Dr. Catrise Austin shares her emotional story of feeling embarrassed about her teeth and how it propelled her to become the dentist to the stars.
Name: Dr. Catrise Austin
City/State/Country: New York/NY/USA
Company Name: VIP Smiles Dentistry, PLLC
Lioness: How long have you been in business?
Austin: 20 years.
Lioness: Why have you chosen to dedicate yourself to this particular industry?
Austin: For most of my childhood, I wasn’t confident or comfortable with myself at all. You see, I spent most of my youth hiding behind something, and that something was my smile because I was embarrassed about my teeth. When I was growing up, I hated my teeth because they were too long, they stuck out, and there were multiple spaces between my teeth. Every day in the schoolyard I’d hear, “There’s bugs bunny!” The other kids thought that it was funny, but it was no laughing matter to me. When I look back at those times, the name calling and feeling like an outcast really hurt my feelings. I was ridiculed to the point where I just kept to myself and avoided the other kids at all costs.
Although I wanted to improve my smile, I knew, or assumed, that my single parent mother wouldn’t be able to afford to help me get the braces that I desperately wanted, so I never asked. I was a great pretender. I smiled through pain and pretended I was a happy kid, but deep down I felt so lonely which held me back from thoroughly enjoying my childhood. I thought that this was just the way life would always be forever.
When I reached high school, you know that pivotal time when you want to belong, I reached my breaking point. For once in my life, I really wanted to fit in and maybe be one of the cool kids. And this is when my life’s journey and purpose began. At the age of 15 years old what I thought was supposed to be a simple routine dental check-up and teeth cleaning visit turned into my mother surprising me with the braces that I needed to correct my smile finally. This dental visit changed my life forever.
The magic of my smile transformation was so profound that I decided that I wanted to dedicate my life to helping other people experience this same magic by becoming a dentist. From my magical experience of wearing braces to transform my own smile for just one year, I’ve come to realize that having a beautiful smile isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.
Lioness: What makes the business unique?
Austin: Branding, Branding, Branding. The authenticity of my brand has always made my dentistry brand unique. Because of my own personal story of having my smile and life transformed, I know firsthand how important it is to make people feel comfortable and deliver dentistry in an inviting, relaxed atmosphere both on social media and in person. I try just to be myself and not put myself on a pedestal so you may see me dancing, rapping, and having fun with my patients on Instagram and Facebook. I always try to break down that scary dental wall and build relationships with my clients. I remember the first time Common came to my office. He was so surprised when I came out to personally greet him and literally sat down and talked to him about his trip to Cuba, movies, and hip-hop before we ever got to the dental stuff. It just set the tone for our dental relationship. Same with D’Angelo, we talked and watched Prince concerts in my office which totally made him feel super comfortable.
I also try to deliver dentistry at the highest level as an expert and trailblazer. I really care about people, and I want them to learn about how to have the best dental health as well as a beautiful, confident smile. I’ve had the honor of making history by being the first private dental office in America to offer HIV testing during dental cleanings. I enjoy writing consumer dental books, public speaking and making national tv appearances to keep people informed about the latest in dentistry.
Lioness: You could have worked for anyone and would have been successful, why become an entrepreneur?
Austin: Being a business owner means having the freedom to have your career and financial destiny in your own hands. It’s leadership. After I graduated from dental school, I felt like I was speed dating dentists in different dental offices looking for the perfect job match. I was watching a dental practice with a dentist who loved cosmetic dentistry, who was honest, caring, not so stiff like most dentists, and most importantly, someone who I could grow old with. You’d think that in a big city like New York, this would be easy, but actually the pickings were slim. Many offices were unsanitary, and the dentists were just in it for the money running their offices like factories. No passion, no real care about the patients. I was miserable!
The lesson that I learned is that if I wanted to be the best dentist that I could be, I had to do dentistry my way. So in 1998, I decided that not only was I going to start my own dental practice but I was gonna to package dentistry differently to make it fun and sexy with the use of celebrities. I builded my brand as the “dentist to the stars.” In the beginning, I had no celebrities, so I activated the good ‘ole fake it until you make it. But I didn’t really want to fake it, like Coke I wanted to be the real thing. So I hit all of the celebrity hot spots and networked until lone one day, it actually worked.
Lioness: What was your last, “why did I go into business for myself” moment?
Austin: I honestly don’t have to many of those moments, but probably when I fired one of my staff members a few years ago and a few weeks later she was waiting downstairs for me in the lobby yelling at me and actually put up her fists like she was about to fight me. It caught me off guard but my Flint Michigan street sense kicked in, and I had to ask myself “Am I really about to let her bring me down and fist fight in my lobby on 57th Street?” I just called the building manager and had her kicked out.
Lioness: Every female professional should have ________.
Austin: A support group of other female professionals in their close network who understands the challenges and can celebrate the successes.
Lioness: If you could steal some business mojo from another mogul, who would it be and why? I want to sit down with Gary Vaynerchuk! First and foremost he’s so raw and freaking hilarious. Most importantly he’s very inspiring and motivating. He knows this game of business, and I believe he would totally spark my already burning flame to shine brighter. It would be so fun!
Lioness: What is your business motto?
Austin: Press On! By President Calvin Coolidge.
Lioness: If you could give other entrepreneurs three tips, what would they be?
Austin: Here are my tips:
- Utilize local business resources and programs like SBA and NAWBO.
- Have a good business support team.
- Network and build genuine business relationships.
Lioness: Has there been a piece of technology or software that has been a lifesaver to you?
Austin: Social media and smart cell phones have been the biggest Lifesaver. I had allowed me to reach international audiences and build my brand. Next would be digital dentistry that allows me to clearly show existing dental problems, capture images of the smiles, and show simulations of how I can improve your smile with cosmetic dentistry.
Lioness: What is your goal for the next year?
Austin: In June 2018, I launched my new business which is an affordable teeth whitening and oral care product line, VIP Smiles. Now consumers everywhere can experience a taste of the smile magic that I bring to my patients from the comforts of their own homes with my teeth whitening and oral care products. This product line is for the everyday person who wants to get VIP dental treatments and use high-end dental products as the stars do without spending the big bucks. I’m looking forward to growing this product line and taking my brand national and even global. I’m also expanding my cosmetic dentistry services across the USA. In October I opened a small boutique cosmetic dentistry office in Brooklyn, NY focusing in smile makeovers, mainly doing teeth whitening and veneers like I did on Cardi B. In November, I will open a second location in my hometown of Flint Michigan. By next year I plan to practice in D.C., Pennsylvania, and Las Vegas.
Lioness: When someone is telling their friend about your business, what do you hope they say?
Austin: Dr. Austin is one of the top cosmetic dentists in the country and is the “go to” cosmetic dentist if you want superior dental results. She makes you feel comfortable, and you can feel her passion for dentistry when you work with her.
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