This week we chat with Akiva Szental and Noam Korbl, co-founders of Hearing Choices. The friends decided to team up and revolutionise the hearing aids industry after Akiva’s grandmother forked out $12,000 for a device that didn’t work very well, determined to offer reliable hearing aids at a more competitive price online.
ISB: Why did you decide to focus on hearing aids for your business venture?
AS & NK: Both our grandparents spent over $10,000 for their pair of hearing aids and were never quite satisfied with their purchase. This caused us to start looking into the industry and saw there wasn’t much transparency or information available online and we sensed there was a business opportunity in helping people researching online to buy hearing aids.
ISB: Please tell us a little about how you managed to bootstrap the business rather than having to borrow the capital.
AS & NK: We started the business after hours while still being employed elsewhere, which allowed us to get the business going without needing to raise external funding. We have a pretty broad skillset which means we could do the majority of the initial groundwork ourselves without needing to hire people. We outsourced the design and development of the website overseas, which conisderably brought the costs down, rather than getting it done locally. Once the business started generating revenue we hired slowly to start with and ensured that people were the right fit before hiring again.
ISB: How did you go about keeping the cost of your hearing aids low?
AS & NK: We partner with existing hearing aid clinics who are looking at diversifying their customer base and, therefore, don’t have to shoulder the operating and setup costs of operating our own clinics. This means we have a low cost base and can then pass on those savings to our cusomers. We now have a national network of clinics and, given the volume of devices we are moving, we are able to get better prices which further brings down the costs.
ISB: What was the biggest challenge you faced in getting the business off the ground, and how did you overcome it?
AS & NK: The biggest challenge was being accepted by the hearing aid manufacturers and the clinics that we work with. Neither of us come from an audiology or hearing aid background, and our business model was pretty disruptive to the space. Initially we encountered a fair bit of hostility from the industry given that we were outsiders. We overcame it by proving that our business model benefits the customers, the clinics and the hearing aid suppliers and by showing a track record of success. Attitudes have considerably changed in the last 12 months and the model is now much more accepted, and there is greater understanding of what we are trying to achieve.
ISB: You’ve partnered with a growing number of clinics across Australia; how do you nurture these partnerships in a way that benefits both the clinics and your business?
AS & NK: We nurture the partnerships by ensuring that the clients we are sending them are high quality and we are continually improving our processes to maintain that. The hearing aid industry is changing rapidly and becoming much more competitive, so clinics need to learn to adapt to the new type of consumer. Our clients are generally younger and more tech savvy than the typical hearing aid client, which means the clinics get the benefit of more referrals and a different type of consumer.
ISB: Finally, what is the #1 lesson have you learned in your business journey that you’d share with aspiring entrepreneurs?
AS & NK: Team and culture really is everything. We’ve hired six people over the last 12 months and each one has had a dramatic impact on our business. You don’t realise how difficult recruiting, training and motivating staff is until you’re thrown in the deep end and are required to do it for yourself. You need to be constantly on the lookout for new staff and skills as it can take much longer than you think to find the right fit and, therefore, you need to start the hiring process much earlier than you think.