I might just be a sucker for minimalist design and getting packages in the mail, but I have a soft spot for direct-to-consumer startups. They all offer a similar proposition: By not having stores, consumers save money and in-turn get a better product for less. Eye-glasses, mattresses, tampons, ready-to-assemble-meals, books, boner pills, and everything in between have all gotten this treatment.
Oral healthcare’s one of the latest recipients of this attention. Venture capitalists have poured money into toothy startups during the last year: An August analysis from CrunchBase names four “smart toothbrush” companies that have raised $2 million of capital or more in the last few years. Beam Dental, has raised more than $30 million to build its business of smart toothbrushes and dental insurance. Another has raised $1 million to develop what it calls a smart floss dispenser. It’s called FlossTime.
One of the most popular oral healthcare startups is Quip — named one of Time’s best inventions in 2016 — and I spent a week using their fancy electric toothbrush.
Product: Quip Starter Set
Price: Starts at $25
Release Date: November, 2015
Perfect For: Direct-to-consumer fans looking to make nice with their dentist while ditching the drug store.
Sunday: The Unboxing
My Quip starter pack arrived in a sleek, space-like silver pouch. Unlike some of their competitors, Quip doesn’t really lean into the “smart” aspect of their products, instead emphasizing their design.
The palindromic name and minimalist look appealed to me a lot more than the “smarter” models that come with a lot of bells and whistles (the Verge, after trying a handful of smart toothbrushes, described them as all as “unnecessarily arduous.”)
As a result, your Quip starter pack can all fit in a pretty small package, containing only the smart toothbrush, its carrying case, a three month supply of toothpaste, a travel sized tube of toothpaste, and a brief instruction manual. Their selling point is that they don’t offer extraneous features, just the ones that actually help.
Monday: First Impressions
While I like to think that I’ve gotten pretty good at brushing my teeth after 27 years (I, proudly, did not have my first cavity until well into college, a less-than-banner year for taking proper care of myself), I found Quip’s guide rails helpful without being patronizing. The main thing that Quip helps you do is avoid over-brushing or brushing too hard.
Perhaps it’s out of a misguided belief that brief, but vigorous brushing can make up for not brushing enough or for long enough; but people seem to do a lot of damage to their teeth and gums by brushing too hard. Over brushing can prompt tooth sensitivity by wearing down your enamel, or lead to receding gums. One dentist told WebMD that to avoid these problems, you should think of brushing your teeth as less of a “scrubbing motion” and more of a “massage.”
That piece of advice really reminded me of Quip, whose most surprising feature was how soft the automated brush-head was. It felt much gentler than my old electric toothbrush, so much so that you almost wonder if it’s getting the job done. And while it’s fairly common for electric toothbrushes to have a timer, Quip’s goes off every thirty seconds to remind you to switch sides.
Quip’s toothpaste is also on the gentle side, falling more on the Tom’s/Arm-and-Hammer side of the mintiness spectrum than the mouth-wash infused toothpastes that you often see from big manufacturers.
Tuesday: A Toothbrush for Travels
The most truly innovative aspect of Quip was probably how well suited it is to travel, which is a big problem for maintaining a good oral health regimen (if you spend a lot of time on the road, for example, it doesn’t matter how nice the plug-in electric toothbrush back home is).
To that end, Quip solves one of my least favorite parts of packing: trying to find a way to get the toothbrush I’ve just used into my luggage without getting everything wet, or without getting a bunch of gross suitcase gunk on the brush.
Quip solves this problem pretty elegantly with a little kind of astronaut’s helmet that can be screwed on and off, and which covers your brush head. Quip’s toothbrush also doesn’t need to be charged, which means that you really can take it anywhere (until, of course, it’s time to replace which Quip says takes about 3 months).
Wednesday: Starting to Appreciate the Finer Points
Quip has another pretty stealthy selling point that may take a while to notice, but which was hugely helpful in my tiny apartment where four people share a single bathroom. Along the back of your Quip is a sticky layer which allows you to attach it to the surfaces that you’re likely to find in a bathroom, glass or porcelain. This went a long way toward clearing up the clutter in my bathroom, while also giving me an opportunity to show off my futuristic commitment to oral hygiene.
“Does your Quip live on the wall now?” my girlfriend asked. You bet it does.
I wouldn’t be surprised if several months of use and steam weakened my Quip’s resolve, but the wall mount has held up so far in a very heavily used bathroom, no less. As an infrequent traveler who expects to live in relatively shitty apartments for some time, this is probably the feature that would turn me into a Quip customer in earnest.
Thursday: What Are the Drawbacks?
Quip’s drawbacks aren’t numerous. $25 is definitely a lot to pay for a toothbrush, but not an electric toothbrush. Price-wise, it’s about in line with the cheapest electric toothbrush offered by the big incumbent makers like Philips and Oral B, with Quip’s swankier metal offering coming in at a fraction of the cost of higher-end models at $40.
If I had to find a quibble, it’s that Quip is not a one-stop shop, yet. It doesn’t yet offer floss or mouthwash, which would have been nice. And after all the careful guidance as it pertains to my brushing routine, flossing without a cool new product or Quip’s mechanical cues felt like venturing out into the wild.
That said, it’s safe to say that Quip doesn’t really fall into the trap that befalls a lot of e-commerce companies by simply assuming that a product is better because it arrives on your door. I, personally, like going into stores — both for the ability to hold whatever I’m buying in my real hands but also to interact with people or simply to force myself to go outside.
But buying a toothbrush doesn’t raise any of the concerns about whether something will fit or whether a fruit is ripe; and any trip to my local chain-store pharmacy is one I’m happy to avoid. People really do neglect to replace their brush heads, too, making Quip’s subscription service feel like more of a value added as opposed to a cash grab.
Friday: What’s Next for Quip?
It’s more than safe to say Quip has more products in the pipeline. Quip’s talented designer told Time that its floss was already in the works after the magazine named Quip as one of 2016’s best inventions (a spokeswoman clarified that floss was still in the pipeline but that a launch date has not yet been established).
The company also recently formed its own product lab, dubbed Quip labs, to develop new products and services. The first company acquired through Quip labs was Afora, a dental care membership service. Bundling dental services with a product that indicates regular, careful brushing makes a hell of a lot of sense: If a dentist knows how often you brush and what products you use, they can more easily justify giving you a cheaper rate. Other oral healthcare startups, like Beam Dental, seem to be exploring this model, too.
Saturday: In Conclusion
After spending a week with Quip, I can definitely see why so many people seemed to like it. In addition to the accolades from Time, it’s been dubbed the “iPhone of toothbrushes,” the “Tesla of toothbrushes,” and everything in between. But despite the luxe look and design, it’ll hardly break the bank. The brand doesn’t over-promise — a huge pet peeve — but there are definitely a few use-cases where I can see Quip being a bit of a game-changer. If you’re a traveler with an angry dentist or a aesthete with a crowded bathroom, you should give Quip a look.