Cover Photo: Zenyum

From starting out in marketing and technology to creating Zenyum with no background in dentistry, here’s how Julian Artopé gets it done from 9 to 5

How I’m Making It is a weekly series in which Tatler speaks to influential individuals about their unique journeys and what keeps them going.

With an entrepreneur as a father and three older brothers all with their own companies, it was a no-brainer that Julian Artopé too would start his own business. However, with a background in technology and marketing, he never expected to successfully start a dental health company with no experience at all.

Today, he is the founder of Zenyum, a dental health company that sells affordable invisible braces and dental hygiene items. And he can’t imagine doing anything else. 

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As a tech entrepreneur, Artopé started out the first 14 years of his career building payment, content and e-commerce companies in Europe, Asia and Africa.

Armed with a degree in General Management & Business Law from European Business School Oestrich-Winkel and a Master of Business Administration from Insead, Artopé joined a German social networking company where he honed his passion for technology. When the company started to do well, he moved to London so that he could work for Skrill, one of the largest digital payment firms in the world.

After leaving Skrill, Artopé made another bold move by moving to Africa for four years where he built the biggest content and classifieds group of the continent.

The accomplished entrepreneur later moved to Kuala Lumpur where he worked in business development at Iprice Group, a Southeast Asian online shopping aggregator. It was then that Artopé decided he wanted to do something that was more meaningful and had more of a visible impact on people’s lives. 

“I am very conscious about my health because health is the foundation of everything in life. I also wanted to create a visible consumer brand that feels fresh and bold in comparison to what’s out there. We also wanted to shape a category, which we thought was ripe for innovation,” said Artopé, who used to wear painful and uncomfortable braces as a child. 

As someone who firmly believes in honing one’s strengths and relying on competent and effective teammates to support areas in which you are weaker, Artopé, who has no background in dentistry, decided to get some dentists on board with his plans in order to get the company going and it wasn’t long before he was able to do this after combining his experience and contacts with his co-founder Frederik Krass. 

Of course, that’s not all it takes to start a company. In the beginning, Artopé and his team struggled to build trust with their consumer base. 

“As a young company, it was hard to convince dentists to come onboard Zenyum’s service at the beginning. Trust and confidence are built through time and consistency — today we have hundreds of dentists offering Zenyum products and services. Building this, in the beginning, was not easy but today we have many dentists reach out to us simply because we always put customers first and consistently deliver optimal results,” he said.

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As the company grew, so did Artopé motivation to continue developing and putting out products for their consumers.

In fact, when asked how he stays motivated, he said: “Zenyum now has the responsibility to provide for the families of over 200 staff and to create products and experiences that make our customers smile more—that in itself is a huge motivation to make sure our products and services are consistently evolving, and whatever we put out is exceptional.”

Today, Zenyum offers more than just invisible braces. In fact, it offers a multitude of dental health hygiene items such as toothbrushes, mouth wash and floss and it is continuing to grow its range as it looks ahead to the future. 

However, beyond timing and expertise is also an airtight routine, a driven mindset and a desire to consistently redefine success. Below, Artopé shares how he does it all in his own words.

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What is a typical morning like for you?

Julian Artopé (JA): I don’t function before having a shower, going through my Zenyumfresh morning ritual (floss, brush, rinse) and doing some stretching (I’m fairly tall, so that’s needed). I also spend some time journaling each morning. It helps me to focus and set my intention for the day, allowing me to flow through the day with intent, instead of just being reactive. 

What do you usually have for breakfast?

JA: I try to start the day fairly healthy. Chia seeds with blueberries or spinach with beans and cottage cheese. During my early founder days in the US, I had to live off peanut butter jelly sandwiches for two months, so I sometimes still make those for nostalgic comfort.

What does a standard workday look like for you?

JA: I separate my week into days for alignment, for thinking and planning and for execution. Usually, I start at 8.30 am. I also try to have dinner with my wife and then make sure that I clear everything I want to achieve before going to bed to have a rested mind.

How would you describe your working style?

JA: I try to be fairly deliberate about my communication and moods—this is where writing down my thoughts helps me to set a theme for the day. On certain days I might need to be deep and go into a lot of detail, while on others, a more hands-off guiding approach is required. There is not one fitting style for all, adaptability is key for start-ups.

Free time: overrated or underrated? Why?

JA: How we spend our time is more important than having free time. Because what we do during our free time will affect how we show up for work. So even the breaks we take, we need to make sure we are recharging our mind, body and soul so that we can be present and productive at work and so that when it comes to leisure time with family and friends, or just with ourselves, we can also be fully present.

How do you achieve a work-life balance? How do you set boundaries?

JA: My goal is to make my employees at Zenyum feel like they are getting more out of it than what they are giving. I know many people that are stuck in jobs which they hate and they just look forward to ending their day and then numbing their minds with Netflix.

At Zenyum we try to be an employer that you want to wake up for in the mornings. We spend more time at work than with our families and so you better enjoy it. I keep telling our staff that if they wake up more than two weeks a year and they are not looking forward to their work, they should reconsider their set-up and we need to have a candid conversation about what we can change. We all have bad days, but I think one should strive to make their lives as meaningful and fun as possible.

How do you chase your dreams?

JA: Write them down. Backsolve from there. But most importantly, realise that it’s really about the chase, the journey, rather than arriving. People think that once they get that car, that watch, that arbitrary number on their bank account, they will finally be happy. I don’t think this is true. All that matters is enjoying the ride and dreaming big enough. Bite off more than you can chew. And then chew it.

How do you deal with your shortcomings?

JA: I believe that people should play to their strengths, not their weaknesses. I’ll only ever be mediocre at best when honing my shortcomings, but if I focus on my strengths, I can start playing in the top percentile. My co-founders and the executive board at Zenyum are fairly complementary and I’m very grateful to have such excellent people in the team that have my back and help in the areas I’m not strong at.

What is the best piece of advice that you have ever gotten?

JA: Do the hard things first. People tend to gravitate towards ticking off lists, solving easy tasks that make you feel productive but that actually doesn’t have a needle-moving impact on your company or your life.

Find the biggest, baddest and most complex problem to solve and tackle it head-on. Your competition might get lost in checking boxes off easy tasks, while you’re out there building something amazing.

What is an idea/thought that you heard recently, that you thought was interesting?

JA: The problem of social media. Having Google, Facebook, and all the information of the world organised at our fingertips is amazing. But our attention is limited.

There is no way we can process the tidal wave of information flowing past us constantly. Therefore the only zeroes and ones that breakthrough and catch our attention are the truly exceptional pieces of information—those in the 99.999th percentile. All-day, every day we are flooded with the truly extraordinary. The best of the best. The worst of the worst. But most of our life consists of mediocrity. That’s why consuming social media can be interesting and yet bad for us.

How do you manage stress?

JA: Meditation. Managing stress is about practising mindfulness and choosing to focus on the things I control, such as my thoughts and actions, instead of letting the circumstances overwhelm me. 

What is the last thing you do before you go to bed?

JA: I go through a shut-down ritual, to make sure that I leave work outside of the bedroom.

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