Foundr Magazine publishes in-depth interviews with the world’s best entrepreneurs. Our articles highlight the key takeaways from each month’s cover feature. We spoke to Brittany Stewart, founder of BURST Oral Care, about building her business through the power of expert brand ambassadors. Read excerpts from that conversation in depth below. To read more, subscribe to the magazine.
When BURST Oral Care founder Brittany Stewart showed up at her first dental convention, she hoped to sign up some brand ambassadors for the company’s electric toothbrush. She and her business partner, Hamish Khayat, thought connecting with just five or 10 people would be a hit. Instead, they found themselves glued to their booth, selling products and blocking the iOS app they had created to receive feedback.
“We got mugged,” says Stewart.
“I can’t quite explain it, but it’s almost like what a rock star feels like trying to walk out of the concert.”
The business started in 2017 with a few hundred thousand dollars from three angel investors, and the co-founders were going to make every penny count. “We were very capital conscious early on to make sure we didn’t waste it,” says Stewart. The two rented only half a booth at that first convention. Stewart even went so far as to mail his product to his parents’ home in Illinois. His dad brought everything to the site and saved them the $500 receiving fee.
For 12 hours, she and Khayat talked to dental professionals about their product at the Chicago convention. This event laid the groundwork for a business model that would lead to 100 percent annual growth from 2017 to 2019. Stewart and Khayat replicated their strategy, traveling across the country and connecting directly with professionals.
“For three years, I went to every convention in America,” says Stewart. “Every weekend, I was at a dental convention. This is how we built this grassroots community that has guided this company.”
BURST now has a range of products in addition to its electric toothbrushes, including teeth whitening strips, an oral irrigator and dental floss, all subscription-based and delivered to customers’ homes. And all developed with the perspective of its community of professional ambassadors.
Ambassadors as Another Sales Avenue
Two things happen when you buy one of BURST’s toothbrushes from a dental professional. The first is that the customer saves $30 by using a custom code. This savings is a great incentive to buy through a professional. And these professionals are excited to be able to recommend a product that someone can get without breaking the bank.
The second is that the person selling the toothbrush, the BURST ambassador, earns points for the sale, or “crowns.” These points can also be earned through social media activity, signing up colleagues as ambassadors, and having a large number of successful product recommendations. These points are tracked through an app and can be redeemed for BURST products or direct pay each week. It is this model that has created exponential growth for the company. Every time BURST adds an ambassador to their team, they create the opportunity to reach dozens of potential customers.
Although the profit sharing and rewards model for product sales may sound like a multi-level marketing (MLM) company, the website quickly dispels that idea. The first purchase of a BURST toothbrush costs $20, which is refunded on the first sale. In the ambassador FAQ section, BURST uses its characteristically casual brand copy to answer the question, “No, nein, never! We do not ask you to purchase any inventory, nor will you be rewarded for building a team or recruiting (there is no ‘me’ in team, partner).”
“We have our own marketing channel, essentially.”
In its first six months of development, its brand ambassadors were, in fact, its only marketing channel. “We never had an ad; we never had any marketing other than going to our trade shows and then empowering our ambassadors,” says Stewart. In its first two years of business, as of October 2019, BURST had distributed $3.5 million to its ambassadors, 95% of whom are women. As of June 2022, there are 30,000 BURST Ambassadors working in more than 1,000 dental offices.
Ambassadors fall into the category of micro-influencers. They create a buzz around a product through their online engagement. This type of advertising is extremely effective, especially when the company establishes a unique online community, as BURST has done when applying for jobs in the oral care field. But BURST didn’t stop with its community of ambassadors when it came to influencers. As the company grew, they began to invest in advertising, creating even more momentum for their already booming business.
3 business tips from Brittany Stewart
“People ask me all the time, ‘Should I hire an influencer?’ And I always say, if it’s authentic to what you’re doing. Is that influencer influencing the customer you think you have? And if the answer isn’t ‘Yes,’ it’s probably not a great investment.”
“If you constantly don’t have a direct and honest dialogue with your client or if you tell them things that are not true, I think that is a brand of today. You are a brand now; you are not a brand forever.
“We’ve had great success investing in advancing people’s careers from within. That is a fundamental belief of our business: that we will take passion over experience.”