Bringing Innovation to a Complacent Category

Reimagining oral care through simplicity

It’s a fact: Nearly half of U.S. adults have some form of periodontal disease and simply aren’t aware of it. To help address this dilemma, Zeus Jones and entrepreneur James Hagen partnered in 2014 to launch Boka — an oral care company focused on changing the conversation about dental and whole body health.

James Hagen
Cofounder & CEO, Boka

I’ve always been involved in oral care as my mom was a dental hygienist. But as I started looking at the overall dental category I began noticing a lot of issues. From unnecessary, complicated-sounding ingredients to overdesigned toothbrushes with features that don’t necessarily contribute to dental health.

Eric Frost
Creative & Founding Partner, Zeus Jones

When James came to us with an idea for a subscription oral health brand, we saw it as an opportunity to do something innovative in what’s largely a stagnant business. Go to any oral care aisle in Target or your local grocery store and it’s all the same — both in terms of look, feel and promise.

From the very beginning, we were invested in changing oral care and shaping it into something that was actually beneficial, not just bluster.

Amanda Zweerink
Strategist, Zeus Jones

When we first started looking at the space, the idea of holistic health was really a motivating factor. Your overall dental health is directly tied to the health of other organs, even your immune system. And a lot of widely accepted dental brands contain pollutants that you wouldn’t want to be within 50 feet of, let alone put in your mouth.

We knew we had to create products to a standard well beyond the category.

Alex Register
Designer, Zeus Jones

The brand and products were all built at the same time — which helped everything hold together super strong instead of having a bunch of pieces that fought each other.

We stripped down our products as much as possible — always asking: How far can we pull them back? How can we add value rather than unnecessary features? So we did that…and our flagship product was a simple toothbrush with charcoal bristles. It needed a name that matched the simplicity of the products. So we called it Boka, playing off the Spanish word for mouth.”

James Hagen

The brush really was only the beginning. We started looking at ways we could bring this innovation to everything in consumer oral care. Toothpaste was next on the list. Then we moved onto floss and even tapped into the cultural phenomenon of oil pulling — a detox rinse for gum heath. 

I think one of the biggest realizations we had as we developed these products and our brand was we really needed to bring some life and levity to something that’s usually seen as a drag. There can also be a lot of anxiety when you’re talking about oral health. We wanted to meet people where they were at — not shame them into using our products.

“So we planted our brand in positivity — from the colors of our brushes to championing the benefits of holistic dental health.”

William Fendler
Creative Technologist, Zeus Jones

To really bring that home, we needed to make sure the web experience followed suit. Our entire business is run online so the way people interact with our site and set up orders is extremely important. 

We held ourselves to a single standard: The feel of the site had to be just as powerful as the words on it. That meant each interaction was considered to make every element inviting and helpful.

James Hagen

All of these decisions have had such a huge effect on the brand itself. From the the unboxing experience to the site experience, people always comment on the details — and it has been abig driver of our success to date. 

Birchbox loved the branding and products and became a key launch partner. Plus, we’ve gotten some fantastic press, including Vogue and Men’s Health. We’ve even been recognized as one of the Twin Cities’ most innovative consumer companies in the Eureka Awards, all in our first year of operation.

We shipped our first boxes in late 2015 and in less than a year, we’ve already proven the need for the business. We’ve reached a solid level of subscribers, both directly and through dental offices that are using Boka as a new patient engagement tool. 

James Hagen

But even better are the daily stories I hear about how we’ve inspired people to make brushing and oral care more of a ritual than a chore — thanks to the power of our design and voice. To us, no amount of recognition is greater than positive change at the micro-level.