came to things like: where I was going, what music I liked, how high / low I wanted the suspension, etc. I couldn’t control aspects of the car using an app on my cell phone. It was noisy. Yes, I mentioned that at the beginning. And it took forever for the RPM to rev up to get the car up to 100 km / hour – no matter how hard I pressed on that damn gas pedal!

But the reality was this: I was in a regular, everyday internal combustion engine motor vehicle. There were tons of them on the road. I was used to them. I had driven them all my life. But once I made the big bold leap a few weeks ago to go all electric with a Tesla Model S (not even hybrid), internal combustion engine vehicles now seem so strange… so foreign… so unnecessary. I couldn’t feel comfortable in one again. Somebody asked me: has the novelty of driving an electric car worn off on you? I say, to their amazement: “Yes, it has!” (I’ve only been driving my electric car for a few weeks)….”That is, until I drive an internal combustion engine vehicle and then I realize how great electric cars are and how internal combustion engine cars are so dated”.

FYI, here is S.A.M. at the Tesla service centre (Victoria Park and Lawrence) on delivery day:


Right now there’s a revolution happening in the automotive industry. It’s called the rise of fully connected and (semi) autonomous electric cars. And while it may seem like a quirky niche right now, these vehicles offer so many benefits to the end user and the environment generally that you’d be hard pressed to want to drive an internal combustion engine car ever again after sitting in one of these puppies.

So what does this have to do with your dental practice? Well, your dental practice does not exist in a vacuum.   You have branded your practice (whether you wanted to or not) as a high end dental practice OR a family outfit OR a specialty dental practice, etc. And you operate within a broader industry that fight over a limited number of patients. And there are always revolutions / evolutions making their way into the mainstream that will change the industry forever. I’m sure you’ve noticed a few things – like going digital (charts, x-rays, etc.), offering implants and invisalign, and having an online presence (with social media) while focusing on patient education to attract and maintain patients.

So what can you possibly learn from Tesla Motors Inc., a California car manufacturer and distributor which makes 100% electric cars like the Tesla Roadster, the Model S, and Model X, and the Model III? Well, here are some key lessons that I learned by studying this innovative U.S. car company:

  1. They started as a niche player (making 100% electric roadsters for rich people), but with a plan to introduce a Model III by 2017 (at the USD$35,000 mark for everyday folk). That was their plan all along: sell to the rich to financing their future products for everyday people.
  2. They offer loads of “features” in their cars; but let’s be honest here… the only people who appreciate features are techies. Most people appreciate “benefits”. So although a Tesla Model S has loads of features (e.g. adaptive cruise control, range mode, regenerative breaking, blind spot indicators, lane keeping, voice controls, internet radio, parallel park assist, summonsing your car, etc.), the real benefits come down to this: save me time (by having the car warmed or cooled before I step inside, plotting the best route based on a sync to my calendar,using certain HOV lanes by yourself because of your green license plate, parking in designated preferred parking spots, etc.), keep me safe (Tesla Model S is the safest car in the world; it has no engine under the hood to fall on your lap!), save me money (by not paying for gas or costly maintenance and having access to free / cheap electricity almost everywhere you go), and make my ride enjoyable and comfortable (by allowing me to multi-task, allowing me to accelerate instantly and cut in and out of traffic as I please, being stealthily silent, sporting an elegantly beautiful / simplistic / classy design, setting the temperature right, playing the music that I like), etc. We buy “benefits”, not “features”.
  3. They have a story and it spreads like wildfire. Elon Musk – the eccentric billionaire who sold PayPal to eBay back in the day, started a space exploration company (Space X), became chairman of a residential / commercial solar power company (Solar City), and also invested heavily in Tesla Motors (and became their head honcho) to bring us these wonderful electric cars. He staved off one financial crisis after the next and brought Tesla back from the brink of collapse by personally investing a lot of his own money, making deals with other car companies (to sell them electric vehicle components) and received financing from the government. He helped Tesla build up a huge infrastructure of superchargers (essentially free charging stations for Tesla owners), is in the process of establishing a gigafactory to bring down the costs of batteries and make electric cars more affordable, and loves to introduce updates to keep the cars up to date and even better than when they were first purchased. He is the leader of that company and is surrounded by a great team of engineers and hardward / software developers, marketers, and service centre personnel. A team who believes in his vision of what a U.S. electric car company could look like. And great organizations need a visionary leader.
  4. They have an amazing product. It took a bunch of Silicon Valley engineers a lot of time, money and effort (in the face of established naysayers from Detroit and elsewhere) to launch a car that is environmentally friendly, can comfortably seat 5 (or 7 with the extra rear-facing seats), has tons of cargo space in the frunk and trunk, and can outperform every other car in its class. The latest version of the car, for example, is a Tesla Model S Performance 90 Kilowatt Hour Battery Pack with Dual Motors can go a blistering 0-100 in 3.0 seconds. That’s supercar fast! And the estimated range is over 400 kilometers on a single charge (subject to weather, incline / decline, and driving habits and excluding the effects of the regenerative breaking). Talk about impressive! And all for between $70-$150k (depending on the size of the battery pack and what / how many options you get); that’s before you get $8,500 back from the government, save thousands by not paying for gas and annual maintenance – all while sporting a Tesla “Grin” every time you hop in your car.
  5. They stand behind their product. Yes, it’s true: they currently only produce about 20,000 cars a year (with hopes to ramp up production to 500,000 by 2020 with their new Gigafactory). But the service you receive from their team is second to none. They have a loyalty program, give you a loaner if they’re working on your car and go above and beyond (just Google the stories out there). They really invested in service and you can tell. After you get your car, minus the $5,000 initial deposit, if you’re not happy with it, you can return it within 90 days for a full refund! Talk about a Happiness Guarantee!
  6. They have a unique distribution model. They have showrooms. You can test drive a Tesla by showing them your driver’s license and agreeing to be responsible for totaling the car. But they don’t have pushy sales people. They don’t have franchises. And you know exactly what you’re buying with all the options. No haggling on the price. It is what it is and everyone is treated the same. The weirdest / coolest thing: you customize and order your car online and it is ready to be picked up about 2-3 months later.
  7. They have detractors.   Established car companies and dealerships have been fighting them for years, saying all sorts of negative things (they’re niche players, they’re breaking the law by selling directly to customers, they’re too expensive and only cater to the rich, etc.). But given all their success, they cannot be stopped. Eventually, their detractors will give up and pick on someone else. Or perhaps they will join them after seeing the great success they’re having.
  8. They don’t have customers. They have RAVING FANS. Tesla customers are so loyal that they spread the story for Tesla. The highly connected mavens and salespeople (a la Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point”) are doing most of the sales for Tesla. They love the car and getting people into the car to experience the ludicrous acceleration is a sales experience. Who wouldn’t want to have their personal roller coaster?

So going back to your dental practice… think about this:

  1. Are you an effective team leader? And if you want to know more about what it takes to be one, I suggest you read this blog here (Lessons from “Evidenced Based Management”) and here (Lessons from “Good Boss; Bad Boss”).
  2. Do you surround yourself with an effective/efficient team? I’ve spoken about team-building here.
  3. Do you offer a great product with lots of benefits?
  4. Do you have a memorable brand (perhaps a niche) that helps distinguish your practice and help personify the unique dental services that you offer. I’ve blogged about brand building and Jonah Berger’s book, Contagious, here.
  5. Do you have raving fans who will spread your story? I’ve talked about Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point, here
  6. Do you stand behind the quality of your clinical skills, your brand, and your team?
  7. Do you have a gameplan to survive and thrive in a hyper competitive industry?

If you answered “No” to a lot of these questions, you should look carefully at the Tesla example, the Tesla story, and start to think about and implement some of the things that they are doing on their journey to becoming a mainstream global automotive car company.

The Content of this post is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be legal, financial, tax, or other professional advice of any kind. You are advised to contact DMC (or other counsel) to seek specific legal advice concerning your individual situation.