Audiology, Aural Attention Economy, Daily Updates, Future Ear Radio, Google Assistant, Hearables, Hearing Aids, Hearing Healthcare, Longevity Economy, Podcasts, Siri, VoiceFirst

069 – Kat Penno & Andy Bellavia – The Hearing Collective & Pushing the Boundaries of Hearing Health

This week on the Future Ear Radio podcast, Kat Penno, AuD (Founder of Hearing Collective) and Andy Bellavia (Director of Market Development at Knowles Corp) return to pick up where things left off from episode 48. This time around, our conversation begins with Kat sharing more about The Hearing Collective, an online business that provides personalized hearing health consultations.

As Kat describes, The Hearing Collective stemmed from her focus around online service delivery models while she was in university getting her Audiology degree. As we discuss, some of her inspiration came from the work of Peter Blamey and Elaine Saunders and their pioneering innovation in remote services.

Much of the conversation revolves around innovative ways to provide hearing care and a deeper exploration of new software-based solutions (i.e. Noopl + Chatable) and the opportunities that these new devices and applications present. As Andy describes, we’re seeing a wave of new innovation that represents, “Hearing Version 2.0,” and shares his own ecosystem of ancillary hardware and apps that help to fill in some of the gaps of his day-to-day hearing experience.

-Thanks for Reading-
Dave

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Dave Kemp:

Hi, I’m your host Dave Kemp, and this is Future Ear Radio. Each episode, we’re breaking down one new thing, one cool new finding that’s happening in the world of hearables, the world of voice technology. How are these worlds starting to intersect? How are these worlds starting to collide? What cool things are going to come from this intersection of technology? Without further ado, let’s get on with the show.

Dave Kemp:

Okay, so we are joined here today by two of my favorite reoccurring guests. We got Andy Bellavia and Kat Penno. So why don’t we go around the horn here real quick, reintroduce ourselves, share a little bit about who you are and what you do. We go start with you, Andy.

Andy Bellavia:

Thanks. I love that around the horn. It’s baseball season, isn’t it?

Dave Kemp:

It is.

Andy Bellavia:

So I’m Andy Bellavia. I’m Director of Market Development for Knowles Corp, and I’m responsible for all the in-ear products which are not regulated hearing aid. So music earphones, musician in-ear monitors, hearable device is a market I’ve been involved in since the beginning, like with Bragi and Doppler and to the present day, and I’m also a hearing aid user. So I’ve got a lot of experience as a customer of the audiology profession.

Dave Kemp:

Awesome, and Kat.

Kat Penno:

Hey, team, I’m Kat Penno. I am a clinical audiologist based in Perth, Western Australia. I run Hearing Collective, which is an online digital health solution platform for customers and also businesses. So it’s two-pronged approach. I see clients virtually predominantly, so telehealth consultations, where I help people with any hearing issues or listening issues as well, and also the other approach is I consult to tech companies and not-for-profits to help them. Well, whole gamut of things with them.

Dave Kemp:

I love it. Well, the last time we spoke was, I looked, it was October 23, 2020, so about six months ago today, just a little bit less than six months. But here we are again, and I wanted to continue the conversation. And actually, Kat, it just occurred to me that as you were introducing yourself, that’s the perfect segue into what we had left off with last time, which was all around service model innovation that’s occurring right now in this industry, in the hearing healthcare industry. And I think that I really want to get into the Hearing Collective and really understand what it is. You said that telehealth consultation piece is obviously more relevant than ever, and you were thinking about this even before the pandemic. So it’s not as if you’re this Johnny Come Lately and you’re now like trying to latch on to it. You really did think about this being something that even pandemic aside would make sense.

Dave Kemp:

And I thought maybe as a good way to really facilitate that conversation. Can you share with us? We’ve talked about Blamey Saunders before on this podcast, an Australian-based company, but we’ve never really gone into that much depth, and it’s something that’s often mentioned anecdotally throughout conversations that I hear all the time, and I thought it might be helpful to really get an understanding of what that company was pre-acquisition, and then can you speak to why it’s such an intriguing company?

Kat Penno:

Happy to. Gosh, Blamey Saunders, they were ahead of the game 10, 20 years, maybe even more, such innovative and influential individuals in our space. Dr. Elaine Saunders and Dr. Peter Blamey were the first that I’m aware of to go down the self-fit telehealth consult path. So they had the device itself, which would conduct an AC or an air conduction screening once you got the device. Look, sorry, I’ll go back to the very beginning. They developed many things. They also had a speech and noise recognition test, which was sensational. Again, ahead of their time, because I think right now we focused a lot on the hearX Group and what they’ve done, but Blamey Saunders, again, ahead of the time with the developed product and the software.

Kat Penno:

Let’s look at it from the client point of view. You could hop online to the Blamey Saunders website, and you could order the device. Now in Australia, hearing aids and medical grade devices, you can’t just buy online. So the way their business model [inaudible 00:04:34] you order the device and it would get sent to one of their partner clinics. So they did partner with a lot of independent audiologists across Australia. And then you can pick them up from that clinic. Hang on. I’m just trying to think through my head because I feel like it was at uni when I was looking at them, and that’s a couple years ago now folks, so just bear with me. No. Sorry, that’s an error on my behalf.

Kat Penno:

So you could get the hearing devices sent to you directly, and they also had in their head offices in Melbourne, tele-audiologists. So even though I feel like it’s the norm for me, and that’s because I did my thesis and online service deliveries, and I looked at Blamey Saunders, these guys have been doing it for years. So they had tele-audiologists in their headquarters where me as a client could call if I had any issues. Now, when I spoke to them, it was really interesting because you think you’re an audiologist, so you’re a healthcare professional, so you predominantly want to counsel and focus on things you’ve learned at uni. But when I was talking to some of the team at Blamey Saunders, they’d say, “Well, actually, we’re also technicians, because we’re helping our clients connect hearing aids to their devices at home,” because Bluetooth wasn’t as a smooth user experience as it is now. We were helping them understand certain parts over the telephone, because then virtual platforms were not as smooth as they are now as well.

Kat Penno:

So we’d be on the telephone with our clients. A lot of time, our clients had hearing loss, so we’d be talking them through how to use these devices, how do you set them up. Then we’d walk them through the Bluetooth function of their laptop or the computer they’re using. So it was actually a multifaceted headache. That’s what they were getting at with me, and not as easy as it is now or more natural as it is now for our users or our clients to get used to this hearing technology. I think my understanding is I did run into a lot of problems along the way because their process was so far ahead, future healthcare that a lot of people didn’t want to still see audiologists face-to-face.

Kat Penno:

So as part of their model, for example, I’m in Perth, if I bought these devices, every six weeks, they would send an audiologist, almost doing bit of a roadshow around Australia and offer appointments to clients to come in and do some troubleshooting and support them with their devices. But clinically, when I was in the clinic front, I did see a lot of clients come in who just loved that experience of having the ownership of buying and choosing the devices online. I’ going to hedge a bit and say that if they had started that model in the last couple of years, it would have been doing sensationally well, given what’s happened with a pandemic.

Kat Penno:

So I can’t speak highly enough of Blamey Saunders and them being ahead of the game. Probably not talking about it well enough. But I think that gives you some insight. I think the product experience, the user experience, and even just from point A to point B of testing and identifying a hearing loss or not was way ahead of their time. So I totally understand why Sonova wanted to come in and acquire that, because they’re probably seeing a shift in how we really need to deliver our services.

Dave Kemp:

Yeah, I mean, I think that what’s really interesting about this is that a lot of this seems obvious now, and again, I think that’s very much because of the pandemic, and it’s like, to your point where now with Zoom, and just the advancements, I know Bluetooth is still frustrating, but it’s leaps and bounds better than it used to be. So it’s to your point, I think they really were ahead of their time. I’m curious, what do you think was their initial rationale behind that service delivery model? Is it just because they felt that Australia is maybe a little bit more remote, and so accessibility of these services had been difficult, and that that was the reason why they felt that, “We need to make this remotely available?”

Kat Penno:

Absolutely. I think Dr. Elaine Saunders now is the Chief Innovation … I’m going to get the title wrong, but she’s some sort of innovation chief at one of the universities, and I think this is just in her nature, and probably Peter’s as well, Peter Blamey. I don’t know them personally, by the way, so I’m using their first names. But I apologize, I don’t know them. I think they’re just so ahead of … I just think they know how to innovate. I don’t know how to describe that. I feel like it’s just in their blood. Yes, Australia is very remote, so I definitely think they saw the opportunity there, and they just like to push the status quo. I think they were fed up with the way hearing healthcare is delivered in the world. So I think the bigger vision was, “Let’s use the mark we’ve got in Australia because very remote places, we’ve got a lot of desert [inaudible 00:09:30] and then a lot of people do live remotely and rurally. So it’s a pretty prime market to test in. If we can iron out the kinks here, then perhaps the bigger picture is that we can deliver these services to more third world countries.

Dave Kemp:

Yeah, I mean, Andy, I’ll kick it over to you in a minute, but I want to continue on this thread here with Kat. So I think that the reason I find this so interesting is that you clearly saw this too. Like I said, before the pandemic, before telehealth really, I think, became part of this overall psyche of new ways that you can do this, it’s been around for a while, but I think many people were sort of dismissive of it because we are creatures of habit. And that I know at least in the US-

Kat Penno:

Yeah, well said.

Dave Kemp:

… we tend to just default to this is how it’s usually been. And so I’m curious, with the Hearing Collective, can you share with us what this looks like in terms of some of these telehealth consultations, using these tools that we have in 2021? Because in my mind, this is where my thought process always comes back to this, is this idea that being able to conduct these face-to-face consultations online seems really, really powerful, and a huge new way to implement an entirely new facet into any clinic, and just the ability to see so many more people than you previously have. Not saying that it would necessarily need to cannibalize where you’re just shifting all the in-person patients to this method. It just seems like it opens the door in a really, really big way, which coincides with this new opening of this consumer market that’s happening.

Dave Kemp:

So the two seem to be really, really interconnected. And I’m curious because again, just like Blamey Saunders was on the forefront with this, it seems like you with the hearing collective are on the forefront of the service delivery model innovation that I think we’re going to be feeling. So as somebody that’s on the forefront, what’s it been like for you over the last … I guess since you started it, and then now into today when it’s becoming a little bit more commonplace, I would imagine with the patients and their overall mindset of how you conduct maybe a medical visit in today’s times.

Kat Penno:

Oh, thanks. That’s super cool to hear. In my head, I’m always thinking, “How can I do this better? What are the iterations? What’s next?” I guess what I’m really trying to understand is our client’s journey, and that begins way before they even think about going to see someone in a clinic or virtually. And I was thinking about a recent client who came to me, and she said, “I really just like to tell you how I came about Hearing Collective and yourself.” I said, “That’d be great.” And she said that another audiologist in a clinic had referred me, and so that makes me really happy because I don’t know all the audiologists in Perth, let alone Australia/the world. So that makes me really happy that other people would collaborate [inaudible 00:12:34]. I guess, the ownership is on the client, and we don’t think, “This is my client. That’s it.” And if I do come across a client that I can’t support or help, then will support them on that journey. So for me, my intent is to understand the client and what they really want out of hearing health, and predominantly in the really early stages.

Kat Penno:

In saying that, I do have a lot of clients who come with moderate to severe hearing losses, and sometimes worse in a lot of auditory processing referrals as well. And so I do try to help them where I can. But for me, what I’m noticing is it’s a lot of people really want to understand themselves what’s available to them prior to going down the clinical path. So it’s about education, upskilling them in the tools that they might have or the technology that they do have, and then supporting them with how to utilize it better. And what to do next, so I also think about the hearing ecosystem. There’s a couple things. So the user experience or the client journey, I think we have very heavy focus on the clinical retail model.

Kat Penno:

So for us, yes, I think people understand it happens. The journey starts before you come to the clinic. But really, when I look at the websites and the advertisement that it’s out there, it’s all the same. It’s very similar messaging, it’s, “Come to our clinic. We can help you.” They use phrases like, “We’ve got this innovative technology in our clinic that can help you or online.” And it just isn’t, and our clients are smarter than that. So we’ve got to give them that respect. I always think of Henry Ford quote as well though, if he asked his clients what they wanted, they’d say faster horses. And perhaps they don’t know everything, and that’s fine, and that’s our role, is we can come in there. And that’s where Hearing Collective fits in. I can offer them the possible solution and help them down this path.

Kat Penno:

And so over time, it was hard at the start, and I didn’t look at it as a … I looked at it is a natural progression in my career because I’d done my thesis online, service delivery, and people were so comfortable doing their banking online, having apps for banking, email to read things that were personal to us. We’re reading online, so that’s where I really saw healthcare going, and that’s really what’s tying to … And I think in the next five years, it’s going to be huge healthcare virtual care data. All that is going to play really well. And the current podcasts you’ve done, Dave, have been so on point with how we’re going to have these amazing new use cases, and especially as audiologist, so what does our profession … I get so excited about where we’re going to be in the next five years. But I do want to ask Andy, have you had a virtual consult or a telehealth consult?

Andy Bellavia:

No, I haven’t.

Kat Penno:

[crosstalk 00:15:25].

Andy Bellavia:

Actually, my present audiologist doesn’t do it even today, which amazes me to know. Even a year ago, I told her, “If you wanted a guinea pig who can tell you how the user experience goes under remote, and I’m your person.” Still not set up for it. There are actually two key things that I drew out of this part of the conversation. One, and I’ll tell a related story. I just listened to it. It’s an older podcast from a couple years ago that Theodore [inaudible 00:15:56] with a person who started a company called GoGo Grandparent, and what GoGo Grandparent was, is a way for people who weren’t comfortable with internet-based rideshare, how they could get rides, and so basically, you could call a phone number, and they would arrange the rideshare for you.

Andy Bellavia:

And the person who started the company said, “We thought it was easy. You just take a phone number or arrange a ride and you were done.” And they started to find out that there were layers to that customers need. For example, an older person in an unfamiliar setting, who’s at some level of cognitive decline, if the cargo is around the corner and doesn’t start directly in front of the plays, it can be unsettling. So they supervise the car pick up. Make sure you’re in the car, make sure the ride’s okay, have different options. They made it very simple. All you had to do when you call the number was press one, and that meant pick up at your home, and press two was pick up at the last place they dropped you off. All these different levels.

Andy Bellavia:

And what it all came down to was they had to understand their customer’s journey, and they came up with it. I mean, in the end, it’s a pretty innovative model for servicing people with rideshares, especially in rural areas. But also in the cities too, where you may have a lot of Ubers, but they weren’t comfortable using it. And so that’s really what you described in your own company and Blamey Saunders as well, is understanding the whole customer journey. It’s not just telehealth. If you want to talk to someone in person, you have traveling audiologists riding the circuit, so you could see one, right? They’ve thought through everything the customer needs, and I think that’s brilliant for going forward.

Andy Bellavia:

Now, apply that to a global model. You brought it up, right, is how do you apply that model in developing countries, because it isn’t going to be just about devices, and the devices are coming. I mean, I think of Jacoti. Jacoti making the partnership with Qualcomm means they can put hearing assist devices globally, affordable, easy to deliver, easy to set up, but they’re still going to be part of that customer journey, which means some sort of whether remotely or in person, some sort of interaction with a person who helps them get set up. And so that sort of model is what’s going to get hearing care in the rest of the world.

Andy Bellavia:

I mean, we talk about the us all the time. But we’re such a small fraction of the global population, and as underserved as we say we are in the US, I mean, globally, hearing care’s probably the most underserved medical condition there is. And so what you described in terms of service model, and the technology that’s coming will make it very possible for us to address that issue, and that’s really exciting too.

Kat Penno:

So well said, Andy, and I think I wouldn’t be surprised in the next couple of years if we saw the companies and the hearing aid brands out there having job titles like service innovation officers or service innovation business managers, because that is the way that a lot of these product-heavy brands are sort of focused on … I’m not trying to discount, I suppose, the services they do already offer, and it’s a very expensive model, having the retail bricks and mortar model, but totally agree. The bigger picture if we zoom out from these first world countries is, where else can we be having impact and where else can we be contributing, well, to hearing loss and the epidemic that’s coming there.

Dave Kemp:

I love too that. I didn’t even know that. So this was your specialty or this is what you really focused on when you were in university, Kat, was online? I mean, I knew the Hearing Collective, but I didn’t know that this was your big passion too in university.

Kat Penno:

Yeah, it was not. I feel so privileged and lucky to have been taught by Dr. Robert Patuzzi. He was super good at challenging the status quo. He was always saying hearing health for the greater good, and him and Dr. Helen Goulios [inaudible 00:20:23] lectures at the time were just great at being like, “Why do you think like that? Let’s zoom right out and look at the tools that are available and really focus there.” So I was lucky that I got to do my thesis in that path, and he was my supervisor. He really guided a lot of my thinking. At that time, I remember writing case studies on online.physio, and Karen Finnin was … I think people were really surprised to see that I could find case studies outside certain health professions, physios predominantly, people would think it’s so hands-on, a lot of manual manipulation.

Kat Penno:

But when I talk to my physio friends now, and those physios that are at uni, a lot of their healthcare is rehabilitation and counseling. So we’ve, as users or clients or patients, need to do the work to get the outcome. And they certainly did cross all healthcare professions. We really are a coach or a supportive device or a guidance person where we can go and influence how our client will achieve these outcomes, and yes, how we can change these behaviors. That’s what our role really is. And so I remember talking to Karen Finnin back in the day, and her platform’s exploded. She’s got three or four other physios around the world working for her. She’s also the chief something rather physio officer for that … What’s the world-famous circus? Cirque du Soleil.

Kat Penno:

And again, being ahead of her time, they used her. She’s based in the headquarters based in Canada, and a lot of training happens in China. So she flies across the world. But when the pandemic happened, she had a platform ready to go, and she could treat all the artists without having to leave the comfort of her own home in remote Melbourne or Victoria. So yes, I’m super excited by it, because I think it just gives our clients this distributed provider. And so when [inaudible 00:22:14] people come to me various ages, they’re just really stoked or happy that they can engage prior to going to the clinic. So I use a combination of mediums, telephone as well. Text is really popular, and then platforms like Zoom as well. So yeah, I think there’s a lot of opportunities about how we utilize the resources and the tools that are available to us.

Dave Kemp:

Yeah, I mean, I think it’s just brilliant because you said something too earlier that really stood out, that was like, “A lot of these people want to chat with me before they even come see me.” And again, it’s like this makes so much sense to me. I’ve mentioned this so many times in the podcast, the seven-year gap, right, or now it’s like a 10-year gap. These are people that are … They’re very difficult in terms of getting those customers. The customer acquisition cost for these people are really, really high because you have to bombard them with tons and tons of marketing over years and years. Because a lot of them are wanting an excuse to say no, because it’s an uncomfortable sort of notion that it’s connoted with old age, and there’s all the stigma that’s associated with it, right?

Dave Kemp:

And so if you make it so that it’s highly difficult to come and see you, you’re making it just that … I feel like that’s at the root of the seven-year period. And so if maybe you make it that you just have a click to chat option or something like that, where it’s just you, and I’ve talked about this before, it’s like having somebody that’s dedicated in your clinic and setting expectations, so it’s only for a standard. It’s during work hours. But maybe it makes sense in the future to have somebody that’s literally almost the front office worker of the future, is ready to have a consultation with them. And yeah, the audiologist is probably too occupied to just be able to do this ad hoc at any given moment.

Dave Kemp:

But I think that if this becomes widely enabled, I think it would be really, really powerful because a lot of what I think that initial skepticism and initial fear, you can alleviate some of that just by helping them to understand, “Look, if you come in here, you don’t have to walk out the door with a pair of expensive hearing aids,” or whatever way that you want to position that. You don’t even have to talk about the cost or just, “I’m going to guide you through the whole reason that you come in is that I’m going to meet with you and I’m going to just really understand where your challenges are. Because we know that everybody has a lot of different reasons as to why they’re challenged in their day-to-day.

Dave Kemp:

And this is what really excites me. It’s not necessarily to say that the face-to-face in-person visit’s going to just get completely cannibalized by online visits. I don’t think that’s the case at all. But I do think that it’s like to Andy’s point, I think you’re missing a massive opportunity here, just neglecting the opportunity of these online services to augment your practice in a way, where again, it’s just maybe to help to put a face to a name, so that they feel a little bit more comfortable, and you come across as a little bit more approachable.

Kat Penno:

Totally. The word that really jumps out in my mind, as you summarized it there, Dave, is that what we are doing is we’re dealing with people, and when it comes to healthcare, people want trust. And I’m not saying that we don’t have that in hearing health. I think in healthcare in general, people want to trust the provider that they’re going to see. And so how you build that trust is key, and for me, understanding what the client wants and how they want their services or their products to work, that’s what I was thinking about when I’m talking to people when I’m thinking about Hearing Collective and where I want it to go. And I wish there were three of me exactly, so that I could do three different things at the same time because [inaudible 00:26:06] so many hours in the day and family life, and balancing all that sort of stuff eats into it.

Kat Penno:

But I totally agree with you. There is a huge opportunity there, and I think audiologists have really, really started to catch on to that, which really makes me excited on Clubhouse, is some outstanding odds on there that are doing their thing. Dr. Cliff Olson, who’s been around for years now, and I love what he does, and just more and more people coming out of the wood works feeling more confident that they can utilize the tools that are available to put them in the best position and offer these services along the way.

Andy Bellavia:

Yeah, it’s interesting, you talked about trust. But I think there’s a key difference because with medical doctors, you usually build up trust over time. You have a practice you go to, or you have a family practitioner that you go to. You get your routine exams. If something comes up, you’ve worked with them. So you build that trust up over time. Whereas with audiologists, you don’t normally meet an audiologist and go through your own personal life cycle with an audiologist. That’s only when you have a problem that you have to go seek one out. So there’s kind of a bigger hurdle to jump, because now you already have an issue, an issue you may not have come to terms with, an issue you may be uncomfortable with because of the stigma, and you now have to go find somebody you never met before and share with them. Right? You didn’t have a chance, you didn’t have 10 physicals of a routine nature before you had a health issue. So you have to jump the trust hurdle upfront. You don’t build that relationship over time. And so I think that’s what’s difficult in the present practice. Now, if audiologists get involved sooner in your hearing journey, then you have a chance to build up that trust. But at the moment, it’s a more difficult proposition, I think.

Kat Penno:

I agree with you to a certain extent, but well, largely I disagree with you. I won’t lie. I agree with the comments you made in the medical sense, 100% agree. But as an audiologist, I view myself as an allied health professional. So I think of myself where trust is key. When I’m dealing with people, I want to give them that trust and show them that they can trust me. But very different in that sense, where you have your family physician or GP that, like you said, you share your life history with them almost ins and out because they walk beside you. But it’d be the same as you’d go to a physio or a speech pathologist or a dietitian. From the allied health professional point of view, it’s almost like we wait.

Kat Penno:

The human behavior shows us that we wait and we wait. We sort of cope with our ailments. If I got a bit of sore back, I’ll wait. If I’ve got a bit of a mild hearing loss, I’ll wait. And then when I can’t cope, “Oh, I better go see the physio for that solution, or yes, I better go see the audiologist for that healthcare solution or the cure,” I think is what a lot of our clients are thinking. The point there I’m trying to make is that there’s a large educational component that is missing from allied health professionals to the greater population. So the knowledge translation, we all know there’s all research out and devices earlier on can help with your social connection, reduction of cognitive decline, etc. But does our client know that? And they don’t until they come into the appointment and then you bombard them with all this awesome information we know. So I totally agree with Dave. The opportunity lies before clients come into the clinic, and how we do that and then how we support them on the hearing life journey is the gap in the market that I currently see existing.

Andy Bellavia:

Yeah. We’re really saying the same thing. It’s not that you have a harder time establishing trust. It’s that people have to make that leap in the first place. I mean, even when you talk about specialists in the medical community, you’re usually referred by your family practitioner. So there’s kind of a lower barrier, right? I mean, the stigma factor of hearing health creates a barrier, which is … I mean, it is a barrier. Otherwise, people wouldn’t wait seven or 10 years. I think you hit on a point. We could have an entire podcast on this and maybe get Nick Reed as another guest.

Andy Bellavia:

And that’s the treatment of hearing health in the medical community, right? Hearing health is a second class ailment in the medical community right now. And I know that the medical community, at least in the States, demands a high standard of proof that untreated hearing losses caused those comorbidities, and until they do, hearing health will not be addressed in the medical community, and I think that is a real shame. I mean, I go to my doctor, and he’ll talk to me for an hour about my cholesterol, right? Never once would he have ever asked me about my hearing, even the very basic stuff. Right? And that to me, is the big gap that needs solving. And I think in time in various places, it will. But that’s a totally different subject altogether, I think.

Kat Penno:

Totally agree. Between the three of us, we solve the issue of hearing healthcare, and people accessing our services sooner maybe. I wanted to sort of go left wing here and talk about a few things or just hear your points of view on a few things that I think that it’s in the market and it’s happening, and it’s really interesting in regards to service delivery model. So first of all, Spotify. Spotify as platform have always been about the user experience, and they’ve acquired a lot of businesses along the way in the audio space, so music predominantly and now podcasts. And as part of that, you’ve got the frees model, and then the subscription or the premium model that you can sign up for. And then additional to this software that they’ve got available, they’ve started to have a product.

Kat Penno:

So I like this idea of them doing it in reverse to how our industry has done it, even though it’s not comparing apples to apples, oranges to orange. So I just think it’s an interesting area because focus is on audio content, and therefore, how does the hearing professional perhaps sit there. And the next one, and haven’t read up too much about this, but is Microsoft acquiring nuance in how voice technology will really play into this space? So I suppose Dave and Andy, you can both talk about that from your points of view.

Dave Kemp:

Sure. Yeah. No, lots of thoughts on both those companies. I think Spotify is, I think, one of the most interesting companies in the world right now. And actually, you hit the nail on the head as to why, because they really are seeming to go software, and it’s like an inverted thing, where now they’re going into hardware. And I’m not sure if that’s going to be experimental or if it’s going to actually be a thing. But here’s the fact of the matter, is that there was something that I’ve came across not long ago, was one of the execs from Sirius XM, it was in one of these company earnings reports or something like that. But what I’m getting at here is he referred to what he referred to as an audio day, and basically what you feel throughout your day when you’re passively consuming audio.

Dave Kemp:

And the Daniel Ek 2019 post Audio-First right after they bought Gimlet and Anchor is actually really, really important to understand what’s going on at Spotify, because it very much ties into this idea of an audio day. And this is something that I’ve been trying to communicate in the webinars that I’ve been doing and some of the different podcasts and stuff like that, is this notion that it starts with podcasts and it starts with music, but it’s graduating into different facets of your audio day, and a lot of this stuff’s totally novel. Social audio being probably the best example of that didn’t really exist, and now it’s like this really hot button thing, and maybe it will fizzle out. I’m not sure. But the fact of the matter is that, again, it goes back to Daniel Ek’s notion where he’s comparing the video in the advertising industry. It’s very visual, and he’s comparing it to the radio and the music industry, and it’s a 10th of the video industry. And he’s like, “Are our eyes really worth 10 times more than our ears?”

Dave Kemp:

And I think that’s a really fascinating thing to think about, because it just really ties into this notion. If Spotify is just going to continue to try to find more ways to occupy that passive day, and then they get into hardware, they have, I think a really interesting opportunity as to how to curate that day. And so over time, you think about they’re going to be introducing these new verticals of content consumption, and then they have piece of hardware that’s specifically tailored to that type of audio consumption. Now, you see this roundabout way as to how they might enter into the market in a really differentiated fashion, and you think about, again, something we’ve talked about before in the podcast, which is the multiple hearables thesis, right, where maybe you have hearing aids, maybe you have air pods, right? Those are my general purpose devices that I wear throughout the day. And then I have some specialty things.

Kat Penno:

[crosstalk 00:35:43].

Dave Kemp:

Steve Jobs, remember the way that he used to speak about the Mac right after he introduced the iPhone was he said, “We’ll always have the Mac because the Mac is like a truck, and trucks do specialty heavy duty lifting that cars can’t do, and the phone is like the car.” And I think that there’s a lot of parallels along that same line where it’s like, in the world of hearables, I think that we’re going to have cars akin to iPhones, and then we’re going to have trucks. We’re going to have these specialty devices, whether it be something like a hearing augmentation, where it’s designed to be this Nuheara IQbuds, or whatever that might be, where it really, really specializes on a specific use case. Or it could be something like the Spotify earbuds that I wear for all of this passive content consumption.

Dave Kemp:

And sure, some of the other hardware devices might be able to still tether into that ecosystem and play a lot of that content, and stuff like that. But it might not be designed ground-up for it, and that’s what I think is so interesting about this space, is that there’s going to be so much specialization, in my opinion, around these different use cases, because it’s all built off this premise of like, we are moving in this future where we’re all going to be wearing things for extended periods of times for lots of different things, and I think that the hardware is going to largely be designed around those different things and specialized in certain ways.

Andy Bellavia:

Yeah, and I think that’s especially applicable to hearables, right? I don’t necessarily think I’m going to put a different smart speaker in my house for every audio path I want to enjoy. And even hearables, right, I mean, I had that conversation with Bret Kinsella on one of his Clubhouse sessions, just where exactly is Spotify going with hardware when their interface with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa is actually pretty good? I can do a high degree of control of Spotify all through Google Assistant. But his premise was, ultimately, you’re relying on Google Assistant or Alexa to pass on your intent to Spotify, and you may not be able to do the highest level things.

Andy Bellavia:

So if I want to discern and be able to deliver more intuitively the things I think you want to listen to, then I need to run the whole experience. If it doesn’t require dedicated hardware, at least requires a dedicated wake. Right? And so then, Brett speculated that eventually, and hardware-wise, it’s true because even Knowles has hardware that can do it today, you can run two or three different wake words. So within your hearables, I could wake up Google Assistant, I could wake up Spotify. And if I wake up Spotify, I’m channeled directly into Spotify, and I get their voice experience. Whereas of course, when I want the weather, I don’t ask Spotify, right? I say, “I can’t do it here.” I asked the Assistant for the weather, and I get it. And so there may not be ultimately a true hardware play for them, but at least inserting themselves into the hardware for direct access to the experience.

Kat Penno:

Oh, man, I’m super excited. I’m getting goosebumps where we can go as a health professional in this area. When I think about Spotify releasing that piece of hardware, it made me really think that they really are trying to understand the client from the other point of view or the other end as well. So usually, like you said, Dave, they’ve done it in an inverse fashion where they’ve been able to capitalize on the SaaS model straight away without having any hardware there. So software first got the clients, and now they’re like, “Okay, well, what’s next? How can you make this user experience better?” I think it’s just going to be smoother, transitioning from house smart speaker to car thing. So they’re probably going to have a smart speaker as well down the track. That’s a total guess, but-

Dave Kemp:

Or they’ll partner with somebody. They might-

Kat Penno:

Yeah, yeah.

Dave Kemp:

I think I could totally see. I talked about this with Bret Kinsella, as we just mentioned, the Rebel Alliance, where I think it would be so cool if Spotify banded together with Sonos, and they did a really tight vertical integration there where it’s the Sonos play one or their portable speaker may be earbuds down the line, where it’s like Sonos has the expertise in the hardware, and rather than partner with one of the fang companies, one of these gigantic tech conglomerates, I guess partner with one of the ones that will eventually become gigantic.

Dave Kemp:

But the point remains is that I do think that it’s just a really interesting thing, and it actually transcends just the consumer market into things that we’re even seeing in this market. I mean, i thought that something that’s really flying under the radar that I think is potentially really big is going off with the conversation we have with Giles, Andy, with Chatable and Noopl. Again, there’s going to be some really funky things that I think we see enter into the market. Noopl on the surface looks like wow, that’s a really different thing. I’ve never seen that before. But when you think about it, all it is, is it’s a dongle that you plug into the adapter into the smartphone, and then it’s like this, and it’s running Chatable app.

Dave Kemp:

And so you think about, again, a world full of these in-ear devices that everybody’s wearing, if you have this dedicated piece of hardware that is all designed around this zero latency AI processor that allows for you to have amazing conversations. Again, if your biggest challenge is speech and noise and in the conference room or at the dinner table, and maybe you’re not ready for that general solution just yet, maybe something intermediary like that. These are those assistive listening devices of today that are really, I think, interesting. And again, a lot of it is this software that’s now being … It’s, again, the inversion of software or an app that then becomes hardware, kind of like Jacoti. Jacoti was an app, and then now being embedded in the QCC5100, or whatever the Qualcomm chip is called. It’s going to be everywhere. So I just think it’s kind of a bigger theme, which is like it’s this software that’s now … It starts as software, and then it becomes hardware.

Andy Bellavia:

Yeah. These are all the technologies, I think, of this hearing version too, which is not just the hearing aid that does amplification and some compression and some other things like that, right? I mean, the Noopl device is actually really interesting, especially with Chatable software in it. It’s kind of like … I don’t remember the exact name. But what’s the name of the round Roger mic that Phonak has?

Dave Kemp:

It’s like the Roger table mic, I think.

Andy Bellavia:

Yeah. Right, the hockey puck-looking at one, right? Because it got multiple microphones, and it’ll hone in on the person that’s speaking and then stream it to your hearing aids. I haven’t tried it, but the premise is quite solid. Well, you have the consumer version of that with Noopl, right? The purpose of that hardware is have multiple mics that can hone in on the speaker, and then streaming with low latency earbuds, right? I love that as an entry point for people who have a difficult time hearing in loud situations, but are still doing okay at home. That’s a place where people can enter their hearing journey sooner.

Andy Bellavia:

And as all of these technologies proliferate, this is where I think the professional can enter someone’s hearing journey sooner. Over time, consumers will be more willing to have a consult to help sort all the different technologies out, and get the get the advice and setup from a professional to get them on that journey when they’re still at that stage of, “I can’t hear in a crowded room, but I’m okay when I’m at home.” What do you think?

Kat Penno:

That’s exactly what I do. A large portion of my time is helping individuals navigate potential resources to help them in their working environment in the office when they go out for dinners, social events. That’s exactly nail on the head. I think there’s definitely an opportunity for an app to come in where you can always put in your listing issues, and then it speaks out, “Here are some possible solutions, and this is where you can go to get them.” I definitely think that’s exactly what I do at the moment.

Dave Kemp:

It sounds like a pretty lucrative idea, honestly. I like that.

Kat Penno:

Yeah. Yeah.

Dave Kemp:

Well, but this is-

Kat Penno:

Not that one.

Dave Kemp:

This is interesting though, because it does definitely go, and obviously, you do this, so it’s not as if it’s like, “We just came up with this brand new way to go about doing your business.” But I do think that it speaks to this theme, which is complexity is rising, but it offers the opportunity to understand that, and then you can then distill it down in a meaningful way. And this is where I think everything is going to lie in terms of the value proposition, is going to be around the matching of … And again, it goes all the way back to the beginning of what we were talking about, where it’s like enable your services, make your services so accessible through the remote element of things, so that again, to what we were saying before, you get ahead of before a lot of that hesitancy that they have before they come and see you. And so you can start to alleviate it that way.

Dave Kemp:

But the other thing that I think you can do in that is you can do … If you standardize that in some fashion, where it’s like a Q&A kind of thing, where it’s like, “I’m going to ask you a series of questions, or there’s a brochure that I’m going to send you, and then you’re going to fill it out online and send it back to me,” so that you can gather some of that information. And then you’re really equipped to have that conversation when they come in. I’m sure a lot of this is what you’re already doing. But it seems like large, this is where things are going, or at least this is a really viable path forward, is you really understand what’s the assessment before the real assessment, and then it helps to you to steer the conversation along to all these different things. And I think as there is this just hyper connected world, where there’s just so many different things that you need to pair into and all this different stuff, I think making that world as simple as possible will just scream value for your patients.

Kat Penno:

Absolutely. And Andy, I wanted to know, what’s your hearing ecosystem look like? What tools and resources do you use from the product and through to the software application end?

Andy Bellavia:

Yeah, and that’s been an interesting part of the journey, is I’ve more or less mentally thought to myself, “Okay, well, what’s most difficult for me now? What’s most difficult for me now?” And just working on solutions for those things, which is where I think the audiologist can really add value, instead of people trying to have to figure it out themselves. So obviously, I got hearing aids. This was two and a half years ago, and that was 80% of the issue. The key thing I noticed right away was how much less fatigued I am. Especially I got them before the pandemic, and I would go to conferences, do an all day conference in China, where people are speaking English with varied levels of accents, and you’re hearing impaired, and so your brain is in overdrive, just trying to understand what the person’s saying. By the end of those days, I would be just exhausted. And the first thing I noticed when I got my hearing aids was I am a lot less exhausted now, right, a lot more energy. And so it’s kind of a Pareto.

Kat Penno:

Awesome.

Andy Bellavia:

So what was next was the listening experience. And so now I practically do everything through my hearing aids, podcast, not music so much. I’ll use an equalizer and a good set of in-ear monitors if I really want to listen to music because the quality is better. But phone calls through the hearing aids, podcasts through the hearing aids. I do Clubhouse. I have an iPad. I use the iPad for Clubhouse and the audio stream through my hearing aids. That was the next level. And then the next level was the television. So when the rest of my family would watch TV, even with my hearing aids, and it was still not perfect picking up through the TV speakers, and I would juggle the hearing aid settings to get it better. And finally, I’m like, “I should just go get one of those TV connectors.” And I actually did. Of course, being who I am, I went on eBay and bought a used one, but for a fraction of the price.

Kat Penno:

Love it. Thrifty.

Andy Bellavia:

And I put them into TV and I’m thinking, “This is amazing.” The volume, I use the optical connector, and the optical output is completely independent from the speaker output. So I have my own volume control for the television, and I can mix it in, okay, because with my hearing aids, I can vary the mix between real audio and streaming audio. So I could just put in a little bit of boost from the TV connector, but still have perfect conversation with the people around me while I’m watching. And that was brilliant.

Kat Penno:

Love it.

Andy Bellavia:

TV watching is much more relaxing, and not only that, but the way our home is laid out, the kitchen’s on one end and there’s a dining area, then there’s a family room where the TV is. I can be washing up the dishes and the TV is on the other end of the house, but I’m listening to the audio through the hearing aids. Right? Or if I’m watching at night when everybody else has gone to bed, I can mute the volume of the TV and listen to the TV. So that was the next one. And then I do a lot of Zoom meetings in my life, in my working life, and the Bluetooth through the computer was always a little wonky. So I would phone-call in the audio, but use the screen, but the latency can get strange. And so wasn’t the ideal solution.

Andy Bellavia:

Then I came up with the idea of plugging the TV connector into the computer. That’s what I’ve got going now. The microphone input is my LavMic, and the microphone output goes through the TV connector to my hearing aids, which is much lower latency than Bluetooth and a lot less power consuming as well. And so that makes Zoom meetings way, way easier to do. And I guess the last one is actually probably the first one, was mask mode. I asked my audiologist if she had a mask mode setting. “No, I don’t.” Well, so I made one because I can save custom settings for my hearing aids. And I’ve actually helped other people with a mask mode too. It really works to just put that little bit of trouble boost in there to look out for the muffleness of a mask.

Andy Bellavia:

And to me, all of these things are low-hanging fruits. Lots of people are doing Zoom meetings now. Practically everybody watches television. What’s the best way to make audio streaming and phone calls most audible, least stressful? These are all things I think a lot of users have in common, and that I think are low-hanging fruits for forward-thinking audiologist as part of lifestyle enhancement beyond just the basic hearing setup.

Kat Penno:

I love your experience and the journey that you’ve just described then, and totally agree. I love this phase too, as you both call into the hearing health space, and that’s exactly when I go to lecture at university, that’s what I educate our master students on that. Yes, there’s very healthcare and clinical component. But we’ve also, once we’ve done that portion, the diagnostic testing and the hearing aid fittings, we’ve got to add that value continuously throughout everybody’s lifecycle. It’s not good enough anymore to say, “Yeah, come back in for an annual review, or a six-month review.” It’s this continuous support about how they can have this amazing listening and audio experience with, well, personalized care, really, for the hearing life journey.

Andy Bellavia:

Yeah, and that’s really how I’ve come to think of it. I didn’t understand that in the beginning either. But the hearing experience has many facets, and the more of those that you make as good as possible for the customer, the better their lifestyle is. And I’m not finding the right words here, right, but it’s not just about hearing through the hearing aid mics. It’s all the other things a customer does. If you can enhance their hearing experience in those different scenarios, you’ve elevated their lifestyle tremendously. And I think, I mean, I’m on the younger end of hearing aid wearers, so I might be a little bit out front on this stuff. But I think it’s really like the storm’s comment, because 10 years from now when a bigger cohort of digitally connected or digital natives enter the market for hearing, they’re going to want those things. They know their lifestyles are already geared around digital connection, and audio, and audio interaction, and it’ll be social audio next, everything, and they’re going to demand that those things be considered as part of their hearing journey from the beginning.

Dave Kemp:

Yeah, I think that’s probably true. I’m curious, Kat, as we come to the close here, so 10 years out from now, we’re going to have a lot more digitally connected patients. But if you’re already teaching at uni with some of these different premises in mind, what’s the reaction of some of these younger aspiring audiologists? I’m sure they get this, but I’m curious, what’s your overall sort of general, I don’t know, consensus of where they’re going with the professional side of this?

Kat Penno:

Yeah, awesome question. So I lectured this year and … Excuse me. I felt like I was coming in and I was blindsiding everyone. The feedback I got immediately at the end of the lecture was that, “Whoa, we’ve never heard that point of view of audiology before.” And I think that’s why the clinical director gets me to come in every year, is to give my take on what’s happening in the hearing technology space as a profession, and as an audiologist, where else we can add value besides the traditional clinical front. Yeah. That’s the impression I got. One student was like, “Whoa, I’ve never even been able to conceptualize what you’ve just said, and it’s totally blown me off.” And she’s a PhD candidate as well, so it was really cool to hear and made me feel excited that I could come in and just give a refreshing point of view.

Kat Penno:

That’s an assumption that you think that the cohorts coming through would be really connected and really on to it. But what we get taught at university is a very traditional pathway of hearing care, and that’s cool and totally needs to be there. But we also do need to bring in speakers, I suppose, who say, “Look, you can do it this way if you want and it’s totally viable.” Because the reality is what happens at the end of the day when a large chunk of what we do clinically becomes automated? What do you really do then? And are we being trained and supported to use those skills in the new age of healthcare that’s really starting to surface?

Andy Bellavia:

Isn’t that what Lena Kyman said, that she spends less time because the fitting is easier and easier, so she spends less time fitting, and more time doing other related functions through holistic hearing care?

Dave Kemp:

Yeah.

Andy Bellavia:

Do I have that right? That was your discussion with her.

Kat Penno:

Awesome.

Dave Kemp:

Yeah, yeah. No. That really stood out in my mind too. I was like, “Whoa, that’s really interesting.” She basically said that in today’s fitting process, because you can calibrate them more efficiently than you had been able to in years prior, just through advancements in the software technology of the fitting process more or less, that you’ve gained this efficiency in this surplus of time. And that was my question too, is well, okay, so what does that mean? Are these just shorter visits? Or is there an element of this that we’ve been talking about that you can use that time for? And to Kat’s point, this is, I think, going to be the reoccurring question that goes on across the next … Because I’ve asked this to so many different people that are seasoned professionals in this field, and there’s lots of really good answers. Kim Cavett will say, “Double down on audiology, and just go and really go back to the roots of audiology.” I’ve heard people say, “Specialize in vestibular or whatever kind of ancillary offering, and really own that in your market.”

Dave Kemp:

But I think it’s going to be a combination of them all. But at the end of the day people like Kat are … It’s so fascinating to just hear her journey. Like I said, I met her long ago before the pandemic when she started Hearing Collective, and now the Hearing Collective looks brilliant. I thought it looked brilliant from the start, but now it’s like hindsight to 2020. But it’s like this. I think the fact of the matter is that you have to challenge the status quo, because the status quo is being just … it’s being impacted on every element in every side, and you go around, and there’s all kinds of venture capitalists that are looking to get into this industry, lots of private equity looking to vertically integrate things.

Dave Kemp:

And so the fact of matter is there’s blood in the water. The sharks are circling, and so the audiologist, I think the thing that they have that is impossible to replicate is themselves, is their experience, and their expertise, and their knowledge. And so I think that it’s all about owning your domain. And so it’s a matter of, what is the domain, and are there ways to expand the domain into maybe nontraditional things that haven’t really been considered the scope of this particular medical field. I think that a lot of different medical professionals are grappling with this right now, as just the overall healthcare ecosystem changes and evolves.

Dave Kemp:

So I don’t think it’s that unique to this industry per se. I think that it’s part of a much, much larger thing that’s happening, where it’s patient-centered care. The patient expectations are way different than they were before. People are way more proactive than they were before. You just have much more intelligent customers, patients, whatever you want to call them. I mean, the internet is undefeated at whether it’s good or bad at informing people’s opinions. So a lot’s changing, but I think that there’s a lot that you can do to arm yourself to really stand out in your market and in your particular specialty.

Kat Penno:

Yeah. So well said. I really appreciate this discussion today. It’s been so great, as usual.

Dave Kemp:

Yeah. No, absolutely. Like I said, we talked six months ago, so it’s so good to chat with you too. I love these conversations that we have, and are just so thought-provoking, and it’s like whatever is happening in the moment, we’ll look back on it, and I’m sure three, four, five, six months from now when we do another one of these, there’ll be a whole bunch of new stuff that we want to talk about. So this has been an awesome conversation.

Kat Penno:

Oh, absolutely.

Dave Kemp:

Andy, any closing thoughts from you?

Andy Bellavia:

Oh, yeah. Kat, I always love talking to you. I really appreciate the conversation. I love what you’re doing. I mean, you’re really thinking about where audiology is heading and putting into practice, and I really love that. I’m just sorry you live on the opposite end of the world because we could have these conversations casually over a beer on a Friday night, if it didn’t take me 24 hours to get there.

Kat Penno:

Oh, man, I totally agree.

Andy Bellavia:

But thanks for the conversation today. I really appreciate it. And Dave, yeah, thanks for having me on again.

Kat Penno:

Yeah, I love your insights, both of you. Just such a refreshing point of view. I don’t see myself being at the forefront. Maybe a thought leader, because when I go to university and I get slapped in the face, being told that this is a whole new way to look at our industry, I feel it’s really important to educate on that point, on that there’s a different way we can be doing what we’re doing. I think it’s important that you have people out there doing exactly what we’re doing, having these discussions so that future healthcare professionals can come to this episode or this sort of podcast and go, “Okay, if I’m doing things differently, I can.” And we’ve given them that permission and that platform, because we’re already trying to … We’re doing things, we’re making mistakes, and we’re learning from them, and I think that builds confidence. And by having these conversations, I think people go, “Awesome, I can do it too.”

Kat Penno:

So in summary, yeah, we’ve sort of spoken about the Blamey Saunders models, the SaaS model, Spotify, and how they’re doing it in inverse manner, and he’s really given us some really great insights into the client experience at the end, and how hearing healthcare looked in phase one, and phase two, and what’s to come next. And I’m sort of viewing the professional point of view, and I’m really excited to see where audiologists go in the next five years, and 10, and beyond.

Dave Kemp:

Yeah.

Kat Penno:

Thanks for having me, Dave.

Dave Kemp:

No problem at all. No, this has been awesome. And I agree, Andy, that was a really, really good … We need to extrapolate that piece there because I think that’s highly, highly informative. But I agree with you two both. Great conversation. Love it as always, and I hope that there are some people listening that this sparks some creative thoughts in their mind there that maybe they’re pushing back and they’re challenging us in their own minds right now. And reach out, if that’s the case. I’d love to hear from you. But thanks for everybody who tuned in here to the end, and we will chat with you next time. Cheers.

Dave Kemp:

Thanks for tuning in today. I hope you enjoyed this episode of Future Ear Radio. For more content like this, just head over to futurear.co, where you can read all the articles that I’ve been writing these past few years on the worlds of voice technology and hearables, and how the two are beginning to intersect. Thanks for tuning in, and I’ll chat with you next time.

Leave a Reply