We talk to Sasha Der Avanessian, CEO of Harvest Dental Products, about brand value and product quality, honesty in marketing, and understanding the market surrounding your business.
Intro: [00:00:00] Welcome to the LA Business Podcast, a forum for business owners and senior executives to share the experiences about the elements that drive their success. Your host is Robert Brill, CEO of Brillmedia.co, an Inc 500 company delivering the power of hyperlocal advertising. Robert writes for Forbes Inc and Ad trade publications.
Our goal is to bring you the stories about successes and failures of people who are making big things happen in marketing, entrepreneurship, and management.
Robert Brill: [00:00:42] Hey, everyone. Welcome to another episode of the LA Business Podcast. Today we have Sasha Der Avanessian, the Founder and CEO of Harvest Dental Products. Great to have you, Sasha, tell us about yourself and, Harvest Dental Products.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:00:58] Well, first off, Robert, thank you so much for inviting me on the podcast. That really is a pleasure. Well my, background is, is very, very simple. One. My father was a dental laboratory owner and a dental laboratory makes artificial teeth. And, I fell in love with the industry and in, 2004, started Harvest Dental Products.
I went in on the product side of the business and started the company in a two-car garage. And it’s been a wild ride ever since that’s the way that I would describe it. Really what we do is we produce premium materials that are used to make artificial teeth or, in layman’s terms, we’re smile makers.
Robert Brill: [00:01:48] And so, is it like any teeth or is there a specific idea of a specific niche or the types of people who use your particular teeth? Like what, how does that play out.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:02:03] Sure. Well, we are in the fixed category, so you’ve got dentures, which are removable, and then you’ve got implants or crowns and bridges, which would be considered fixed.
And so we, we live on the fixed side and, the types of materials that we produce are, fixed denture materials. So, high impact acrylic materials that basically function as denture teeth that are either screw retained on an implant system or, are cemented to, an existing prepped tooth.
Robert Brill: [00:02:44] Got it. And so, how does one grow in such a category, right? Like, it sounds like we have commonalities. My, mother works for trodden dental labs. And, you, you guys work with them and I’m sure many other laboratories, like how do you grow in that business and what are some of the challenges you’ve faced as you’ve scaled up.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:03:09] Hmm. Well, I mean, you know, to me, growth is, is universal, right? It’s based on value, right? Value creation, value invention. And so for us, you know, we’re always trying to invent value. To me, quality is a feeling. And so, you know, really our modus operandi or our focus is to. Develop an experience, right.
To innovate, to develop an experience that catches the customer, by surprise with a value that they didn’t expect.
Robert Brill: [00:03:47] How do you communicate that in, in teeth? I mean, I’ve, I’ve had my share of crowns. I’m, I’m definitely afraid every time I go to the dentist, even though I have a fantastic dentist.
Dr Allen Styne here in, Northridge. Like just the whole thing of going to the dentist like is, is really scary. Palms get sweaty, I can’t sleep sometimes it’s like MM on Eight Mile.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:04:12] Yeah. It’s not as bad as it seems, but, you know, I, I can definitely, understand. So our, target customer is the dental laboratory, so it’s not the dentist.
And so ultimately, the way the value chain works is, you know, you go to your dentist. Your dentist basically then prescribes a crown to you, you say, okay. He then takes your impression, sends that impression to the dental laboratory, which is a B2B business that services that, that just on the production side, dentists are service based businesses.
Dental laboratories are production-based businesses. That’s where the teeth are actually made. and so, you know, we. Currently, our, our market is the dental laboratory. And so what we’re doing is we are competing with other companies in our space, that are, producing materials, that they would fabricate into a final restoration that they would then send to the doctor.
How do we then communicate that kind of value experience? you know, our brand really is wrapped around a term, and that term is refreshing. that’s really kind of our brand focus. It’s our brand story. And so, you know, as you know, branding is way more about saying no than it is about saying yes, right?
And when we talk about brand, we’re talking about making an impression, you know, making such an impact that the customer takes a piece of you with them because they want to refer to that feeling or experience, you know, at a later time. And so for us to simply just sell a product isn’t gonna get us there, right?
So, what we do is we communicate to the market, our why, why we exist. And we do that front footed and, and aggressively all of our advertising is, basically wrapped around our philosophy for being, you communicate that enough people start to understand it, and then now you have to win the trust game.
And so we’re most of our competitors will communicate what they do because we will always communicate confidently what we know about ourselves. And most, you know, most companies have a marketing department, that are really focused on function and less about spirit and soul. And, and because of that, they focus on features and benefits.
They focus on, you know, those types of things. And, and for us. We advertise the category because the category for us is know that represents the features and benefits. Right? Category has its own expectations of the types of features and benefits of a product in a particular category. So what we do is we will advertise who we are.
We’ll make the bet that the customer will choose our product because we’re the only company they actually know. And. When you talk about refreshing, right? You have to, you know, the being refreshed is you have to cut across an existing state of being. And so what we do in that regard is we will hide our product’s greatest attribute so that the customer actually uncovers it.
And really thereby is refreshed. And so what happens then is you develop an incredible, trust in that transaction because now you’ve become the only company in the space that actually is authentic to what they say about themselves.
Robert Brill: [00:08:08] Okay. Can you speak to some of that? Like what are some of the messages in your marketing? And so these are going to your marketing dental laboratories or you’re marketing to the business. Yeah. You’re marketing to a dental lab. So like what, what are some of the types of messages you share in the marketplace? Because it’s, what’s interesting to me is there’s a very nurturing element to everything you’re saying.
Like, I feel it. Just through this conversation, I feel, I feel the nurturing and I imagine that the marketing is an expression of you. So now I get a sense of the, of the nurturing that must go into the marketing. And I’m curious about what it actually says and how you communicate that.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:08:49] I appreciate that. You know, building a brand is a slow build. And that’s what I think a lot of people don’t understand. And it took me some time to understand, right? You get impatient. and so, you know, when you’re building a brand, you know, you’re really planting seeds. So, you know, our trademark, if you will, our slogan, our, our mantra is no respect for the status quo. And so what that does is that really does, even though we’re talking about thinking outside the box, it puts us in a box in the sense that we are very limited to the types of products that we can offer the market.
Right? And if we do bring up product to market, we have to have a disruption, the value disruption strategy tied to that product. So it keeps our product line very, very lean, and it keeps us, you know, it keeps us disciplined with regards to the types of products that we can represent. And so ultimately, we can say whatever we want.
And what we do is we talk about, you know, you know, knowing that, you know, we were born with a thumbprint and, you know, you were. You know, branding is about being as unique as you are, right? And so we have to live up to that because our products ultimately become the mouthpiece that endorses our message, right?
So ultimately what we do is it starts with product development, right? and it starts with understanding what categories we are going to be able to drive, a refreshing value proposition and what categories we’re not going to be able to do that in. Okay. And so essentially what we do is we will look for.
Mountains and molehills, right. Mountains. I would consider product categories where they have a strong leader. you know, the, the brand, has very, very strong, market share. And it’s a commoditized product that we feel like we can’t, you know, we wouldn’t be able to separate ourselves in that way. And so traditionally we start with product categories that are neglected, that, that have no clear leader, but have a quality culture or standard that is attached to the products in that category.
we approach the manifestation or execution of a refreshing brand strategy to three major components. The first is convention, understanding the market conventions around the category. So we take the products that are, let’s say, the top five products in the category. We try to understand what they all do. In the same manner.
Robert Brill: [00:11:50] So category in this case would be what? The different teeth?
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:11:53] Product categories. Let’s say you know, we have a product called super peg, which actually is, just a stabilizing paste, the high heat stabilizing base. Basically, you would inject into the ceramic crown before you would fire it.
Robert Brill: [00:12:09] Got it.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:12:10] That would then become a crown on a peg. So that it doesn’t fall off and get damaged.
Robert Brill: [00:12:16] Got it. Okay. So now we’re talking about the paste. Okay.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:12:19] We’re talking about the paste, right? Or any product. This is product for Harvest, but let’s talk about that. you know, basically, or actually we can talk about our, our multilayer material.
It is a 10-layer incisal gradient material. So it’s got layers in it.
Robert Brill: [00:12:45] Sure. Okay.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:12:46] Either way, any of these products, it’s a universal concept and it can work for any product.
Robert Brill: [00:12:51] And sure, sure.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:12:52] Understanding the market conventions in a particular product category, so really becoming obsessed.
It’s becoming obsessed with the attributes of the competitive product in that category, that function or behave the same.
Robert Brill: [00:13:13] Okay.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:13:14] They’re all good products. They all do what they, what they’re supposed to do. And so we have to understand that because the moment we can understand that now we know the box, we need to think outside of. The convention becomes the catalyst for differentiation.
Robert Brill: [00:13:31] Yeah. Got it. Yup.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:13:35] And then we have to have a vision. Now our vision is the attribute refreshing.
Robert Brill: [00:13:41] Okay. So how are you doing this research? Is it observational or do you do full market research? Like how do you do this? Cause it seems very specific.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:13:53] With regards to the methodology.
So, I mean, you know, I’m a student. I’m constantly, learning, you know, the disruption methodology, comes from Jeanmarie Drew of TBWA, you know, the global brand agency, the agency for Apple. Sure. They kind of popularized the disruption. This disruption model. and ultimately, it’s about identifying the catalyst for differentiation rather than just trying to be different.
It’s actually a measured process where you understand. Where you feel like you can meet the customer at that intersection of clarity and surprise.
Robert Brill: [00:14:43] So are you doing this as a measured process or is it more observational? That’s what I’m trying to get.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:14:50] I would say it’s more observational and like anything else, it’s a bet.
Robert Brill: [00:14:55] Got it.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:14:56] Right. You know, at the end of the day, what we’re really doing, or what I’m really doing is reverse engineering myself. What, would catch me off guard. If I could use this type of value, intrusion, a benefit that the customer may not expect. you know, what, would kind of tickled me?
Robert Brill: [00:15:20] So how do you do that with dental, with this material,
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:15:23] This paste? So super peg basically is a, you know, a high heat, what we would call peg putty, which basically stabilizes the crown on firing pins. During the, burning process. The firing process is, it turns into glass and now you’ve got a ceramic crown.
Sure. So what we do again is, when we took all of these products, we identified the convention that all of them were great. They all were great. But they all did one thing. They left a residue on the inside of the crown, and so after every crown was fired, the technician would have to get up out of his seat, go to a sandblasting unit and clean sand blast the inside of the crown to divest it.
The reason is because the guy that developed this product initially basically was a tinker. He found. A insulating material that is used for firewalls, so they would spray it on the inside of walls and when it gets exposed to heat it rigidizes.
Robert Brill: [00:16:28] Interesting.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:16:28] What this also did was provide a high heat material that was a refractory material that didn’t come, you know, contaminate ceramic.
But he would be able to inject into the crown and actually stabilize the crown on the pin because. When a crown would fall off these little pins or little like little toothpicks, you would lose a whole day of work.
Robert Brill: [00:16:47] Oh, Jesus. Okay.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:16:48] Right. So, they all had this ingredient in there because everybody just copied everybody else.
And that’s what the status quo is, right. Follow the leader. And so again, no respect for the status quo is understanding the status quo and then going your own way. And so, what we were able to do was always identify a material that we could develop. And I developed it myself, and I’m not a chemist, but I, I obviously, you know, had some help with some chemists, and, over five sleepless nights developed a product that would actually, fire like the others, but literally fire at the end of it, like a pillow. So you would take tweezers and pluck it out.
Robert Brill: [00:17:33] Got it. So that was the innovation right there. That’s the innovation.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:17:37] So if we go through kind of the methodology, the convention is again, you’ve got convention, you’ve got vision, and then you’ve got disruption. Convention is all the products were great, which is the opportunity.
But, they all leave a residue and nobody has asked the question, why does it have to be this way?
Robert Brill: [00:18:00] Right?
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:18:01] And so when we identify the attribute that we want to manifest, right? When we want to bring the brand alive, right? And we’re talking about refreshing somebody refreshing the customer’s day in a positive way, that’s the way that we’re going to do it.
They’re going to find out, we’re not going to tell them. We’re going to withhold the product’s greatest attribute.
Robert Brill: [00:18:23] Really?
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:18:24] Advertise the category. We’re going to say the methodology of harvest is, it lives in the category of peg buddies.
Robert Brill: [00:18:32] Got it. I get it. So basically the, plot twist is the, unexpected delight.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:18:39] Correct. Surprise and delight. Absolute delight. Yup.
Robert Brill: [00:18:42] So, like you get that type of feedback that, that, that the customer, that the lab is like, oh yeah, I didn’t even realize this could happen. Are you getting that feedback?
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:18:56] That’s how we’ve grown and, yeah. And that’s, that’s, like I said, building a brand is a slow build.
It’s not transactional. Right? It’s relational. And you know, as a small company starting in a two-car garage, you know, I got to say, there were many valleys of insecurity that I had to cross over as I continued on with this ethos of building something, building a brand that was, remarkable.
And, and by that, I mean that that could be remarked about. And so that really is the story is, you know. Impacting the customer to such an extent that they then share their experience with those whom they love in their circle, which most times will be other dental laboratory owners.
Robert Brill: [00:19:54] Sure.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:19:55] And so just to kind of summarize the, you know, identifying the convention is the key, right.
And, and that really starts with asking. A ton of questions. It’s a questionnaire in process, right? Why do we always talk about lunch or why do we, always talk about brunch but never litter? That’s a convention. That’s a market convention that we can overturn, right?
All of these peg putties burn out the same. They leave a residue. That becomes the convention that we overturn. The vision is. The attribute always attributes based. right. We want to manifest a human attribute that again, leaves the customer with a piece of us that, they would want to refer to, you know, at another particular time. Building that trust and that, you know, that credibility and authenticity that what we say we actually do.
The disruption. Is actually both innovation and also strategy. The innovation being we’ve developed a product now that eliminates sandblasting entirely. The disruption is we keep our mouth shut. We make the bet that the customer is going to choose us because they know us or something about us that they don’t know about the competitor.
Right. Which is our why. And then they uncover the value proposition, like finding a treasure.
Robert Brill: [00:21:38] So, if you’re not, touting the plot twists or the surprise and delight mechanism in your messaging, you’re relying purely on word of mouth and testimonial to drive the undercurrent of that surprise and delight.
So I guess my question is, there’s a point where you have to start like. You start the journey, how do you gain velocity within the marketplace in a situation where you know you’ve got a great product, you know the person’s going to be surprised and delighted. But they’re never gonna know that until they make the purchase.
So you have to do something that’s interesting enough to get a purchase.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:22:23] Sure. Well, I mean, look, obviously there’s gotta be some type of awareness campaign, right? Because you’re having to communicate your why. So we’ve got to get the why out there know we do that through advertising.
but to be honest with you, I mean, you know, I, when I started the coming 2004, I mean, I didn’t have a print advertisement until 2011. So I was, really, really kind of sweat equity, you know, up until that time. And so my strategy, and that’s a great question. Robert, really good question.
My strategy was this, I knew that I could brand my philosophy in my identity and the spirit of Harvest Dental with the 45 reps within the distributor network. And if I could wow then, I could then scale that communication to the thousands that they communicate with every day.
Robert Brill: [00:23:29] So they’re the gatekeepers.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:23:31] So they are the gatekeepers. They are the current gatekeepers.
Robert Brill: [00:23:37] That might change.
That will change. But, you know, so if we go into the dealer system and I do a sales presentation and I make a promise to say, I promise you that your customers are going to, thank you.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:23:56] And I know how crazy that sounds, and I’m sure you hear that from everybody. All I ask is that you trust me. And of course, you know, to get positioning right, you’ve got to have, you know, you’ve got to present multiple things like margin advantage and stuff like that. Right. So that it’s worth their while to position it in front of a competitive product that they’re already selling.
But the moment they started getting the thank yous, that was when we won. And that was really when the pebble became a snowball. And again, it, the layers grow over time. It’s a long game. Right? and you know, you hear this from Gary Vaynerchuk all the time, right? Patients. It’s taken.
Robert Brill: [00:24:46] So, when we met, I reached out to you after I heard you on the Gary V podcast.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:24:52] Correct.
Robert Brill: [00:24:53] Tell about that experience you were in with Gary V and some, brand growth strategies and some stuff. Tell me about some of that and what you took away, and I think that’s going to impact your marketing or wherever you want to go with it. What what comes out of these experiences for you?
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:25:14] Ah, well first, I’m very glad that you contacted me, because it’s really been a pleasure getting to know you, and understanding your business, which I think is amazing. I think you’re doing an incredible job.
Robert Brill: [00:25:30] I appreciate that.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:25:31] But I’ve got to say, you know, the experience with Gary V really was, if there’s one word that, I could use to describe it, it was dynamic and intense. He is, in person, as advertised, and after spending a considerable amount of time with him in a board room with his inner circle, his leadership team, I can confidently say that he will probably go down as one of the greatest entrepreneurial minds and our generation. Basically, our journey to his offices in Manhattan started with a relationship that I have with a company called Young Nails.
Young Nails and Harvest are both now a Vayner Mentor companies. So, Young Nails is a Vayner mentors’ company that, through the Sasha group, which is a division of a Vayner Media. And what they do is they work with, dynamic brands, in niche categories, to unlock aggressive growth.
And they have been very, very successful. Actually, just yesterday, their video was number one on Tik Tok for it’s viral activity, which is amazing. And I’ve watched them just explode after their experience with Vayner. So obviously that peaked my interest. And I was also following Gary V on social media. They ask them, Hey, who else do you know in the medical dental space? They recommended Harvest. And so, they basically interviewed us, came here, did a site visit and determine that we were a good fit for this product. the way it works, Robert is it, it’s basically, um. It’s a kind of an investment consulting product.
It’s very innovative actually. And so what they do is they will invest their inner circle. They will invest their, leadership team. they will invest, they will share their Rolodex and the knowledge in their hallways, to, identify the areas in your business where. You might be stuck that would inhibit you from growing three to 400% year over year.
you know, there’s a, they, go through a process of understanding, first off, are you a brand? you know, is the CEO or visionary, you know, an influencer in the space? Does he, you know, do you have right product, right price, right time? Are you solvent? Do you have resources to really grow?
And when they determine that, they then will take you on as a client then, they will take a share of your growth for three years.
Robert Brill: [00:28:45] Wow.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:28:45] Very, very fair deal. because they will only take what they grow, the percentage of what they grow.
Robert Brill: [00:28:53] Interesting.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:28:56] Gary V., when I went into that meeting, I had some preconceived ideas of what I needed from him and where I wanted to take him in the discussion.
And he basically came in and, I would say, blew my mind. The first thing that, I will say about Gary is that, number one, he understands. He understands the value chain of any industry and what links in that chain are exploited by the internet in the same way that Uber has disrupted the taxi industry.
What he’ll do is he’ll ask you the questions that determine what the value chain looks like, and he’ll say. You know, Sasha, these are your gatekeepers. And in order for you to win this game, you have to go to this chain, which is actually, in this case, the consumer.
Robert Brill: [00:30:07] Yeah.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:30:08] And so. You know, Gary, has really directed us to brand our tooth materials to the consumer, based on an influence, an influencer strategy.
Whereas instead of the dentist going to the laboratory and the laboratory choosing what material they want to use, the consumer goes into the dentist and says, I want Harvest.
Robert Brill: [00:30:35] Big, big change.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:30:36] Huge change.
Robert Brill: [00:30:37] It’s a long-term and a long-term and a long-term effort.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:30:41] It’s going to be another waiting game for sure.
Robert Brill: [00:30:45] And so it sounds like you’re going to deploy that strategy.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:30:47] We are going to deploy that strategy. and again, you know, our, product line is segmented, right? and we’ve got tools for the trade, which have to stay in B2B.
Robert Brill: [00:30:57] Right?
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:30:58] But then we also have these medical device materials that are premium materials that actually go in the mouth and look beautiful.
And, you know, we were able to share a video, with the team at Vayner about it. But with, in the video, basically was, was with patient that was getting our material, put it in her mouth at the dentist office. And she was in tears because of how beautiful her smile look.
Robert Brill: [00:31:27] Got it.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:31:28] And this, this woman didn’t smile because she just didn’t have teeth, And that really I think was the, you know, that was kind of the salt, of the whole thing. And that was really, that drove the direction of man, what you’ve got here is an incredible opportunity because you have a vanity product.
Robert Brill: [00:31:53] Right?
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:31:54] And, this is actually an opportunity to be the Louis Vuitton of teeth.
Robert Brill: [00:32:00] Huh? That’s cool.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:32:02] Yeah. It’s totally radical. And I gotta be honest. It shook me a little bit. I understood it. And then again, you know, as I’m sure, you know, every entrepreneur can relate to, you know, it’s like all of a sudden you start doubting your own abilities to achieve sure this huge idea. And you start thinking about the size of your company and the resources that you have, and you start almost, you almost start to, disprove your ability to do it. And, yeah, very interesting. You know, and I said, you know, maybe, maybe I’m thinking too small.
I say, no, you’re not thinking too small. You know, by nature, what we try to do is view everything in our immediate interest.
Robert Brill: [00:33:01] Okay.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:33:02] I thought that’s interesting because I’m thinking about this as a now thing, and I’m like, well, I’m not in a position to do this now. And what is he saying is what you need to do is walk towards that vision right.
And, then again, you come back to your own journey and you go, actually, yeah, that’s how I started.
Robert Brill: [00:33:23] You know, I think one of the most interesting things that I’ve heard repeatedly from Gary Vaynerchuk and others, but a lot of it is from him, is this idea of becoming a media company first, hiring an editorial director.
It’s so interesting cause cause it’s, I find that stuff really fun. and we’re, we’re sort of getting into a cadence that will, we’re deploying content and whatnot and venturing out of the stuff that we’re normally doing. So I think, if you like storytelling, it’s probably going to be a really fun endeavor for you to deploy over the next few years.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:33:58] Absolutely. And so part of this process, right, as they do a full internal audit of your company and they, and they basically will help you develop this internal. Right, kind of media department, by, you know, interviewing, interns, and I mean, they just, they’ve got such a wide network that like, you know, I mean, there’s people in Bria, right? California. That are just waiting to be a part of this.
Robert Brill: [00:34:27] Absolutely. Absolutely. Like, one of my great friends, his name is Anthony, he has a kid, his name is Cooper, and Cooper’s helping me with our social media. And you know, he’s, he’s good, but he’s a little on cool. He doesn’t, you know, we need to kind of work on a few things.
But overall, he’s really good. And I, I’m just realizing there’s, there’s probably like. A whole generation of young people. I mean, this kid is 20, so I mean, I didn’t know anything when I was 20. Right? Like, I just figured out I’m alive at like 30 right? Like, I don’t know anything. And, so the kids actually doing work at 20.
Incredible. I imagine there’s like a massive industry about to develop where, if this becomes as it appears to be, the sort of backbone of content is going to be an editorial desk at every company. There is a ton of opportunity for kids like Cooper to build an entire career for the next 40 years off of the moment that we’re in now.
And, and as it develops, really actually kind of fascinating.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:35:35] I fully agree and I think it is fascinating. It’s very fascinating. And it’s a whole new category of, value that, you know, one can provide to a company that didn’t exist 10 years ago. and you know, whenever you hear everybody talk about, well, you know, there’s, you know, digital is, is kind of destroying jobs and this and that.
Well, it’s, I mean, it’s, as you’ve just explained, it’s, you know, it’s, it’s actually creating new jobs. Yeah. and so, you know, we’re really looking forward to, you know, to diving into that. So, so some interesting kind of, you know, back to that question about, you know, kind of our experience with, with Gary.
Um. You know, so it was really interesting to ask a lot of questions. They ask a lot of questions, very, very insight driven, you know, and really just gathering intelligence. and then what they begin to do is then they came here and spent two days with us and they did basically kind of stakeholder interview.
So they interviewed. You know, different people within the company in, at different levels of management from, you know, a warehouse, pick and packers to Senior Vice Presidents. And, obviously asked us a ton of questions, around vision, mission, just some real core kind of principles.
And you actually realize, you know, as a business or how much you don’t know, just with regards to the fundamentals.
Robert Brill: [00:37:10] Right?
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:37:11] But I mean, where you’re like, yeah, I actually never developed an elevator strategy or an elevator pitch, you know, and so what I’d like to share is kind of the five growth pillars that they’ve identified that they feel like are going to unlock us as a company.
Robert Brill: [00:37:31] Okay. Let’s hear it. That sounds really interesting.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:37:33] Yeah. So, the first one is organizational culture and communication. Aand, basically, what, what, what that means is, you know. They’re going to, develop, you know, develop a communication strategy tied to, you know, a fundamental message and a practical outworking of that message. Organizational in an organization wide. and, and what this says is a, is a, you know, is a little kind of summary, but it says positive organizational culture is an often-overlooked source of business growth. If people are happy, they stay in the longer tenured employees are better in their roles. Plus, it’s just the right thing to do. In this building block. We’ll provide our strategies for expanding on the things you’re already doing correctly. Share our thoughts on where there’s room for improvement and flag the areas to watch as you scale up. And so what’s interesting is they see this as a scale opportunity.
Because again, if they’re going to take you from A to Z, we’re talking 300% growth, which is really what their focus is. I mean, the way that they’re viewing my company is very different from the way that I view it every day.
Robert Brill: [00:39:00] How do they view it?
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:39:02] Well, I think, I mean, ultimately, they, they understand, they understand the potential pitfalls on the way up.
And so they go based on Gary’s experience and you know, the acumen in the room, right. And the experience in the hallways. And I think their engagement with, with, you know, with other entrepreneurs in entrepreneurship, they know what departments are neglected. And most times its team related and it’s talent.
What we do, as entrepreneurs is a lot of times, especially in my, experience, you know, on the way up, you know, you hire green cause you’re limited with resources. You’re mentoring a lot. and at some point, you reach, you know, your, your, your department leaders reached the Peter principle.
And, you know, everybody has a level of incompetence in competency, and you also realize your own very quickly as a CEO. And, you know, in 2016 for me was there. But, you know, it’s very interesting. So they’ve identified this organizational culture and communication as a building block. So they’re gonna really put a lot of time and energy into helping us develop a culture which I thought I had and have now realized that actually I don’t have the culture that I’m going to need to get me to where I’m going to be.
Robert Brill: [00:40:38] That’s, that’s super interesting.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:40:40] Right. and that very, insightful when, you understand it that way because it reveals the change that you can’t see.
Yeah. A building block number two, brand fundamentals. The most powerful stories in your industry are those of the patients, but you don’t have a direct relationship with them, right? Because we’re B2B, like expanding our audience to include them. We can begin to shift power away from the gatekeepers, right?
And to be a patient facing brand, we’ll need to review brand fundamentals to adjust for their inclusion without neglecting your direct customers and important stakeholders. So what they’re going to do is they’re going to align our mission and vision to be more, you know, consumer centric, audience mapping, brand positioning, reviewing the brand identity from, scratch, and also the brand architecture.
Robert Brill: [00:41:38] Wow. It’s very interesting.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:41:41] Building block number three is going to be around marketing strategy. communication architecture, right? Marketing mix, evaluate, evaluation recommendations. we’re looking at, you know, digital channel strategy, digital content pillars, right? Teaching us about. What to say and how to say it, where to say it.
And then also looking at, you know, kind of budget rationale, helping us with our budgeting. where, where are you spending now that we actually need to turn that faucet off and redirect those funds here? Right.
Robert Brill: [00:42:16] Yup.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:42:16] building block number four is product offering in distribution. they’re getting a, basically look at our complete product offering.
they’re evaluating our customer relationships and, providing insights. They’re, looking at our dealer network and optimizing and rationalizing, you know, that distribution kind of funnel.
Robert Brill: [00:42:39] Do you find Sasha, do have this in your business where the customer is, you know, the high, high value customers and low value customers and like the ones that are maybe low value, but take off the most time.
Like, is that a thing in your business?
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:42:58] Well, I think it’s, you know, in every business, right? Everybody has an 80/20 rule, right? 20% of our customers account for 80% of our business. Um. You know, we do. And I’ll also say that I just because they buy from us does not mean that they’re our customer. I say that, because for us, our customer, our customers are those who believe the same things that we believe.
Right? And so, you know, for us, we’re going to market to the fringe. We’re going to market to the edges. We don’t market to the mass. because we’re a premium brand. Again, it’s part of that saying, no. which is difficult. And so, you know, we’re, we’re, we know that, you know, we, we deal with very, very large customers.
I wouldn’t say that those customers, you know, outside of price. would recognize, maybe, you know, a value proposition that our true partners or user community would recognize. And that’s the difference between a loyal customer and, you know, a customer that’s just buying the product because maybe we haven’t given them a reason to leave, but we haven’t necessarily given them, you know, a reason to stay and we may lose them to a price point battle at some point in the future.
That’s just it. Does that make sense?
Robert Brill: [00:44:14] Yeah, it does.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:44:16] So they’re, you know, they’re, and they look at all of that, you know, as well. And then, and then the, the fifth building block, which is very interesting, is personal brand development.
Robert Brill: [00:44:26] Okay.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:44:26] So this is for me.
Robert Brill: [00:44:29] That’s dope.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:44:29] So, yeah. So that, that was exciting.
Right? And so, you know, what they’ve, identified as that, you know, because I’m the visionary and, my DNA is all over the brand, that this is a vulnerability currently and a real opportunity going forward. what does that mean? That means that digital strategy for Sasha, that means content pillars for Sasha, and that means a hero and micro content planning.
Robert Brill: [00:45:00] Yeah, that’s interesting. You know, I’m, I’m doing a lot of that stuff right now for, for me as the face of Brill media. Certainly, the name of our business is, is, is my name in it. And, one of the things I just recently had a really good conversation with someone who’s an expert on the SEO side, and he said, placing a photo and a signature and a message or a statement message from me is on the website. Is like good, like it helps in a lot of different ways.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:45:31] So on that note, I have to share something with you, and I don’t even know if I shared this with you prior, but you sent me a video message.
Robert Brill: [00:45:44] Yeah.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:45:45] In the email. Yeah. And I have to tell you, that was the first time that’s ever happened to me. And talk about value invention. Talk about convention vision and disruption. To me, Robert, that was at that, that was a value intrusion. Okay. And when I got that, I actually forwarded that to our director of brand experience, and I said, check this out.
Robert Brill: [00:46:18] Yeah.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:46:19] I thought that was so interesting and I thought it was so cool because you took the time to be human.
To humanize your message, and I just got to say that, that, that, that, that as a first impression. I was incredibly positively impacted by that. it was, it was very, very cool.
Robert Brill: [00:46:45] I was so, so just for a little bit of context, I was listening to the podcast where you, where Gary was talking to you guys and you were talking, and I didn’t even finish the podcast episode, and I filmed this thing at 9.30 at night.
I think I was like I just got to get it out. I just got to get out.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:47:04] It was, was amazing. And, you know, and I appreciated it. It was really, it was something that I appreciated the gesture.
Robert Brill: [00:47:14] Cool. Well, Sasha, look, I think this is super interesting. As we wrap up. Let me ask you, I’m a, I’m a foodie. I like a lot of good food.
I have a, I have an Instagram account and for food, what? You’re in Brea, what do you like to eat or wherever you might travel, what’s your favorite thing that comes to mind?
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:47:33] Well, man, I’m telling you, I’ve got to go back to Glendale for this one, man. You know. Raphie’s Place.
Robert Brill: [00:47:39] Raphie’s second time. You’re the second person to mention Raphie’s I love Raphies.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:47:44] Yup. Ralphie’s place. that is, I would say probably, I love, I love, I love Raphie’s place. you know, carousel.
Robert Brill: [00:47:56] I haven’t been there.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:47:57] Okay. Okay. Carousel on Grand. So the original one is in, is in Hollywood. Used to go there with my grandparents all the time.
Real authentic Armenian food. I’m Armenian, but you know, I would say Mediterranean food is probably my favorite. Tacos are a real short second.
Robert Brill: [00:48:10] Okay. My favorite tacos are Mexicali, right by Dodgers Stadium on Figaro and like where the one 10 on-ramp is.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:48:20] Wow. So there’s like a favorite taco place?
Robert Brill: [00:48:23] Mexicali. Incredible stuff.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:48:25] Really?
Robert Brill: [00:48:25] Yeah.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:48:26] All right. Next time I’m watching the Blue Man, I’m going to have to go, go to Mexicali.
Robert Brill: [00:48:32] Definitely. Sasha. How, can, if people want to reach out to you, how, how do they reach out to you?
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:48:40] Well, I mean, I’m on social media, so I’m, I’ve got a Facebook account. Sasha Der Avenessian.
My Instagram is Sasha Derav, S. A. S. H. A. D. E. R. A. V. I’m also on LinkedIn. I blog, you know, I, share my journal basically, you know, through social media. And that’s been an interesting, growth opportunity for me. I’m just kind of getting comfortable with throwing my thoughts to the wind.
and, and I’ve enjoyed that. And so, you know, obviously if there’s any, any, any of your listeners have any questions, they can reach me on my email as well or, or DM me. [email protected] I’m happy to provide value, wherever I can. if I can answer any questions or share some of my stories with regards to scaling the business, some of the pitfalls that I’ve had to overcome.
And, some of the fears that, I feel like I’ve, gained victory over.
Robert Brill: [00:49:45] Let’s talk about that. Cause that’s definitely, two questions I want to talk about those, elements of some of the things you’ve overcome. I also want to ask you about, well, let’s start there and I, and I have a question about how the branding moving forward, but let’s start there.
Like, I think you told me when we spoke that you had a couple of years where your revenue was sort of like the same and then within like a year or two, like skyrocketed. Like, can you tell us about that?
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:50:15] Yeah. So, you know, since the inception in 2004, you know, Harvest Dental has not had a year that we have not grown double digits.
Um. It took me eight years to hit $1 million in revenue, and it was, an incredible phenomenon. and it taught me a huge lesson, but every year since it was like, it just was like, it just was $1 million a year. And what happened was, is, you know, 2016. It was where I ultimately went to school. 2015 was our best year ever.
like the other years were, but this one was a real good year. I mean, we’d grown like, you know, again, we have an average product price of under 20 bucks. We’ve grown like 1.5 million a year. I had my advertising budget was less than a hundred thousand dollars a year. it was just we had just hit this critical mass.
A brand acceptance, and you could feel the momentum. And man, it was exciting. I would say probably around August, man, I could kind of start to feel the wall shake a little bit. the windows were rattling and I started to feel like something was about to pop. And, ultimately what happened was, I, myself had reached a level of, incompetency. Really, I had stopped growing as a CEO. And I failed to identify this truth. You will only grow as high as your lowest wall.
Robert Brill: [00:52:12] Tell me about that.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:52:14] you know, departmental structure. Accountability systems. Management Ackerman, these things at that point had become exploited.
And in 2016 my operation crashed. We fell into, detrimental back orders. Um. We, fell into cashflow issues, because we were not able to invoice because we were not able to ship. And while this was happening, it was like the tidal wave kept coming. It was like I couldn’t stop it. I couldn’t, you know, it was as if I was in the ocean and it just, I could not catch a breath.
Right. and so. what I realized is that I had lost the ability to, see. The key performance indicators to identify what really were the, the vitals in my business and I became nearsighted.
Robert Brill: [00:53:31] And what are the vitals?
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:53:34] Gosh. well, I mean, of course, you know, first off, you know, you’re looking for, service level, right?
I hadn’t really realized that, you know, our service level was decreasing and it was becoming more and more difficult to fulfill our orders coming Strategic partnerships, I hadn’t shored up second and third sources around, you know, critical components. And so we ran into an issue where we fell into a major backorder situation from a supplier partner, and I had a hard time finding a replacement product for that component.
the talent was a major issue. the people that I had in my production area, that were managing while I was scaling brand development, business development. They weren’t scaling the departments at the same speed. Right. And so we had no problem making it rain. Our problem was catching the water right.
And when you’re expending resources to make it rain.But you’re not catching the water. You’ve got some real issues. And, and so we went from a 30% EBITDA margin in 2015 to a 1% EBITDA margin.
Robert Brill: [00:55:17] Really?
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:55:18] It completely, the whole bottom fell out.
Robert Brill: [00:55:21] Wow.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:55:22] And I’ll tell you the power of brand was what ultimately saved us because the market forgave us. I had very little customer attrition during that time.
Robert Brill: [00:55:44] Is it because of you? Do you think that the marketplace knows you and your reputation and your background? Do you think it’s a brand your business or you?
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:56:02] Well, I believe it was the brand. because again, I can’t scale to, you know, 5,000 laboratories.
I mean, most of the market probably doesn’t even know who I am. To be honest, but it was, I think, the goodwill of the brand. it was at its purest sense, unconditional love. It’s any, humanization factor, right? When you humanize human attributes that are attractive, like generosity, like humility, right?
When you invest in the customer experience and it’s acknowledged, value recognition is incredibly important. Right. Putting yourself in a position to deploy value that can be recognized. Right. You gain that level of trust and loyalty and yes, we probably lost some orders, but we didn’t lose customers.
Robert Brill: [00:56:59] So the 2016 tough year, did top line sales grow?
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:57:06] Top line sales grew.
But we put the brakes on. So we actually grew 10%, but we were, you know, historically, 30% growth, really, really aggressive. and then, you know, we were able to kind of, so 2016 was like the, Oh shit year.
And that was where, you know, I, I had to face myself in the mirror and I remember looking and I said, it was like three in the morning. I remember looking at myself in the mirror and asking myself, you know, do you belong here? What’s interesting is during this time we were actually being courted for acquisition, by two major players in the industry.
And I was ready to sell it. I was ready to divest, join another man’s team. and kind of that was the route that I felt like I needed to take because I had lost my confidence in the process.
Robert Brill: [00:58:07] And what happened?
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:58:09] I prayed, I prayed, and I prayed I actually, had a, what you would call a picture in my mind or a vision. Okay. At this point, I had fallen into debt, about $250,000. and I saw a product, and, and I saw a logo on the box and I saw a product and I knew exactly what it was. it was so clear. That I went ahead and I invested $10,000 in a prototype. I then called the company whose logo was on the box.
I pitched them on the idea. They said, when can we see a sample? I said, you’ll have it on your desk tomorrow morning. I shipped it next day air. I ended up closing the deal for the exact amount of $258,000 my margin was 90%. $17 to make. I took that money. I paid off the debt. I was debt free by October 2016.
Robert Brill: [00:59:39] Woo.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:59:41] It’s an unbelievable story.
Robert Brill: [00:59:43] Did you create a new product or what did you actually do,
Sasha Der Avanessian: [00:59:45] The new product, it was, wasn’t an innovate, it wasn’t a new innovation. It was, a product that was a whole, in the product line of one of the largest dental companies in the world. And I just, I, I developed it. I manufactured it, I knew exactly what I needed to do. it was Harvest Quality. It was a private label product, so it wasn’t a Harvest Product. It’s, I make it just for them. And, I recently just got an order for the same product, a reorder. this time it was, you know, close to $300,000. Wow. but at the end of the day, that was the turning point for me. And if you can imagine, the element of confidence that, that I Rose up with, in that moment, and I felt like this, I can do this. So 2017 was the restructuring year, and I had to identify where, where I went wrong. Like what happened, right. And so really it was, it was going through a triage type exercise.
And I basically looked at my complete value chain within the company and identified what those were, and began to create what I called signature process silos.
Robert Brill: [01:01:15] Okay.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [01:01:16] These are the internal processes of my business that define me internally. I know what defines us externally, what actually defined me internally.
I didn’t have an answer for that.
Robert Brill: [01:01:31] So your talking about your process, your standard operating procedure.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [01:01:33] Correct. Right. And so, we went through the process of becoming, becoming ISO 9,001, and then ISO 13485 certified, which is a global quality standard, global quality standards available. We got certified.
and then from a management standpoint and from a visibility standpoint, I created a, basically six signature processes, which were financing accounting, manufacturing and innovation, sales and service, marketing and brand in planning and operations. Each of these silos would then have a visionary and the champion visionary in most of these cases was me.
What I was able to do then is I was able to put. My name here and know that my job is to replace me as the visionary in this process, right? And so then I focus my hiring activity on finding the right executer or champion for that process. And so every day was a signature process day for me, from a management standpoint.
So on Mondays I focused on finance and accounting. Got it. And I looked at. It gave me an opportunity to take a deep dive into that process, to understand my financials, to look for the right help, to find a consultant that could help me in this process, which I would set up my calls on the Monday. I would have my meetings with anything that had to do with that process on the Monday.
Robert Brill: [01:03:20] Wow.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [01:03:21] And I was able to bucket, and drive clarity. Right. And, actually kind of allow myself to pull out of the weeds in, see a horizon. And I was able to do this with every signature process and then to the point to where I found the right people then to replace myself as the visionary and now operate more as kind of the you know, I went from kind of an operating CEO to more of a visionary CEO. That was really my trajectory as, as my own maturity in overcoming my own Peter principle with regards to being a Chief Executive Officer of an organization.
Robert Brill: [01:04:14] That’s fascinating. Did you go to business school?
Sasha Der Avanessian: [01:04:18] I did. I went to university of Redlands.
Um. I studied management. I don’t feel like I learned anything though. I think I learned everything in 2016 to be honest with you.
Robert Brill: [01:04:28] That’s where the evidence went.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [01:04:30] That’s exactly right. That actually makes me feel a lot better, man. Thank you. I’ve never looked at it that way before. when, you know, when I read some, I read some books I read, I read a book called Growing Pains, which helped me.
I also read a book called the Messy Middle. You know, and, and, and again, you know, I mean, I’m, I’m, I’m, I, I just don’t believe in experts. I, I, I’m not an expert in anything. And, and part of my transition was in 2015 I think I started to believe I was. And what I realized in 2016 was sit your ass down, dude, and start to learn again.
Robert Brill: [01:05:12] That’s amazing.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [01:05:14] You know, and that’s really what happened. And so, you know, again, over the course of three years, we went from, and, and not only that, Robert, but we were operating in four buildings. We had outgrown our existing building. We were operating in four different buildings. We didn’t have the leadership breadth, to really manage those buildings, those operations.
and, um. But the, the, the miraculous story and all this is in one year I went from my weakest financial position and most vulnerable, you know, kind of environment as an entrepreneur. where I literally was, close to growing myself out of business to my wrong-est position, in, in my career, as, as an entrepreneur, financially, you know, brand equity and also identity formation with regards to me.
I became a better person through it all.
Robert Brill: [01:06:12] What does the next two to five years look like for you guys? And I’m specifically interested in, when you, when you end up going to the consumer and marketing, are you going to remain as Harvest Dental or are you going to go to, I actually, as I think about this question, probably doesn’t make sense to create a different consumer brand.
Right? Like your, it, it’ll stay Harvest Dental, right?
Sasha Der Avanessian: [01:06:35] So actually, and that’s a great question. Um. From the consumer brand standpoint? we, are definitely, I mean, we have to rethink everything really. Harvest Dental would be, you know, the organist, the, you know, the, the legal entity.
Sure. But as you know, right brand is, is a soul and you can’t behave like a B2B company and try to, you know, be a B to C company’s we’re looking at developing a focused brand that has its unique, point of differentiation, and its unique, brand essence and message
Robert Brill: [01:07:28] Really.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [01:07:29] Yeah, for sure.
Robert Brill: [01:07:31] That’s fascinating. Whole new can of worms. That’s a whole new can of worms, not just marketing. You’ve got to actually develop a whole completely new brand.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [01:07:42] And that is one of the pillars that will be addressed through the Vayner Partnership, through the partnership with Gary, Gary’s involved in the development of the growth plan.
And so. You know, he said it, and, you know, we’re, buying in and, and now his team is putting together, you know, that process. where do we see ourselves in, in three to five years? the first thing I would say is staying true to ourselves, staying true to our, brand identity. staying true to our vision of interrupting the customer’s day in a positive way. that never changes. you know, obviously, as we open up the consumer channel, looking at additional, you know, disruption opportunities there. I would also say that, you know, um. Aggressive growth. you know, and that will really, I think, be predicated on our ability to, to humanize our brand message.
you know, and, also create. Inspiration as a product. and like all products, a product needs a value essence. It needs packaging and it needs distribution. And that becomes our, I would say, social media offering.
Robert Brill: [01:09:21] Inspiration as a product. I think, you know, as I think about this, I, I can’t, I don’t think there’s any other brand doing this just by the first mover advantage alone.
I think you’re going to have. Immense impact.
Sasha Der Avanessian: [01:09:35] I think so. you know, again, you know, if we, if, if, you know, we stand by our mantra of have no respect for the status quo, right? We have to be that. And this definitely, I think, you know, puts us in that, I would say on that track, right, is, is developing a unique product that people are going to not just need but want in their mouth.
Robert Brill: [01:10:08] Sasha, this has been super interesting. I wish you all the best, and, I hope we can, keep in touch, Robert. It will. I would love to keep in touch. I think, you know, you’ve got a, a great podcast. And more so I think just a great understanding of, you know, of all this stuff. And I actually, I look forward to, you know, a relationship and, and learning from as well. So thank you so much for having me.
Thank you, Sasha.