Tonya Lanthier is arguably the most well-connected dental hygienist across the country. That may not seem like an enviable title, but those connections — to dentists, hygienists, and other industry professionals — are bringing her more than $4 million in annual revenue.
That’s because Lanthier has used that network to create DentalPost, an online and mobile dental job board used by 850,000 job seekers and 64,000 dental offices. The product fills a void Lanthier experienced firsthand about 16 years ago, when she struggled to find a dental hygienist job with a flexible schedule.
Create Positive Impacts Out of Hardships
“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.”– C.S. Lewis
As Tonya Lanthier reflects on her childhood now as an adult, she realizes that her upbringing was quite a bit different than most people experience.
“My mother fought a debilitating psychological condition which we now understand was obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). This completely altered her life, and as her children, it completely changed my life and my sister’s as well,” Lanthier shared in an interview.
Lanthier and her sister did everything possible to avoid triggering their mother’s uncontrollable need to wash or discard everything in their home. Her mother’s condition gave Lanthier an extraordinary gift – the ability to see situations and people differently.
“Imagine being a child who had to take three, four, five, even six baths a day until your mother felt you were clean. On the upside, I was an exceptionally clean child. I suppose it is not surprising that I became a hygienist!”
At the age of 15, she went to live with her father who had little experience with raising children. Lanthier said that was a hard time for her because she had no emotional support system.
“My dad was very strict and ended up kicking me out of the house three times. Imagine being 16 years old, coming home from school, and finding all of your belongings stuffed in your car with no place to go!”
But instead of letting this roadblock define herself, she plowed right through it. Lanthier found a place to rent and worked to support herself.
“That was a very low point in my life, but I pushed through it and it made me stronger. It made me self-sufficient. To this day I do not understand where my father’s resentment and coldness comes from, but I’ve grown to accept it.”
“We either make ourselves miserable or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.”– Carlos Castaneda
Lanthier chose a positive path, and this is where her motivation for life was born.
“I realized that I could take my ability to understand people, their personalities, and what made them thrive and use it to help others. It became important to me to impact others in positive ways. I just didn’t know how yet.”
Fast-forward to the early 2000’s. Lanthier was now a hygienist, and I was struggling with fertility and needed flexibility in her schedule to make all of the doctor’s appointments.
“I ended up temping in over 100 practices. I saw teams that worked well together and teams that didn’t.”
There were offices that just didn’t have the right environment or the right core values and personalities to work well together. Lanthier saw a need and created a website to help everyone in our profession find the right job.
“I treat my team like family. My purpose is clear: to create the personal safety and the freedom of choice that I longed for as a child, not just for myself, but also for others. And I love helping dental practices across the country do the same.”
Lanthier’s upbringing, struggles with her parents and observations of her mother’s OCD have shaped her style of leadership. In the words of Carlos Castaneda, ‘We either make ourselves miserable or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.’
“I always say I gave birth to triplets – twin girls and DentalPost. The rest is history!” – said the optimistic founder.
How Lanthier Became the One-Woman LinkedIn of the Dental World
Finding a job in dentistry can be shockingly difficult. After speaking with a number of dentists on the subject, Lanthier knows common places to search for jobs include Craigslist, classifieds of local dental organizations, Yellow Pages, and Monster(dot)com.
“Using Monster(dot)com was too broad, so I started calling up dental offices,” Lanthier said. “As I got to know people, I eventually became the go-to person for helping (dentists’ offices) find other employees. I used to be on the phone all night helping people find each other.”
Tonya Lanthier realized she could start a business tailored to helping dentists connect with job-seekers — especially part-time or temporary job seekers like herself — and launched DentalPost in late 2004.
“I say I gave birth to three babies. I gave birth to twin girls in 2003, and in 2004 I founded DentalPost. I kept mulling over the idea when I was home with my newborn babies. I finally went back to work two days a week and was going nuts just thinking there’s got to be a better way.”
DentalPost is website and mobile app where dentists, hygienists, office managers, dental assistants, lab techs, and sales reps can find job opportunities. The site is even capable of coordinating the sale of dental practices through classifieds.
Lanthier recruited her husband, a software architect, to help her design an online job board and started with dental jobs in the Atlanta area. Over the years, she quickly grew to serve almost every major city in the country.
Aside from building and running DentalPost, Lanthier has an incredibly active schedule. She cares for her twin 17-year-old girls, and has coached their basketball team the past few seasons. She’s involved with Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO), “which has helped my business tremendously.”
Lanthier eagerly attends continuing education programs. She completed a one-week program at London Business School, and is currently enrolled in MIT’s Entrepreneurs Master’s Program (EMP program). “Time management is crucial, and I try to take care of everyone along the way.” Lanthier uses a paper calendar to keep track of her schedule. “I know it’s old school, but my calendar is color-coded, and marked up with lots of whiteout.”
The Dental Job Search, Reinvented
DentalPost is, however, far more than a mere hub for job postings. The platform gives job seekers the opportunity to take a series of assessments to help them in their job search. Dental offices can then purchase access to this data.
“We actually test to learn about the applicant so we can use data to allow offices to make a better hiring decision. We determine personality, core values, assess skills, and the best work-culture fit,” explains Tonya Lanthier. It’s as if she has blended a job search platform with a dating website to find the best employer-employee matches.
She initially employed tactics of grassroots marketing by mailing out hundreds of letters that said: ‘Hi, my name is Tonya Lanthier, I have twins at home, I’ve built a website for us to make it easier for everyone to find a job. This is brand new, please send us your suggestions on how to make this better for us.’
“People flooded my inbox with suggestions, and that’s what DentalPost has become – built on suggestions from my dental tribe. I find a mess and fix it. That’s what creates a business.” DentalPost was built in Lanthier’s basement, and is headquartered there to this day.
Lanthier has gradually added a menu of features to DentalPost to differentiate it from a typical job board. The site offers a personality test, a work culture assessment, and a skills assessment to make sure that each employer finds the right employee. Job seekers can also post their pictures and resumes, and, if they pay a small fee, they can get feedback from jobs they applied for.
“It is important for employees and employers to have aligned values,” Lanthier said. “That’s what sets us apart from everyone else out there. We save employers time and money. Employee turnover costs an office money, and we do not want employers choosing the wrong person.”
In 2018, DentalPost raked in almost $4.5 million in revenue. And even though her incomes are projected to hit more than $4 million every year, Lanthier continues to work as a part-time dental hygienist. It keeps her better connected to the dental world, she says, and to her loyal user base.
Tanya Brown, a dentist, and dental consultant based in Virginia, is one of them. She said DentalPost has been an invaluable tool for her practice, The Center for Cosmetic & Restorative Dentistry. It used to take her days or months to find a new employee, but with DentalPost, it only takes her hours.
“Because they are so specific to the industry, they understand what dentists need,” Brown said. “It is a ready-made, available workforce. In dentistry, you are working with a lot of auxiliaries, so it’s nice to have that flexibility if you are looking for someone to cover an extra workload.”
By focusing solely on dental jobs and charging relatively inexpensive fees, Lanthier has been able to rapidly expand her business. She explained that posting a job in a paper can cost hundreds of dollars, but she charges dentists $79 for a 30-day job posting. It’s free for job seekers to use the site.
Lanthier’s next step is to continue growing DentalPost and adding new features. She has tried starting job posting websites in different industries, and she is a partner in the salon job-seeking site, SalonPost. But ultimately, she said her focus is on DentalPost.
“In the next 20 years, we are going to start to see the impact of a skills gap in dentistry, and employers are going to need more help finding employees,” she says. “We will be there to make sure employers are happy.”
Lanthier’s Advice for Entrepreneurs: Stay True to Your Roots
Should you stay or should you go? This is a question many aspiring entrepreneurs ponder as they are building their startup dream on the side while working a full-time job.
It can be a tricky time, as many people need a stable income but also want to focus more time on their entrepreneurial endeavor.
So, when someone is finally able to quit their 9-to-5 job to pursue their passion, some founders never look back. Lanthier recommends taking caution before straying too far from your roots.
Quite often, an entrepreneur’s pursuit stems from an area he/she is an expert in – a field he/she has been working in for some time. So why someone would choose to throw away valuable resources established during the course of her career is anyone’s guess.
“For 10 years, I practiced (and still do) as a registered dental hygienist treating patients. But that was only half the story. In that position, it also became clear that there was a significant need for an online portal focused on connecting dental professionals. I decided to launch DentalPost to fill that void.”
Because the platform grew so quickly, she began working less and less in the office to dedicate more attention it.
“Eventually, I made the conscious decision to don my hygienist coat and return to the dental office once a week, shifting my focus from the tech world back to my physical practice and patients.”
Staying true to your industry’s roots can return great value to a niche entrepreneurial business. Here are a few tips by Lanthier who also worked as an employee before founding her own business:
Keep more than a foot in the industry door. Nothing substitutes in-person networking and putting live, smiling faces to names. As an entrepreneur you are your brand, the physical representation of your product or service. As you network with others in your field, talk about your business in the context of your physical job. This reinforces credibility and shows you practice what you profess.
Remember real world means real-time marketing research. We can all learn more about trends and pain points in our industry by standing at coffee pots than by reading comment boxes on your website or social-media pages. Office work allows you to see firsthand the customer side, the employee side and provider side of things. By keeping yourself entrenched in the industry, you are right there among other professionals and constantly hear stories and feedback about “inside” issues and trends. This makes your niche business better. You are able to understand the needs of its players — who also happen to be your users.
Seek continual inspiration. Consider where you can find inspiration to take your idea to the next level, or reaffirm your commitment to serving your target audience. Lanthier originally fell in love with the dental industry because of the personal connections she fostered with her patients. She establishes relationships, offers comfort and, in some cases, even helps save lives.
Keeping yourself involved in your industry (once a week or a few times a month) and staying true to your entrepreneurial roots keeps you connected. With this grounding, you will never lose sight of why you built your venture in the first place.
The Bottom Line
Lanthier has an unstoppable go-getter attitude. “If you tell me no, I’m gone. I’m moving you out of the way. If there’s an obstacle, I’m going around it. It fuels me to move even faster.” She looks to her grandparents as sources of entrepreneurial inspiration. “They patented everything they invented in their machine shop. I grew up with that engineering mentality.”
Everyone has their story, and it shapes all of our needs and desires. Tonya Lanthier has learned that she could turn hardship into motivation and create positives out of negatives in any situation. She works every day to help practices create a thriving culture where everyone can make a positive impact as they bring their unique gifts to the table.