Hearing aids are one of those things that’s supposed to make life easier.
But the poor fit of standard mould hearing aids makes them unwieldy and uncomfortable - even painful - to wear. Often, sound quality is fuzzy and noise cancellation is unreliable.
When technology gets old and no one bothers to innovate for the better, user experience gets so bad, people end up abandoning the tech altogether.
Traditional devices come with so many frustrations, the people who need them most are further plagued with inconvenience. Even getting hold of them is a pain. First you have to get an audiologist appointment. Then it's mould, scan, create a 3D model, design, print, and manufacture - each part requires expensive skilled labour - and up to a 2 week wait.
Hearables 3D devices dance to a different tune.
Hearables 3D tech scans customers’ ears using iPhone technology. The software then auto-designs to each person’s unique features. This reduces turnaround time dramatically to around an hour, and the finished article is available on next-day delivery.
For hearing vendors, the $1,000 iPhone required to conduct the scan is considerably cheaper than traditional $7,000 machines - a windfall saving making for an appealing B2B proposition.
Hearables is based on the kind of obvious understanding that every ear is different. And that everyone with hearing difficulties - not just those with the perfect hearing aid-shaped ear - deserves a better experience.
An academic inception
Hearables came to Skalata early in their journey, but having made an impressive start.
In the first cross-collaboration between engineering and design at the University of Swinburne, founder and CTO Phil Kinsella undertook a PhD to build his prototype. He managed to secure funding via the University’s venture arm and Starfish Ventures. In 2019, he appointed Damien Png as his COO, and John Dyson of Starfish Ventures as Director.
The team had the patent secured, and user trials had begun. They launched a B2B pilot to prove business case assumptions around profitability and distribution feasibility.
But as with so many University IPs, runway was limited, and there was no go-to market plan. Following the valuable academic support Phil received, he needed a different view: interrogation of the business model and exploration of potentially profitable new avenues. So Hearables came to Skalata.
Fast forward to the present day, and Hearables has also raised from the likes of Significant, Afterwork and Strangelove, and secured additional funding from the government’s Entrepreneurs and Accelerating Commercialisation programs.
It has made several lucrative partnerships, including Minerva Labs, the UK’s largest earmould manufacturer who supplies the NHS and Specsavers (the UK’s largest hearing aid chain), as well as Bose, Oto Hearing, and Amplifon.
The most significant change for Hearables was a re-evaluation of the business model.
Pivoting from the original B2B2C model (selling hardware to hearing aid companies who sold them on to the consumer) to a B2B software offering expanded their market across the hearing aid, noise protection, and consumer audio verticals.
Skalata’s initial capital injection of AUD $100,000 extended Hearables 3D’s runway to allow for longer sales cycles.
Next up was a sales overhaul. Hearables implemented HubSpot as its CRM, defined each stage of the sales funnel and tracked how customers progressed (or didn’t progress) through it, prepared sales scripts, and collated customer feedback.
This was key in preparing to approach bigger players. The new and improved sales model grew Hearables’ active pipeline of accounts to capture over 90% of global hearing volumes, including all five of the largest hearing aid manufacturers.
Connecting people is always a hugely important part of Skalata’s involvement. Skalata worked with the founders to recruit two experienced senior execs.
Iain McLeod, former Senior Director & Head of Audio Business Unit at 3Shape, brings “extremely rare” industry knowledge of 3Shape and Cyfex softwares to the team.
Anthony Shilton brings extensive niche experience as former CEO of Dynamic Hearing, roles at Cirrus Logic, Wolfson Microelectronics, and Ericsson, and two successful M&A exits under his belt.
In another major breakthrough, Hearables discovered a new stream of validation through talking to corporate customers. In working through proposals with Natus, Starkey, and GN Resound, Hearables discovered that its 3D scanning offering, which it initially considered a gimmick, filled a gap in its customers’ markets.
Ear to the ground
Hearables’ start with the University of Swinburne is exactly the kind of knowledge commercialisation we love to see. Australia's startup economy can benefit hugely from closer relationships between academia, research, and business. This kind of tech transfer connects places where the magic of invention happens with the people who know how to monetise it.
Hearables want to get their devices into the hands of 1 billion humans. And wearable tech may be the way they do it.
The next stage of growth will happen in Europe. Hearables already has offices in Copenhagen and Dublin, and traction in Germany, Denmark, the UK, and the USA. Series A is just around the corner to assist in this ambitious global expansion.
The founders have plans to expand into the adjacent consumer audio market, leveraging learnings from their early work with Bose and Sennheiser, and leading with their highly differentiating ‘Rich Ear Database’ which allows continual and pioneering learnings about the human ear.
There is huge potential for partnerships with earphone manufacturers, which became a booming and rapidly evolving market late in the 2010s (AirPods, Google Pixel Buds, Samsung Galaxy Buds).
Music and health is having a big moment (just look at therapeutic music, sleep aid, meditation, ASMR, music for focus, chill, and fitness audio). Hearable tech is touted to dominate wearable technology - a sector that has generated AUD $133.9 billion globally in revenues in 2022, and that will make up 46% of the consumer IoT market.
And there's the dental industry. If you can 3D scan an ear, you can 3D scan a mouth. Hearables will sell to dental laboratories, who will onsell the products to dentists.
Minerva Labs, Dreve (a large German earmold lab), Hearing Lab Technology (large US hearing aid company) and Amplifon (the global hearing aid retail group) have all licensed Hearables’ AutoDesign. Danish companies EarFab and Adapto have licensed the Smartphone Scanning software.
And Hearables3D has recently closed another major audio customer, GN Resound. They join Oticon as the second of the “Big Five” hearing aid manufacturers to adopt Hearables 3D’s automated design.
The founders are working to grow their volume in high-need verticals, keeping customer centricity and UX at the forefront - a focus their incumbent competitors have failed to make - by continuously listening to and learning from customers.
It does make sense after all that listening is Hearables’ superpower.