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Interview with Dr. Chris Villanueva of MB2 Dental, and the Winner of Nifty Awards 2023 “DSO Executive of the Year”.

Articles, Editors Pick, Nifty Awards

Earlier this year, I launched the first annual “Nifty Awards” to recognize and honor the best professionals in the dental industry in the Nifty Thrifty Dentists community, a group of more than 54,000 dental professionals.

By opening the award process to the Nifty Thrifty Dentists community, I designed the Nifty Awards to make sure everyone in the dental community had a voice, including dentists, dental hygienists, dental assistants, dental vendors, coaches,
consultants, and others. That way, nobody could win an award by just treating the dentists well. They needed to be recognized by everything in the community to win.

In this article, I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Chris Villanueva of MB2 Dental who was voted “DSO Executive of the Year” about what he and his team are doing with MB2 Dental, how he maintains a healthy personal life, what he sees in the
dental community, and more.

Dr. Vo:
I’m so excited to interview you for Dental Lifestyles Magazine. As many people know, I’m not just a fan of MB2 Dental but I’m also a partner with you. My office was number 200. As of this writing, MB2 Dental boasts 639 offices across 39 states. Talk a little bit about MB2 Dental and how you’ve been able to grow.

Dr. Villanueva:
Thank you for having me. A key factor contributing to our success is our dedicated focus on selecting the right doctors. While our growth has been substantial, we don’t view our journey as a competition with others. We’re not in a race with
anyone. Our approach is not about acquiring offices for the sake of numbers, but about forming meaningful partnerships. We evaluate around 3,000 private practices annually. Despite the considerable interest we receive, we selectively choose to collaborate with 100 to 120 practices that share our values and vision. The journey has been immensely rewarding, marked by substantial growth in both central services and in our numbers, of course.

Dr. Vo:
Talk a little bit about MB2’s place among other DSOs and
what makes you different.

Dr. Villanueva:
I travel the country constantly talking to doctors who inevitably compare us with a lot of groups. There are plenty of startup groups out there and others that have been around for a while.

We tend to find ourselves at the table with a handful of startup groups when people are considering MB2 Dental. What I try to impress upon doctors is not to assume that we’ll all have the same track record. Statistically speaking, there
are over 200 private equity-backed groups in the country. In terms of how many have actually had a recapitalization event and gave an opportunity to their doctors to monetize equity, we’re talking about a very small number, maybe in the single
digits. More have actually gone into receivership or haven’t been able to scale and have gone back to the bank. There is sometimes an assumption that every group will have a positive track record because of the success of other groups, but
it’s just not true. I think it’s a miscalculation.

We’re fortunate to have a great track record, which is uncommon, and that’s really one of the things that sets us apart.

Dr. Vo:
As an owner/doctor in MB2 Dental, one thing that jumped out to me is the autonomy you give to doctors in the group. Talk about that a little.

Dr. Villanueva:
That goes all the way back to our genesis and why we even created MB2 Dental. For the first 10 years, MB2 Dental was really very much a mastermind group. I like to say that I was appointed student body president, not paid to lead a co-op. Frankly, we really created the infrastructure just to support our personal offices at the time so we could compete with the larger groups.

The agreement amongst my partners was very simple. They had autonomy at the practice level, and that goes beyond clinical. That goes to hours of operations, paying your staff, the number of team members you have, and more. They were
responsible for those decisions. I was responsible for the people in central service to support our individual offices.

The structure was not designed to be a profit center. It was never meant to make money. It was simply to make our personal practices more efficient. When private equity came in and invested in us, nothing changed philosophically speaking, either. Everyone is still in charge of their practices. That’s very important to us and builds mutual trust. I trust my partners to make decisions out in the field
for their personal practices, and, in turn, they trust me to make decisions here at Central Service so we collectively can create more value for our equity and  compete at the level we’re competing at.

Dr. Vo:
Another thing that jumps out to me about MB2 Dental is the quality of the doctors
in the group. How do you go about maintaining that level of quality?

Dr. Villanueva:
Well, I don’t think it’s a novel idea in business. I think when you build a business, whether it’s your private practice or a scale group like ours, you want to surround yourself with individuals with the same values, whatever that may be. So, you
tend to attract individuals with the same values.

At MB2 Dental, we are simple people and keep things simple when it comes to evaluating practices. I always say I’d rather lose money than lose friendships. So, the exercise is really about finding the right partners with the same values we can
envision working with long term. That way we’re not having to go back and redo work or backfill offices. That’s a big part of our success.

And that’s a big part of why we only partner with 100 or so practices a year out of the 3,000 we look at. We maintain the discipline to not just chase profits by growing as fast as possible but instead focus on growing with the right practices.

I think we do the same things in our practices. We are presented with the same challenges. When you look at the most successful private practices, they’re
the ones that stay disciplined, surround themselves with individuals with the same values, and take a long-term approach to decision making.

Dr. Vo:
In your wildest dreams, to see where MB2 Dental is right now, with 639 locations full of doctors who share the same values, was that something you ever thought possible?

Dr. Villanueva:
No, I never would have imagined it would get to this size. As many businesses, I was very narrowly focused. I just wanted to grow and provide support for our practices. But there was an inflection point not too long ago when we hit critical mass and realized that this is a very scalable model. Now I realize that, if you look
at our profession today and the number of private practices we can help and could be eligible for partnership, we’re just scratching the surface. So, although we are one of the largest groups in the U.S., I truly believe we’re still in the beginning stages.

Dr. Vo:
For me, one of the big reasons I joined MB2 Dental, was you. I love the fact that you can balance growing this business and being very dedicated to your immediate and extended family. How do you manage that?

Dr. Villanueva:
When you scale a business of this size, to maintain that balance you need to always put your family first. I make no apologies for it. I encourage my partners to do the same, too.

Whenever we have these conversations about partnership, I tell my partners their loyalties are with their family, so whatever decision they make operationally, personally, or financially, family has to come first. So, I never adopted the idea that you have to have a division between work and life.

Dr. Vo:
The owner meetings are one of the coolest events. All the owners get together to network and grow together. How does it make you feel to be a part of something to where all these owners and all these dentists can now also elevate and level up with you? How does that make you feel to give people that opportunity?

Dr. Villanueva:
I’m extremely proud. It gives me purpose. I mean, building a big business that is very profitable is an accomplishment. But it’s not one that provides too much purpose.

However, when you see the effect you have on people and your given talents have a positive effect on people and their families, that
drives me to continue to do what I do. So those are very humbling events.

Dr. Vo:
Before you go, I want to know how do you feel about the state of dentistry and what advice you would give to newer dental entrepreneurs.

Dr. Villanueva:
I am more optimistic than ever about dentistry. Dentists have more options than ever, which in a free market system like we have, allows the best models to win out and maintain a strong industry. That’s really encouraging to me.

In terms of dental entrepreneurs, I’d encourage them to be as intentional about big picture strategy and mentorship as many people are with task lists. I’m very intentional about the time that I allocate to strategy. Sometimes that’s overlooked.

People develop this idea that you have to be a constantly working or hustling and allocating specific minutes of your day to do certain specific tasks. That never worked for me. Much more important to me is making sure I allocate time with my executive team and my leadership team to think about strategy, think about the headwinds and future challenges, and really think through the permutations
of how we would address those. I think that’s a really big contributor to our success and I would highly recommend all entrepreneurs not overlook strategic thinking time and time for connecting with big picture advisors.

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