Making it work: WhatClinic’s business model gets a makeover in pandemic

When Covid-19 resulted in a drop in cosmetic tourism, pivoted to offering new services to its clients

8th November, 2020
Making it work: WhatClinic’s business model gets a makeover in pandemic
David Roe of has switched focus to services is pulling through the pandemic with a new service-based business model that David Roe, its Dublin-based chief executive, hopes will appeal to the 1,000 dental, cosmetic and plastic surgery clinics it serves worldwide.

The Irish-owned aggregator has endured a bruising year but, according to Roe, its swift response in the early stages of the pandemic helped to tide it over as cosmetic tourism drew to a halt.

“We had the best two months we’d had in about three years in January and February, and then we effectively went into hibernation for about two months,” Roe said.

“We work with clinics in Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea, and they started to contact us at the start of the year asking to pause their advertising.

“We got a bit of a chill, because we realised that Covid-19 was already starting to reach countries outside China. Flight restrictions were introduced and we knew that would damage our business.”

According to Roe, who joined Whatclinic soon after it was launched by founder Caelen King in 2007, the platform is often used by people to research clinics and book treatments in other countries.

“We have people who book locally in their own country, but many choose to travel, because different locations around the world are known for different procedures,” he said.

“A lot of people will go to Mexico for dental treatment. Turkey is the specialist worldwide for hair loss treatment. Mediterranean countries tend to specialise in different kinds of plastic surgery. South Korea is a big global hub for plastic surgery, especially facial surgery. Belgium is a centre for bariatric treatment.”

The 52-year-old, who is from Dunfanaghy in Co Donegal, said Whatclinic worked with about 1,000 clinics in 60 countries. Its biggest markets are Turkey, Mexico, South Korea and India.

He said the company took steps to protect itself from the impact of the pandemic “long before the first Covid-19 cases were reported in Europe”.

It cut its workforce by about a third and began to introduce new services designed to support clinics that were continuing to operate.

“We slimmed down as much as we possibly could in the space of a month and we looked at the services we were offering,” Roe said.

“Our main business to date has been in lead generation. People can search for clinics on our site based on things like price, ratings and reviews. We don’t send any personal contact details to these clinics. Site users get in touch with them directly. That’s how we’ve made our money, on a per-booking basis.

“Now, we’re switching to services. For clinics that have lost admin and reception staff over the past few months, we’re offering to look after all of their pre-treatment services, giving information and quotes to people who enquire about their treatments.”

Roe said the company was offering this service to just over ten clinics currently. “Our expectation is to launch it as a wider offering in early 2021 when the market starts to pick up again,” he said.

“We know it won’t be a ‘quick sale’ situation. It takes time to develop this kind of relationship, but it’s something we’ve been wanting to do for awhile and we see potential in it.” employs 23 people in Dublin and in Poznan in Poland. It is a client company of Enterprise Ireland, the state agency.

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