Most people have heard of Invisalign, the invisible way to straighten teeth with removable aligners, but do you know the history of this innovative orthodontic product? Align Technology, the creators of Invisalign, was founded in 1997 by Zia Chishti and Kelsey Wirth in San Jose, California. The business currently has over 3,000 employees and an annual revenue of around $560 million. Created as a braces alternative, Invisalign uses a series of clear aligners that patients swap out every two weeks to slowly but surely re-align their teeth. Aligners can be left out for up to four hours each day, making eating, photos and big events seamless.
Invisalign received Food and Drug Administration approval in 1998 after snagging $140 million in venture capital funding. Once the company went public in 2001, an additional $130 million was earned. An internal conflict popped up soon after, with founder Chishti getting the boot from the company. However, the aptly named Align Technology moved forward, perfecting its devices and marketing prowess. Today, Invisalign is in high demand and is seen not as an alternative to braces, but a fair competitor that offers the same results with a proven, yet different, system.
The Early Days
Chishti was an adult orthodontic patient when he came up with the idea of Invisalign. He was struggling with a retainer as part of his own treatment, and realized that such an approach could probably be used for the entire orthodontic procedure. Teaming up with Wirth, the two began looking for developers. As Stanford University students, it made sense to look for partners on their own campus. They found Apostolos Lerios and Brian Freyburger, and the four officially created Align Technology. Their first investors came from Kleiner Perkins Caufield, and (like so many startup success stories) they began developing their product in a Menlo Park, California, garage.
Freyburger and Lerios took care of the computer graphics part of the company, bringing in fellow graduate student Marc Levoy. Intensive research in CAD modeling, capturing geometry and 3D printers was necessary to get the aligners on track. Ultimately, they perfected the necessary programming for “incremental retainers,” thanks to access to a campus lab. At first, even after FDA approval, orthodontists were skeptical about such a drastic shift — especially since none of the founders or partners had any orthodontic expertise. However, consumer demand forced orthodontists to adopt this revolutionary treatment option.
Giving the People What They Want
A massive $31 million TV campaign was launched in 2000, and the rest is history. The New York Times dubbed it the “most aggressive consumer advertising plan the dental profession has ever seen.” That same year, 75 percent of all orthodontists in the United States were trained in Invisalign systems — and then the founders offered it to general dentists.
However, it’s still best to trust only an orthodontist with your orthodontic needs, whether braces or Invisalign. Contact Johnson Elite Orthodontics today for a free Invisalign consultation.