Movers & Shakers Interview with Chris Ellis, CEO & Co-founder - AudioCardioPublished Date: 1/30/2020
Chris Ellis is a startup veteran that has been a part of early teams at five startups with multiple exits between them. Chris played pivotal roles in each company ranging from establishing key business channels and relationships to sales and business development. As CEO of AudioCardio, Chris is leading the charge to bring affordable and accessible hearing health solutions to the market.
Vishal Sapru (VS), Principal Consultant, Cognitio Research Inc. had an opportunity to conduct a Movers & Shakers interview with Chris Ellis (CE), CEO & Cofounder AudioCardio.
VS: Can you provide a brief overview of AudioCardio including the vision behind its formation and its current role in the market?
CE: AudioCardio is a software company that has created a mobile app that aims to protect and recover hearing. Using your smartphone and noise canceling earbuds, individuals can assess their hearing thresholds. The AudioCardio app will then generate a personalized and inaudible (or barely audible) sound therapy that should be used on a daily basis, similar to working out.
I started this company with my cofounder because my grandfather suffered from severe hearing loss. He was a hydraulics engineer and specialist in the Air Force and at a major airline. He never got hearing aids or sought help from a hearing health professional. He not only suffered from isolation and depression, but he eventually passed away from dementia. Several studies have shown an association between these cognitive health issues and hearing loss and I firmly believe this accelerated my grandfather’s decline. We were not able to help him, but we can still attempt to help hundreds of millions or people suffering from disabling hearing loss.
VS: Please, describe your product for our readers? How does it work and how different is it from what is already available in the market?
CE: The AudioCardio app allows you to assess your hearing by using standard noise canceling earbuds. The assessment must be done in a quiet room where the user would then connect their headphones to their mobile device and move a small lever up and down to adjust the volume (to a barely audible level) of the tone that is being played. This is done for a total of 10 times- assessing 5 key frequency ranges for each ear. The user would then press “Start Therapy” and listen to the inaudible (or barely audible) sound therapy every day. You can receive your sound therapy while doing other activities like listening to music or working out if you prefer.
There are no other solutions on the market that can be accessed from home, is administered by using a smartphone and headphones, or is proven to lower hearing thresholds in individuals, which is backed by data and science. This differentiation is why we believe we will be the preferred choice over other potential solutions.
VS: What are some of the challenges AudioCardio is expecting to face in the market and what strategies do you have in place to overcome them?
CE: Credibility. The medical and scientific communities have taught us that sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible. Before starting this company, I agreed with this belief. In turn, we are often asked to see more studies, more data, and more numbers. We will always be subject to this, but the emails and testimonials we receive grow each week. Our mission and the honest feedback we receive keeps us going when things naturally get tough, which they do at some point like in any other startup.
However, one of our goals is to educate people about the importance of hearing health and raise awareness around our research, technologies and outcomes. Hearing health is much more important than most people realize as it is associated to many secondary physical and mental health issues. According to a study at John Hopkins, these health issues can range from risk of falling to an increased risk in dementia.
VS: What is the unique value proposition of your product and its key competitive differentiators?
CE: We have an easily accessible and affordable hearing solution. Our sound therapy can be accessed from home and done effortlessly. Our technology has also been proven to lower hearing thresholds in both clinical and consumer settings with over 70% of the people having a positive change by at least 10 decibels within two weeks for the frequencies we target.
VS: What is your strategy for offering best value to customers for the price, compared to similar offerings from competitors? If any?
CE: There are no “apples to apples” comparisons of our technology on the market, however, people do try various prescriptions, surgeries and expensive medical devices to alleviate the burden or hearing loss. These solutions can be very expensive and hard to access for many individuals. AudioCardio can be accessed from a smartphone, is noninvasive, simple to use, safe, and is a fraction of the cost when compared to other solutions on the market.
VS: Continued innovation is the key to success for any company. How is the process of innovation managed at AudioCardio?
CE: AudioCardio continues to do extensive research and development on improving our efficacy rate, ability to assess and isolate hearing levels, and build products that are simple and efficient. Different regions, cultures, demographics and socioeconomics are considered when developing products. We are constantly challenging ourselves to improve in everything we do. We want everyone on the planet to have viable and affordable access to our technology. The only way to accomplish this is to continue to innovate.
VS: What do you want the company to accomplish in the next 2 to 3 years and how will you
define success for AudioCardio?
CE: We would like to reach and help more than 1,000,000 people, establish a nonprofit to help fund awareness campaigns, bring access to solutions and research, and conduct several more studies and clinical trials in pediatrics and geriatrics.
VS: Could you elaborate on the acceptance or adoption of your product in the marketplace and are there any client testimonials that can be shared with us? Also, do you foresee the acceptance of your product to have influence (trend setter) on the overall direction of the market?
CE: Most people are excited about the possibility of hearing restoration. Of course, there is some skepticism, but with a bit of education and explanation of the science, people can understand the possibility of this type of solution. It’s a product that is downloaded onto your mobile device and comes with a free 14-day trial. There’s really nothing to lose, which is a comment we hear often.
We strongly believe our products will have great influence in various related hearing industries ranging from hearables to hearing aids and digital therapeutics. As we continue to further validate our efficacy and collect user testimonials, more and more individuals will look to not only correct their damage, but to protect and maintain their overall hearing health.
VS: Are there any unique features of your product that address unmet customer needs and where competitors are unable to replicate and replace?
CE: Our patented technology and solution will allow people to screen, or get an idea of, their hearing capabilities from the comfort of their own home and have the ability to attempt to repair damage done over the years. However, it should be noted that AudioCardio is not a substitute for a diagnosis nor professional medical advice.
VS: There are vendors in the market with complementing or similar products. How do you compare yourself with such competitors in regards to offering Best-in-Class solution?
CE: We highlight our research, studies, technology and outcomes to separate ourselves from the rest of the market. We are a novel and our new product has been backed by years of research and development. The most similar product we know about is the tinnitus retraining therapy which costs thousands of dollars, has a 12 – 24 month commitment, potentially requires hours of daily therapy and specifically targets tinnitus rather that overall hearing health.
VS: What are your marketing and product positioning strategies? Do you plan to form any strategic alliances and/or partnerships? How do you plan to build and strengthen the brand equity of your offering?
CE: We eventually want to be known as the first step in hearing wellness. It is our job, along with others in the hearing industry to raise awareness, drive education, and offer solutions that everyone can afford and access. Our strategy is to work closely with organizations and institutions that align with our culture and mission within various hearing industries. Our goal is to establish ourselves as leaders and experts in hearing research and related technologies.
VS: What kind of customer feedback mechanism do you have in place to ensure that the product development and innovation matches market and customer needs?
CE: We have several groups of alpha and beta users that we are constantly in communication with. They provide valuable input and feedback on design, usability and bug testing. They are our copilots in product design and development.
VS: As a general conclusion, what do you think the future holds for your product?
CE: Our product will continuously evolve as more individuals get familiar with the application and understand how the technology and algorithms work. We’ll be collecting more and more feedback that will shape future versions of not only this product, but perhaps future hardware and software solutions that can deliver our sound therapy.
VS: Any other information you may want to share with our readers that may be important and we missed asking?
CE: We often take our hearing for granted and don’t know enough to take care of our hearing health. Simple steps like lowering the volume of our earbuds, televisions, wearing earplugs at loud events and getting your hearing checked by a hearing professional periodically can make a major difference. We also tend to forget that hearing loss isn’t just an inconvenience for an individual. It affects friends, family, and often our most cherished relationships.
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