Partner Life: Dr Gina Dorfman

A self-described problem seeker—meaning she considers finding a problem to solve the bigger thrill—Dr Gina Dorfman has learned a lot from her dual existence as a practicing dentist and the co-founder and CEO of a software company that streamlines the business side of dentistry. Key among those learnings: Gina recognizes she’s only as smart as the people she goes to for advice. 

Known for her energy, unapologetic candor, and a need for challenge, Gina shares a little about the journey thus far, how much she misses human connection, and her love of paddle boarding in Hawaii.

[Top photo: The YAPI team celebrating the winter holidays at Knotsberry Farms, December 2019.]

Gina at the helm of her podcast, Behind the Smiles with Gina Dorfman

Q Tell us about getting started—what brought you to dentistry?

A process of elimination. I am a Jewish woman born in Soviet Russia. In my culture, an infant is not considered viable unless he or she graduates from medical, dental or law school. My grandmother was a physician, and I idolized her. She wasn’t just a physician—she was a decorated officer, a war hero, and the most amazing grandmother. But as much as I wanted to, I wasn’t sure I was cut out to be a military physician and I worried my English wasn’t good enough to become a strong trial attorney. So, I chose dentistry because it seemed like an easy choice. I’ve since learned dentistry is not as easy as I thought, but it is rewarding for those who invest in continuous education and grow their competency and build a great team around them. 

Q Where did you go to school?

USC—I graduated from the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry in 2000. I also went to USC for undergrad. Fight On! 

Q What are you most excited or passionate about? 

I love problems. I am not as much a problem solver as I am a problem seeker—I enjoy solving problems, but it is even more exciting to find an interesting problem to solve by asking why something happened. I keep asking until I discover the root cause and know I am solving the actual problem, not the symptom. The Five Whys method was originally developed by Sakichi Toyoda and became an essential part of the Toyota manufacturing process. For me, it’s just the way my mind works. 

Simon Sinek talks about discovering your why because people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. So, I participated in a why discovery process through a course based on Sinek’s methodology, and found my why is making sense of things. In retrospect, this was probably helpful to me as a dentist because I’ve always connected with patients and asked a lot of questions. I don’t just look at x-rays—I want to learn why they are in my chair, why they didn’t take care of this problem sooner, and why they felt motivated to come today. Case acceptance improves significantly when we are solving problems patients know they have. Asking the right questions while showing images to patients can lead to co-discovery and understanding, which helps patient understand how we can help. Same in business. Asking why questions in business led me to where I am today—running a company that makes software designed to solve the most common workflow problems in a dental practice. 

Q How would friends and acquaintances describe you? How would you describe yourself?

To my face or behind my back? I don’t know what people would say behind my back. If I cared, I’d probably filter myself a lot more, but then I wouldn’t be me. Actually, a few minutes ago I received a text from a friend—a rock-star dental hygienist and a practice owner in Canada—who texted me a photo of her new purse. She said: “I named her Gina because it’s cute and tough, and not cheap.” I’d say it’s a fairly accurate description. I think most people would describe me as someone with a strong work ethic—it’s in my DNA. But I also hope I am seen as authentic. I don’t always find the right words, but I never say things I don’t mean. I am very energetic. I talk a lot. I am loud. I love to dance. I hug everyone. And nothing makes me happier than knowing I made someone smile or laugh today. And, I can be a pain in the neck because when something needs to be done, it’s getting done.

Q If you could give young Gina one piece of advice, what would it be?

Don’t buy Earthlink or Lycos stocks, buy Google instead. 

Q What have you learned about yourself at this stage in your career? 

I’ve learned that I am comfortable being uncomfortable. Growth and improvement don’t come from comfort—they come from challenging yourself to take on difficult tasks.

Q Give us the quick elevator pitch about YAPI. What problem do you hope it solves?

YAPI is an automation solution. From paperless forms that eliminate the need for printing, scanning, shredding and data-entry, to patient engagement, online review acquisition, online scheduling, filling last minute cancellations, phone integration, and many other business tasks, our software saves time, which is the most significant expense on any P&L report. First and foremost, though, it’s a communication and collaboration tool for dental practices. 

Dental practices are not very collaborative. My initial idea for our interactive dashboard was to get everyone in the dental practice on the same page, and to deliver actionable, automated alerts to make sure the most important tasks are done for every patient. But we didn’t stop there. 

We calculated an average practice with one dentist and two hygienists saves more than six hundred hours annually by minimizing the busy work. Our claim to fame is we were the first company to automate many of these processes for dental practices, and we’ve been hard at work to ensure we continue to innovate and deliver smart solutions designed specifically for the needs of dental teams. 

In fact, we are in the process of rebuilding our software. I am excited about YAPI 2.0. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but you’ll be seeing a lot more automated intelligence that doesn’t just give you the tools or the numbers, but guides your team to stay on top of the things that matter most. 

Q Without revealing your plans for YAPI 2.0, when you think of the future of paperless offices, what do you see as the next big evolutionary leap? 

When we talk about a paperless practice, we are not simply referring to an office with less paper, we are talking about a digital workflow. The goal of going paperless is to streamline and automate manual processes, saving the team’s time and providing better patient experiences. We created YAPI because we believed dental software could do a lot more than just store information. When YAPI first came out, it reduced dependence on paper, and it helped our customers save time they used to spend on manually entering data, scanning and shredding forms. We also automated a lot of busywork and improved communication and efficiency. 

But, as Peter Drucker said: “There is nothing so useless as efficiently doing something that should not have been done at all.” YAPI 2.0 is not just going to be efficient; it will be intelligent. You will see a lot of if this then that functionality—if this then that refers to conditional statements used in programming: “If this happens, then that will happen”—and a lot of real-time actionable intelligence that will impact and guide team members’ decisions throughout their workday. We are also adding many self-service features, such as smart schedulingsmart fill, and patient portal to foster greater patient engagement and lessen the burden on the team. When patients can schedule appointments, pay bills, complete forms, and access their health and insurance records online at their convenience, they don’t just have a better experience, they take greater ownership of their health. It will be a win-win for patients and dental teams. 

Q What surprised you most from the little detour of developing an app while maintaining your practice?

I am not sure it was a complete surprise, but I’ve learned I am not the most important person in my practice. There are a lot of other people who can do what I do, and do it better, faster and cheaper. If I have the right people and systems in place, I can focus on the tasks I am best suited for or take a guilt-free vacation. I’ve learned a lot in working with a great team, including how to delegate and how to bring on an associate in a way that helps them build success. I realize my team, my associates, my friends and my peers have so much to share if I just shut up and let them speak. 

Last year, we received an investment from M33, a Growth PE firm, which allowed us to attract top talent at YAPI. We have folks from the top Ivy League schools with a lot of relevant experience joining our team, and it’s humbling and exciting to see everything we can learn and bring to dentistry. And they come in wanting to learn more about the industry—they don’t want to change things, but are curious about what’s important to our customers and how we can improve their lives. I think this type of collaboration is very important for dentistry. Just like Seattle Study Club fosters collaboration between specialists and GPs and makes the study club a safe place to learn and grow, this is what we are doing at YAPI—supporting private practice dentists while giving them the best business tools to help run their practices. 

Q What has app development and/or dentistry taught you about collaborating?

I think the answer is in my previous response. I am only as smart as the top five people I can ask for advice. Fortunately, my go-to list is made up of some very smart people. All of us are as successful as the people we surround ourselves with. This is the very essence of Seattle Study Club, and why I am thrilled to be a part of this journey. 

Q What might people be surprised to know about you?

I never finished high school. 

Ken, Lenny, Gina and Mila enjoy Waimoku Falls—the tallest waterfall on Maui.

Q What does the perfect, relaxing day look like for you?

Maui, paddle boarding at six o’clock in the morning when the waves are gentle and the sun is forgiving. Then a swim or a stroll on the beach, listening to my favorite comedy dental podcast, Working Interferences, enjoying poke for lunch, then powering through some work and sunset on the beach before a light dinner. I could get used to this.

I didn’t mention my family in this interview, but my kids, my husband, and my pups are a big part of my life and work. My husband has been my business partner for the past nineteen years. 

Q What surprises you the most about caring for people?

Sometimes I care more than they do. 

Q What’s next for you in your work—what are you looking forward to?

I miss human connection. I want to be in my office with my team. I am tired of the new normal. I want to go back to seeing each other’s faces, exchanging ideas, and creating real connections. Connecting with my peers makes me feel alive. So, Seattle Study Club Symposium 2022 live! 

Q You’ve mentioned collaboration and community as being a big part of the Seattle Study Club world. Beyond that, what do you see as the biggest benefit of establishing a relationship with Seattle Study Club?

Now is the most rewarding time to practice dentistry because of many technological advances, new treatment modalities, and better dental materials. But it can be challenging to stay abreast of all the changes, let alone master anything new by oneself. Plus, the current, highly competitive environment requires independent dentists to run our practices like CEOs. And dentistry can be lonely. The best way to stay positive, grow and build a highly successful business is to surround yourself with successful, like-minded people. The most significant benefit of being a member of Seattle Study Club is the opportunity to collaborate with peers, draw upon extensive collective knowledge, and fall back on their support and camaraderie. Being a part of a tight local network of world-class clinicians and practice-owners is invaluable to staying at the leading edge and providing exceptional care to patients. Plus, the discounts from industry partners make the membership an incredible value.

Flash (left) and Axl join mom for a walk! They also often join her in the office.