Hello and welcome back for another episode of the Future Ear Radio podcast!
For this week’s episode, I had the pleasure of speaking with Blake Cadwell, Founder of Soundly.com.
In this episode, Blake and I discussed:
- Blake’s backstory and personal experience wearing hearing aids
- The motivation for creating http://www.soundly.com and the goal of the website
- Widespread mask usage during the pandemic serving as a catalyst to people realizing how dependent they are on lip reading
- The sheer pervasiveness of hearing loss and why it’s not fully in the mainstream’s zeitgeist
- The potential upside of consumers being exposed to hearing health functionality in their consumer earbuds
- The importance of the hearing health professional in the OTC era
- Soundly.com’s intention to be a starting point for consumers to research their potential options and do their diligence
In our modern day OTC era, we’re likely to see consumers become inundated with all kinds of advertisements for different types of hearing health products – some good, some bad. Therefore, I think websites like Soundly will be vital to serve as objective, unbiased resources for today’s consumers to begin the process of researching their options and get connected to local providers if they choose to go that route.
-Thanks for Reading-
Dave Kemp 00:02
Okay, everybody, and welcome to another episode of the future ear radio podcast. Back in the swing of things here today with Blake Cadwell. So Blake, tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do.
Blake Cadwell 00:15
Thanks, Dave. It’s great to be here. I, one of the first things I did when I started to, I’ll share more of my story. But one of the first things I did when I started to learn about the hearing health space was listen to this podcast. So it’s great to be on great to be talking with you. I love that you’ve been doing this. So consistently for 100 100 plus. So my name is Blake, as you said, I my entry into the hearing health space is personal. My mom got hearing aids when I was in junior high. And at that time discovered that we have in our family of red Eteri hearing loss. So I became aware at that point, I hadn’t been diagnosed to that point. But I became aware at that point that I had a hearing loss as well. My younger brother also had a hearing loss, and he got hearing aids as a pediatric patient. And then, you know, I waited so, you know, like so many other people, I waited about 10 to 15. Well, it was about 15 years, until around three years ago. And finally, for through a number of different reasons, one of them being masks and the fact that people were wearing masks, I lost my ability to read lips, decided to finally get hearing aids. My, my wife was someone who was encouraging me for a long time to do it. And you know, she kind of played translator long enough. And then the, the commonplace use of masks just pushed me over the edge. So at that point, I engaged the process. And I think the first thing I noticed was that the sort of the start of the whole thing, the front, part of the process of getting hearing aids or accessing hearing health, in my view, felt confusing, and that’s even a few years ago, and I think it’s become even more confusing now. And, you know, really the experience sparked for me, a desire to do something about that helped organize the beginning, the start the first few hours of someone’s experience, and you know, ultimately launched soundly, which is assembly.com, primarily a website based experience where you know, every experience is really focused on, you know, the way I say it is the first five to 10 hours of someone’s research experience, and then really handing those people off to professionals who are able to then care for that person. Or now potentially products and brands who are selling OTC or direct to consumer, but helping folks figure out where to go from the moment you first decide you’re going to get hearing aids to the moment when you’ve now decided what you want to try.
Dave Kemp 02:57
Yeah, no, I think your website and the whole take that you have a super interesting, I want to get into that as the conversation unfolds. But going back to your you know, kind of the start of the journey. So you said that you waited like 1015 years, when was the first time? Clearly it seems like you, you all had this realization that there was like, you know, hereditary thing. But did you have like instances when you were younger? Where you you really noticed it? And like, what was that period of your life? Like?
Blake Cadwell 03:30
Yeah, so my. So I think the first like, really obvious times where I noticed my hearing loss was actually when I got my first cell phone. And I had a lot of I had a very difficult time hearing, you know, at that time, there weren’t, you know, air pods and things like that. So it was I think was like a, I had a flip phone. And then I had a Motorola Razor, which I think everybody had one of those. Yeah, it was great. It was a very, very cool phone. But I just I would have to max out the volume to hear anyone on the phone. And you know that those were some of the first instances that I was like, oh, yeah, okay, I definitely have a hearing loss. Of course, I’m not able to read lips in that environment, you know, it’s a phone phone can be difficult, and those speakers just weren’t that high quality. So as I started to notice, then, and then, you know, it became pretty obvious to me, as I went through through the end of my high school years and into college and early into my career. And, you know, in my 20s, I spent most of my 20s in tech and advertising. And most if not all of my close colleagues knew I had hearing loss, I would share that pretty openly with folks. You know, I remember sitting in an office environment with like, big monitors that sit in front of you, kind of back to back, and I would tell my colleague who’s sitting on the other side, like if you say something, can you stand up because I’m definitely not going to hear you or know that you’re talking to me. unless I can see your face. And so, you know, people understood that knew about it. And, you know, I knew at some point I was going to need to get hearing aids, I just didn’t feel ready at that time I didn’t want to take it on. I think I felt in some ways, like it was sort of daunting, the process itself, the the price felt daunting, so I waited.
Dave Kemp 05:20
And so you think that the culprit behind waiting was multifactor thing? You know, like, you just mentioned price, and then like, just the whole process and all that. But did you like, obviously, the pandemic, and then the whole masking and everything was the catalyst that ultimately forced your hand? But were there times prior to that, that you felt like you were on the verge? Or was life prior to mass masking? Okay, and manageable? Or were you starting to get to the point where I was like, Alright, I need to take some serious action
Blake Cadwell 05:56
here. Yeah, I would say it went in and out depending on the settings that I was in. So you know, and I think many people with hearing loss might be able to understand this or resonate with this, but when you’re with folks who know you, oftentimes, they’re able to adjust and look at you or they understand, like, Hey, I have to like, maybe say something a couple times, or say the name of the person, you know, say, Blake, before you speak, so I can turn to you. I, one of my clients, maybe three years before I ended up getting hearing aids, it was kind of a very practical thing, but they had a, at the clients offices, they had a big round oval conference table, and there would sort of be like several people sitting beside behind and beside me, and, you know, it was also for whatever reason, a very, they would all speak sort of in low tones. And I remember coming home from from days at that client’s site with my wife and be like, I this is I can’t quite do this. Like I’m struggling. And I didn’t I didn’t take action at that point. But I was very frustrated. And then, you know, there are lots of little things, which I know so many people can resonate with, you know, I often avoid neighbors on the street, because you see somebody and if it’s not a real conversation, they’ll kind of say something on the way by and you miss it, and you want to be polite. So you kind of chuckle or you say like, Yep, and then you know, there was one instance where, you know, I said, like, sounds good or something. And it was like someone’s dog had passed away. And you know, my wife’s like, she’s with me. And she’s like, nobody said, right? I do not actually, like, Well, shit. So that’s kind of the those are the situations I think, are very familiar to a lot of people. And you know, but part of what held me back, in addition to price and confusion is there’s this moment, and I think there’s we can talk more about this, but there’s this thing within the hearing health space. At present, it feels all or nothing, or it’s like the moment I crossover. And I’d become a hearing aid where now this is a part of my life for the rest of my life. And I’m obviously young. So I’m thinking like, okay, maybe I’ll just hang on a little while longer before I become kind of in air quotes, a hearing aid, wherever. And I think there’s a lot we might be able to do about using it more situationally. And I probably could have benefited without having to fully commit. But that also hold me back.
Dave Kemp 08:28
Yeah, I think that’s a that’s a really interesting point. So I want to come back to that. But just as kind of a side note, I think it’s interesting, because I just recorded, you know, kind of the first episode of this next wave. And I did that with Dr. Kathleen Wallace. And one of the things we were talking about was, you know, just like masks in general in the pandemic, and what a sort of odd an unforeseen secondary effect, I think, probably people wouldn’t have anticipated. But I think that there has been a massive realization like across our our country in probably the world of people having like this realization of how dependent they were on liberating. Yeah, folks that probably never would have thought they even have a hearing loss. But I just I find that to be really interesting, one of those secondary effects that you would never really be able to predict. But it does feel like that was a total catalyst for a lot of people, not just yourself that had this realization of like, I mean, clearly you already knew, but I think that it’s the sheer dependence that I think a lot of people had that’s really throwing them off and then coupled with the social isolation that a lot of people were going through where I think it just became really apparent to people that this was a much bigger problem than they originally perceived it to be, which is sort of like the epitome of hearing loss in general. I feel Yes, creeps, it creeps it creeps and then suddenly it’s bad. And that’s all it’s almost like this weird microcosm of the whole thing.
Blake Cadwell 10:01
Yes, I couldn’t agree more. And I think, what’s another second order, you know, another effect of this whole thing is, folks who maybe don’t even have enough hearing loss or any hearing loss that would warrant hearing aids, have had the same experience of what it’s like to have hearing loss. Because even if you have completely normal hearing, and you are in a busy coffee shop, and someone’s trying to get your order, you know, people are missing things, even with great hearing. And so now, I think often I’ll talk to people, you know, part of this project has been bringing people that if you’ve been in creativity, or creative space, or technology, or whatever, I’m trying to explain what this project is all about. And I’ll often reference masks like, you know, that feeling when you were in a mat or in a, you know, you’re wearing a mask, and they’re wearing a mask, and you’re in a coffee shop, and you just can’t get that order. That’s what we’re that’s what we’re dealing with here. And so yeah, you know, folks that have that kind of frustration, day in day out moment to moment.
Dave Kemp 11:00
And it’s, it’s a, like a weird dichotomy, too, because you know, you as the person that is not able to hear and register are frustrated, because you can’t hear but then like, the other person that you’re having the exchange with, is frustrated, because they’re like, what’s going on? Why can’t you understand what I’m trying to say? And then it just become even more pronounced. And I think like the Starbucks order is the perfect example of like, what’s your name? And it’s just like, you know, it just sums up I think, this whole idea of like, it’s this mutual frustration. That’s not the same kind of frustration. But it’s all rooted in I think, like the fact that we just don’t really as a country, and again, as like, probably a global population, like really, I think, understand and give credence to, like, how pervasive this is, you know, and just like you said, where it’s not, it’s not necessarily just, I’m registering on a pure tone audiogram is having moderate hearing loss or something like that. We all know that, like, there could be just like little sweet spots in your, you know, if the analogy is that, like your ear print, or, you know, your ear has like its own fingerprint, and it’s got its very distinct way in which it processes noise and stuff like that. Then, of course, like, there’s going to be different frequencies and like very small subtleties. Where you just have like a small deficiency, and those things can, can rear their head in the most untimely situations. Yeah. And then, you know, so you compound that then with like this, like unwillingness to even acknowledge that this thing exists, where it’s considered rude to ask, you know, can you please repeat that question? Moving on, you know, it’s like that kind of thing. And, and so in a way, I do kind of feel like the, one of the Silver Linings with the pandemic is, I think it’s kind of given people more empathy with this issue of like, they’re all a little bit more leeway here. Because like, this is something that like everybody can kind of relate to a lot more now.
Blake Cadwell 13:02
Yeah, I completely agree. I had an interesting conversation with my wife recently, who’s actually a co founder, and sadly, and it’s a very she’s involved in has been incredibly helpful and getting the project to where it’s at. But she, she and I were talking about hearing loss, and she obviously experiences it through me. And she was she was talking about her eyesight, which she has normal sort of, you know, she needs glasses, whereas contacts, she, she was saying to me, she’s like, you know, I actually think on the same scale, my eyesight might even be worse than your hearing, because she can’t drive without glasses. And I can operate without hearing aids. But the sort of lack of treatment, this the contrary, the lack of conversation, the lack of available treatment, creates this total mismatch, where my hearing loss affects my day to day life, much more than her eyesight. And I know the treatments aren’t the same. But I just, I found that conversation fascinating be like, yeah, actually, she has more severe eyesight loss than I do hearing loss, but we never talked about it, because she’s just kind of another person who wears glasses and, and contacts.
Dave Kemp 14:05
Well, and so just to go off of that, because this again, was top of mind, because again, I was talking with Kathleen Wallace on this last episode. And, you know, one of the things we were talking about was conversation that she had had with Dr. Barbara Weinstein, and Dr. Barbara Weinstein, and they were talking about this whole notion of, you know, it’s something that I know, Nick Reed over at Johns Hopkins is working on, where everybody has like a really strong understanding of what 2020 eyesight means. And so there’s like a, there’s like a lexicon that I think like is universally adopted, where people kind of understand like, I have this type of eyesight and people know what that means. But in hearing loss, it’s so subjective. It’s like I have a, you know, even if you have gone through the process of seeing a provider, and you’ve gotten an audiogram And you know, where you register on a pure tone audiogram. Like, I have moderate hearing loss, like, there’s so much variability to that, like, it might just mean that you have, you know, you struggle with high frequencies or something like that. And so I think that there is like, I think there’s a real opportunity for something more like, what we have with vision and the universally universality of the way in which we define our eyes, and our eyesight with our ears, because I think that would go a long way to and just having people be able to share almost like a common language of what this stuff even means. Because I think that a lot of people like have this misnomer of what hearing loss is, which is just like the, it’s a volume knob, like it’s turned down, or it’s turned up. And like, there’s just so much more to it than that. And so I think that’s part of the issue, too, is that we haven’t done a good job, like from a public health standpoint, in like public health education of like, because it’s not just like the, the patient, it’s the medical professional to, and it’s there’s a lot of challenge there of like, you know, audiology and like hearing healthcare in general does kind of operate in a bubble in the sense of, it’s kind of like, you’re using, like a dictionary that’s specific to just your baldness, and it’s not something that’s more widely communicated to the broader public, I
Blake Cadwell 16:23
think, yeah, I’d say, I know, you have so many talented professionals who listen to this, this podcast, and I’d say, if anybody has an idea on how to represent, you know, I was asking an audiologist the other day, like, Can we somehow get to percentage I know, no one wants to talk percentage, but as a consumer, it would be so useful, because it’s exactly what you’re saying is like, when when I tell someone to have hearing loss, or they were hearing aids, first thing they wonder is like, well, how much are like, how can you help me understand what’s going on for you? And I so badly want to be to tell them, you know, it’s about 25%, which is kind of like the length I in fact, I do say that sometimes because I kind of have like done the conversion for myself. But folks really want that, you know, ability to communicate their what they the experience they’re having.
Dave Kemp 17:12
Yeah, I just think there’s like a lot of small things like that, that in aggregate could add up in a big way. So I want to get into sadly, but I think the best place to start would be your career, because it’s really interesting. You know, I know that you’re, you’ve lived in have lived in LA for a while. And I know you’ve been doing a lot of like interesting work in the creative world. So do you want to talk a little bit about life before you launched this thing? You know, from a career standpoint? And then how like, maybe some of that has shaped the way that you’ve approached the launch? And then the formation of soundly?
Blake Cadwell 17:49
Yeah, absolutely. So my I started, I started my career in Kansas City. And most of my career, as I mentioned, is in advertising and tech, primarily in the kind of creative communication side of all of that, so worked with clients like YouTube and Nike and American Express and Disney and spent a long time working with Chipotle, which was amazing. I loved all these foods. So as the great brand to be a part of and primarily the work that I was doing was around, you know, communication, advertising, launching projects to help, you know, build those brands. So for example, I was part of launching Chipotle rewards program, which now has, I think, 25 or 30 million members and a number of kinds of projects that blended technology and creativity and when I came into as a consumer came into the hearing health world via Google search, basically just saying like, Okay, how do I get a hearing aid? Immediate my wheels started to turn in the areas that I’ve spent time which is technology and creativity and so how can I help to solve this gap that feels like it’s so prevailing for me with with those two things, and really, that’s what soundly is all about as you know, started with you know, taking the GRE we took 25 or 30 different hearing aids and hearing products into the studio, we shot all original photography and videography created you know, what I think is a really fresh and beautiful brand for this for the space and kind of you know, to me, I think about that as creating the the wrapper, the environment. You know, if it was a retail store, it would be you know, what’s the art on the walls and what’s the power the How are the shelves, you know, designed? And that’s kind of how I think about the design aesthetic, the sound, the experience, you know, it really designed it to match what I would have hoped to find you know, as a what do I how do I want this to feel when I come here, I want it to feel modern and Colorful I don’t want it to feel, you know, so serious because it’s it is serious in there are serious treatments and it can be it can have serious impacts on our life. But you know very few things in our lives do we want to spend a ton of money on without kind of feeling good about them? So how can we create an environment that makes people feel good? So really, that’s the kind of creativity side. And then on the technology side? It’s a number of different things. You know, one is built a hearing test, customer hearing test, which, you know, I think, is this one of the simplest and easiest tests that someone’s can take, obviously, there are disclaimers on the site that say, this isn’t a replacement for a booth test. But I know my own experience was I went and I took an online test, because I wanted to understand like, what’s going on with me do I have? I had never taken a test as a kid, actually. And I wanted to understand, do I have a similar shape? audiogram with my mom and brother, or is it different? And one of the things that I quickly realized in the online hearing test space is that most of them, not all of them, but most of them will give you a pass fail, or like your hearing doesn’t seem to be doing well, you should go see someone which makes sense, you should go see someone. But I found that very frustrating. Because I wanted the visibility, I wanted to be able to understand it. What are you seeing computer program that’s telling me I have hearing loss? What do you see? Can I see that? And so that’s the way we designed the assembly hearing test, right gives you an audiogram shape result. Again, no, no claims that this is a replacement of anything, no one’s programming hearing aid off the results, but it gives you a sense of you know, do I have a sloping hearing loss, in my case, I have a cookie bite, so I can see my cookie bite emerge. So you know, that’s an example I think of the the technology piece kind of coming in. And there are other examples as well. And, you know, we’ve, the way that the sort of product compare comparison section of the site is built, you know, has a lot of really interesting technology behind it, you can sort by all kinds of features, you can look for just Bluetooth hearing aids, or you can search by price, you can search by style. And then we also built, you know, to it’s actually one of the most popular pages on the site, we build a database of audiologists from around the country using data from Yelp and Google and other review sites and kind of aggregated it all into one place. And people love that because they can see all of those reviews, they can see the location and the hours and you know, kind of using technology to make sure those things fit seamlessly. Yeah,
Dave Kemp 22:47
I mean, I, I totally think that, like one of the first impressions I had, when I checked out your site for the first time was I really was impressed by the aesthetics of it and how clean it is, you know, it just it’s a really good looking website. And, you know, as I got to know you a little bit like, it’s clear that there were these sort of, like you said, you know, some of those, like experiences that you had in your past work, clearly have bled into this. But it’s really cool to see. And the other thing that I think’s neat about what you’re doing is, you know, like, I think there’s a lot of opportunity for, you know, like the direct to consumer OTC channel, and that’s going to take a lot of different shapes. But I think that what is really interesting, from my perspective, as somebody that is, in the world of operating directly with the professional is, I see this as being a, an interesting way to sort of loop them into the fold. Because I think that, like you, you said to me, you know, with one of our prior discussions is your goal here is to effectively become kind of like the homepage of, you know, the, like the starting point for going through the process. And so I guess, let me ask you, like, based upon your own personal experience with having gone in getting fit with hearing aids through a professional, like, how are you looking at, at what you’re building as, like, different but also complementary to that process? What parts of it, I guess, did you appreciate that you want to amplify and then what things do you think you can improve upon?
Blake Cadwell 24:29
Yeah. So I think, to answer that question, I think the real answer is, there’s this sort of my experience was there’s this dead space before I ever saw a professional and that’s the space that sadly operates you know, it’s the space from I remember as a Saturday I was like, Okay, I’ve got some time I’m this was before my daughter was born, so I had more time than I have now. But like, Yeah, I know. I know you can like I have some time, I’m going to look at my options, I’m going to figure this out. And, you know, at that point I didn’t have a doctor to talk to, I didn’t really have anyone to talk to, it’s just like, gonna figure out what what my options were. And to me, it’s that that that gap, that sounds really trying to feel I think of it for me, the experience was about 10 or 12 hours, before I ever reached out to anyone or did anything. I think now that soundly exists, someone could do it in a little bit less than that, I think, you know, folks might only need a few hours, because you’ve got more tools and more access in one place. But that’s the space I’m thinking about. And then, you know, once someone has gotten their bearings, and let’s say there’s someone who, you know, they want to address this, let’s say they have some level of financial stability, they want to invest, and they want to get a product that that is the best possible product for them, they’re almost certainly going to end up in a prescription product at this time. And so now that they’ve had a chance to sort through and you know, maybe they understand which brands in which styles they’re interested in, now, we want to put them in touch with professional and that’s, you know, that’s where Sally’s job, and in many ways is done. And we’re kind of handing the patient or the consumer over to kind of the next step. And, you know, we’ll continue to kind of focus on folks who, who kind of continue to fill in the one difference there is we are seeing some folks who come in who are experienced hearing aid wearers, and are interested in the next model. So my mom is a white X wear has worn white X for 20. Now 20 plus years, and I’m sure listeners will know obviously Widex has that kind of diehard base, she’s absolutely a part of that. She every few years, would probably come onto the site to look at, okay, what’s the latest today, it’s moment shear, but you know, in two or three years, it will be something else, maybe probably. And so understanding the difference is or, you know, some of the nuances like, okay, the most invisible part product here doesn’t have telehealth options. So I’m going to go one step up in educating a little bit on the details there, which is something her audiologists could also help her with, but I think many people now want to have some of that information themselves. And, you know, that’s where folks would use sound like if they are more experienced hearing aid where and we see both instances.
Dave Kemp 27:39
Yeah, I mean, I think that the, you know, one of the biggest concerns, I think that you know, the the hearing industry in general has is with regard to OTC and stuff is like, will the market become so saturated with crap that it will sort of downvote the good stuff, you know, will the cream actually rise to the top? And I think that one of the ways that it will, is that there, I think we have to be very cognizant of how educated the consumer is today, just like broadly speaking, I mean, I think that this is very much in line with the way in which people research things, not to mention that we know that like if this is going to be if you’re gonna go the route where you want to get prescription hearing aids, that’s a large out of pocket cost, and, you know, even with a benefit. So I think that we’re fooling ourselves not to think that there isn’t this kind of demand. But I don’t think that that negates the role of the professional or anything like that. Furthermore, our you know, on the contrary, I think that it means that they’re more likely to do their research, do their diligence, come to you prepared with knowing, like an expectation of like, this is exactly what I want. So that, you know, it’s, it’s less of a, quote, unquote, sale and more of like, let’s just make sure that you’re fit with this thing to the best of your ability. And then you can be that consultative role. So in a way, I do kind of think that this fits in, you know, in the sense of, like, if it’s largely a patient education, lead generation tool for the provider, there is an unmet need, I think, in the market right now, because I just think that they’re being bombarded with so many different things. And I think like, whether it’s TV commercials for all of these different devices, some good maybe some not so good. And then you know, they’re gonna see it in all these different like, retail point of sale locations now from their pharmacy, to their, you know, whatever brick and mortar retailer that they’re gonna walk into, where they’ll see like, they’re just going to be inundated with more and more options. So I think that it sort of like lends itself nicely to something that has the interest like a um, objective, unbiased as a resource for them to be able to filter through and get to the like, truth of what they actually, at least should be talking about with their professional. And I think there’s going to it will almost like broker even more trust than maybe previously.
Blake Cadwell 30:17
I completely agree. And I think one thing that’s interesting is, you know, in my mind, and I’ve tried, at this point, I think I’ve tried now 50 Plus pairs of different hearing aids. So everything from 100 $199, you know, peace apps all the way up to the hearing aid I wear every day is the result Omnia, which I love. And so, I’ve tried the full spectrum. And to me, I think one thing that’s really interesting, and I hope to see an evolution in the hearing health space in this in this regard, is there certainly a group of products that I get concerned about, and I am, I don’t like, and those are the ones that try to look like and make claims like they are able to do things that they’re not able to do, right. So like when people use our I’ll see brands use, and many of them are the less respected ones, but use like Bluetooth enabled as a feature of a cheap hearing aid. And anyone who knows what they’re looking at knows that that means they use Bluetooth to program or they use Bluetooth to change the volume, but they’re not Bluetooth streaming enabled. But to me, that’s misleading, because it that’s a very difficult thing to parse out. Similarly, people talk about noise reduction, or talk about background noise. And to me, it’s about getting to the truth in like the bottom of it. Because I don’t look at a product like you know, Lexie’s b one or b two, I don’t look at that and think that’s a bad product. I think that’s a 700, or an $800. product. And so for some folks, if they have 700, or $800, or they just want to start with 700, or $800, they should do it. It’s a good product. It’s not as advanced for sure. There’s a reason I wear round Omnia and not know the bow is hearing aid every day. But I also think it’s a pretty good product. And so I think there’s this sort of binary between, like, who’s the good guy who’s the bad guy, there are some that I think are false advertising, basically. And that really, the I’m not, I don’t like that. And I try to point a finger at that whenever we can in terms of our content, but then the rest of it is, as an educated consumer, you get to decide, do you want to spend seven or $800, and people are smart, they understand that that’s not the same as four or $5,000, I think. And I think people are increasingly doing the research to understand the differences. The other thing is that I think return policies are a huge factor in all of this, yes, folks are gonna get a chance to try it, if they’re buying something with a return policy, which we always recommend they do. If they’re getting a chance to try something for 45 days or 60 days, and it doesn’t work for them. My experience is they’re not going to just call it I think at that point, they’re going to figure out what does and probably try other things. And maybe that ends up being, you know, a visit to a local professional or trying something, try something different.
Dave Kemp 33:28
Yeah. I mean, like, without trying to just completely, like beat this beat this point. You know, it’s like, I really do think that there is there is an opportunity to, even if it’s like, just like, you’re not even selling the OTC per se as a provider, but you’re making them aware, like, look, like just start here. Maybe you’re selling it, like, I’m sure there’s a revenue opportunity there. But I just think that like having, like you said, you got to start somewhere. I, you know, I wrote this article for Audiology online shortly before I took the break before the twins, and, you know, the, the, like, main thrust of like, my point with OTC and all that stuff was that, you know, maybe like, we’ve kind of gone round and round with like, how do you actually get people to increase? Or how do you increase the overall adoption of getting people to like, treat their hearing loss? And there’s a myriad of different reasons why I think we’ve kind of been plagued and like the 20 ish percentage of people that probably should be wearing something but but aren’t. And to me, I think that one of the, one of the like, really key metrics that I think OTC could be a big positive for is with just getting people to try it out and see for themselves Seeing is believing. And I think that like that’s why I’m so excited about air pods and all of these like consumer earbuds That, by no means do I suggest that these are going to be replacements for hearing aids or anything like that. But what I think they’re ultimately going to do is they’re going to be the catalyst in the same way that masks were a big catalyst for people to realize, like, I have a bigger problem than I originally realized. I think that giving people you know, having like, the realization that Oh, my AirPods pro have has like this conversational boost, you turn it on, and you start using it for a little bit. And you’re like, it’s like the, it’s like the polar opposite of the masking thing, where it’s like, giving people a taste of what this sounds like, could be so positive, where they start to get the wheels going in their own head. Because ultimately, and this is the main point is like, we simply cannot, you can bring a horse to water, but you cannot make them drink. And I think that’s like, that sums it up perfectly is like we can try with in hearing healthcare land, we can use all the data till we’re blue in the face and in sight, every single argument as to why you need to treat your hearing loss. But until people come to it on their own terms, just like you had to, they’re never going to take action. And I think that like having these more, like you said, it’s like going from a model that was binary to then one of which where you now have intermediary stepping stones along the way. I think the big net positive of that is like just giving people the opportunity to come to this realization on their own.
Blake Cadwell 36:28
Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. I think one thing I actually have I have drafted articles on this that I going to publish at some point. But one thing I’ve said often is, you know, your hearing aids work for you, not the other way around. And I think it’s important for folks to not feel like the moment that they say yes to a hearing aid that now that they have to like, have to wear it all the time, it has to be their new lifestyle, it’s this, it’s a really big thing to ask, you know, if you’re asking someone to essentially commit to wearing something that really changes, like I’ll say, as a hearing aid, where it changes your experience changes the way things feel the way things sound, it helps, that also, it’s uncomfortable sometimes, and it doesn’t always, it’s not always positive. And to feel like you have to bite that off as one. One day you’re not and then the next day you are, I think that that’s an under disgust reason that folks stay on the fence and what excites me about a product like certainly air pods to a degree, but I even think some of the affordable products like like the Bose hearing aids, which I’m a fan of is that you can wear that hearing aid and you can get benefit from it. But you can also wear it and put it in your in your backpack, like I have my air pods in my backpack, pull it out, wear it, put it back in. And I understand that the brain needs to adjust. And there are time periods where you have to, you have to kind of commit to wearing something in order for your brain to become used to it, I get that. But I think there’s sometimes an overemphasis on the all or nothing component of this. And, you know, every other piece of technology in my life, including my laptop and the macro microphone and speaking into and my phone, I grabbed them, and I use them when I want them. And I set them aside when I don’t want them. And I don’t think hearing aids are any different than that. And I don’t treat them any different than that. Which means I don’t always wear my hearing aids. And I’m very clear with people about the fact that this is this is a device I will pull out when I want to, and I’m gonna put it away when I want to. And there’s I’m not I get to be in charge of that decision. And I think more people would take this on if they felt that mentality about it, that it’s a tool.
Dave Kemp 38:43
Yeah, that’s, I think, absolutely brilliant point. Because I agree with you that, you know, you have to like think through the mind of the person that is sitting on the fence. And it’s like, we all know what this feels like when you have a lot of trepidation around something that feels like it’s a seismic shift in your life. And, you know, even if we’re just talking about hearing aids, like you’re so right, where what you’re really saying is you have to adopt an entirely new lifestyle, you have to make sure that you maintain and retain, don’t lose this extremely expensive piece of equipment. You know, and I, again, I just think that those are the kinds of subtleties that are probably having a much broader impact than we realize that don’t really show up on a survey they don’t show up on a questionnaire where you’re like, is it price is it’s it’s like I mean yeah, it’s kind of all this but it’s it’s more than that. It’s like I don’t really feel like I’m at the point where I’m ready to make what feels like not only a big financial investment but also like a lifestyle investment.
Blake Cadwell 39:49
Yeah, and I think we’re price does factor into that is, you know, most people are not you know, either they have a relationship with their own finances where they feel accountable to make good decisions, or they’re in a shared financial situation with a family or a partner. And if you spend 4567 $8,000, you are going to feel like you really need to get something out of that. There are very few things that we spend that much money on in our lives. And, you know, once you become a, through and through hearing aid where like my mom, or like I am, or like people who now understand what this does for them, the money is not a big deal. It’s like, yes, people can get the money, or they can make, you know, many people can afford it, some people can’t, but many people can. But it’s the emotional connection of, if I just spent five grand on this, and I told my family, I’m going to and I told myself, I’m going to, now I really need to use it. And that means I really need to, like adopt this whole new lifestyle that you just mentioned. And, and those are big leaps. And that’s where I think OTC are these hybrid products, like the job or enhance plus or other things, they start to break that down and chip away at it. And it’s like, okay, this was a few 100 bucks, I can have that as a tool, pull it out, put it away, pull it out, put it away, you know, a few years, maybe I’m gonna get a premium product that, you know, obviously see a professional for,
Dave Kemp 41:12
and you just have the experience of knowing like, Okay, this is what the amplification sounds like, you know, if you just start to like, condition yourself, I think you’re right, where, you know, you’re not, I just think there’s a lot of truth to this and this binary notion where it’s it is it’s like, if you really kind of start to unpack it, it’s more than just like the cost. It’s about, you know, kind of like, am I going to like, actually live up to the almost the expectation that this thing inherently is setting. So that I feel as if I’m, it’s like buyer’s remorse. But it’s even more, it’s more than that. It’s not just like, Did I not make a good financial investment? It’s like, why am I not having a good experience with these things? Why, what am I doing wrong? And then again, I think like, again, going back to kind of some of the concerns, I think that the industry has with OTC not saying I support these concerns or anything, but I think there is some merit to the idea of like, the worst outcome would be that you have a bunch of people that get the wrong impression of what, like these things could and should be for them. And so I think that the positive of of OTC is I do think that it does sort of lessen the like the risk of of that, because there’s like less of this. I don’t know, remorse, I guess is probably the way I’m thinking about it.
Blake Cadwell 42:38
Well, let me I mean, just to share on that point, because I know, folks, that is a concern people have is okay, so I’m just going to try a $500 product, they’re gonna think that’s what hearing aids are, and then they’re going to never want to do, you know, get a hearing aid again. And I think, personally, I don’t think that gives people enough credit. I think most people that I’ve talked to and you know, talk to lots of people come to the site, we get a lot of chats and emails and things like that. People understand that if you’re spending 500, and not 5000, there’s going to be a difference. People understand when they purchase a car, if you buy like the absolute base model of the most basic car, you’re not going to feel that good when you’re driving around. Versus if you buy, you know, import, you get the leather and you get everything else, people are smart about that. And the other thing is, to the point we’re making about this kind of being on the fence and kind of tipping over my own experience was I actually started with an online product, because I didn’t know where to get going. And so I bought something walked out of my house, it’s kind of funny, I put them on, I walked out of my house and I live in LA and I literally docked because of helicopter flew over and I thought this helicopter was on top of me. I mean, I just thought this thing was like gonna run right into our house. And of course, it was regular, you know, in the air. I ultimately returned that product, because it didn’t, it didn’t match my you know, the audiologist listening will understand that as a cookie by hearing aid where I have like, kind of even more special setup that I need in order to for a product to really work for me. But I returned it and then I went to an audiologist. But I never in that process was like forget it, I’m out. That was just another step towards not a step. Like I’m gonna get out of this at all. I think the biggest thing was putting something in my ears at all. And you know, even with you the online product that I purchased, I was able to hear my wife better I was hearing things I’m like, Okay, this is I get it like this is gonna work for me, I just this isn’t the product.
Dave Kemp 44:40
So going off of, you know, with with what’s going on with suddenly now. Just talk to us a little bit about what’s currently on there, kind of the flow of the site. You had already mentioned some of this, but I just figured we we can kind of conclude this conversation with just focusing on Sanli and what it Is that you’ve built so far in where you’re kind of taking this thing as much as you want to share on the podcast today?
Blake Cadwell 45:05
Yeah, of course. Yeah. So if you’re if you’re a consumer, you know, let’s just say you’re someone who’s just getting started. And you were to come to the site, you know, we give you a couple of different they’re really three different tracks you can take most people, we are interested in products. So they will start out with our shop portal. And, you know, shop is an interesting words, they actually don’t sell any hearing aids directly. Right now on sound late, we’re exclusively sending, you know, we’re really occupying that storage space. So we’re connecting folks to professionals, or connecting folks to brands. But if you kind of click on the shop tab, what you’re going to see is pretty much every top hearing aid that’s on the prescription side, and most of the top direct to consumer like lively autofocus, you’ll see the top, I would say the most the products that we actually believe in on the OTC side. And the ones that have been tested and feel like they have good customer service. And they’re strong options. So products like the the Lexie product, or the Alexa and Bose the B one and B two, you’ll see the job or product in there. So other OTCs and as a consumer, you can just start to click kind of like if you’re on Kayak or another, you know travel site, you start to click things by price by feature, okay, I want Bluetooth I want to in the year one behind the year, you can compare products side by side. So you can add three or four products to a tray, hit compare, it’ll show you all the feature sets next to each other. And then if you’re interested in a specific product, you kind of click into that product, you’ll see a lot more detail written words, images, some video perspective of audiologists. So we have audiologist quotes about each product and how it works and whether it’s a good product or not. And then if you’re interested in that product, and you decide to click Find care, that’s where we’ll connect you with a local professional who then can can get that product prescribed to your needs. And you know, usually that that is happening at a local office, it’s kind of looks a lot like a traditional, you know, somebody looks you up in the phonebook and call to it’s just happening through this, this portal instead. So that’s the shop experience. I talked a little bit about the hearing tests. That’s another experience people love and spend a lot of time on. We interestingly have folks who, you know, will come back regularly and test their hearing, I think most of them are finding very similar results. But I find that behavior really fascinating. People are trying to check to make sure their hearing is not changing. One important note on the hearing test is that we worked with audiologists to add in red flag questions for all of the kinds of really important things that would should send someone directly to an EMT or an audiologist. If anyone says yes to a red flag, we stopped the process. And we give them access to our audiologist portal where they can put in their zip code and find someone locally immediately. And then that kind of leads us to the the third experience, which is the portal, we have just over 5000 practices in there right now. And you can search your zip code or search your city and find all of the ones that are there locally. Sure, most of the listeners here, if you have a practice, you’ll probably find it on there. And you’ll see if you go to your page, you’ll see that there’s reviews that have been aggregated from other sites like Google and Yelp. And so you know, it’s the information that’s been brought in from those locations. And then you know, we keep things like hours and phone numbers up to date using the Google API. So it’s all kind of really tight with whatever the information is, that’s that’s already out there publicly. And people also love that experience. So those are the main ones that people are using right now. We’ve got several really exciting things you know, I think coming up talking more about multimedia for next year. How to move into even more video we did a partnership with with tuned and Kathleen who No, you just interviewed and Danny Aronson and his whole team. And so we started to introduce even more video content into the site. So certain products, some of the most popular products you can click on, you know a video that will then just tell you exactly what that product is all about. Kathleen stars in a few of those videos, you might see her on the site. Yeah, so those are those are some of the main things and then I think the big thing and I know everybody’s circling this right now is you know, trying to figure out how to give folks a chance to listen to these products before they get them in their hands. And so that’s I think one of our big priorities for next year is getting a live listen feature onto the site. Where you know, if you’re a consumer and you want to hear what a The Bose hearing aid which I’ve mentioned a few times versus the Resound Omnia sounds like in background noise. Here’s here’s a sound file that would give you a sense for how those products perform. Which by the way, a shout out to the renowned and the renowned team and the GN team. I wore my Omni as to what I was telling you. I went to a football game on Sunday night at Sofi. Stadium. I because I’m a nerd, I had my my DB app out, checking the decibels, you know, see how loud Yeah, I think it broke like 115 At some point, but I was wearing my hearing aids the whole time. And I know that there’s a lot of talk about resound, putting more background noise management in that new product. But it was so impressive. I was able to have hold a conversation with I was with four guys. So that’s a kind of long row. And I was holding conversation, hearing things that they weren’t hearing, which was kind of amazing. I was like I’ve got better hearing than you right now. Just give it just an interesting feeling. Yeah, that is that’s I digress.
Dave Kemp 51:02
Yeah, well, yeah. I mean, I first of all, I just I love the whole flow of your website, I think it’s super neat. And those sound like really exciting things to look forward to. I mean, the live listen aspect would be huge. I know. That is something that people are dabbling with, in so I think that is a really interesting evolution of how this thing could unfold. And, you know, I just think that this, this idea of like, meeting the customer, where they are early, and helping them to just guide them through options and having the professional be front and center with this process of like, you don’t have to necessarily go that direction if you want, but it is available. And it’s built out. You know, and I think that’s really important too. So I guess my my kind of like to wrap here, I’d be curious, like, what have you heard from the chat or the emails that you’re getting? Like what’s surprising you from the customers? Or, you know, your web visitors? Like what, what is some things that, you know, maybe you wouldn’t have anticipated that’s catching you by surprise, or anything of that nature?
Blake Cadwell 52:10
Yeah, I mean, I think the first thing is there? Well, I guess the first first thing is, there’s been a really amazing reception from folks kind of broadly about this topic. And we’ve done some interesting partnerships that have branched out a little bit out of beyond the typical kind of hearing aid where we’re hearing aid searcher. And, you know, we did a partnership with a newsletter and a lot of younger people kind of coming in looking for their parents or their loved ones. And I think it’s just in general, there is a lot of interest around hearing health more than people anticipate. And then anytime it comes up, you know, in a room, it’s something I’ve noticed, anytime they come, anytime it comes up in a room, three or four people kind of be like, Yeah, my dad or me or this person, I’m close with her, I just spend time researching that for somebody. And it’s, we don’t talk about it a lot in the world. He kind of in the hearing house base, we obviously do. But I find it interesting how many people are already thinking about this. One thing I’ve definitely noticed as you user behavior is that folks will compare products, they have nothing to do with each other. And I think they’ll email us or chat us and they’ll say, hey, I’m interested in the phone, ak lumity. And you know, the the Bose, the Bose product by Alexei. And you can just tell or even other things, like they’ll put different form factors like, Okay, I’m interested in a year ago, and I’m also interested in you know, Phonak, lumity, Rick, and you quickly realize how much people are just grasping, like, they they’re not walking in with a clear understanding. And I think that’s probably should be reassuring to the professionals because folks need support, they really do they need to unpaid help, no matter what we do in the first, let’s say, five to 10 hours of someone’s experience. We’re helping someone get going and the wheels are starting to turn. But this is a long run, you know, I still text with my audiologist when I need updates. You know, certainly he’s not doing that. So those are professional layers that really need to be there. And I don’t see the professional. You know, I’m coming at this from a totally fresh perspective. And I will say from both a user experience and also someone who’s now in the industry, I don’t see the professional layer becoming less important. I think if anything, it becomes more important. It’s just a question of where does it sit and how does it help folks? And, you know, I think that’s what’s being kind of talked about a lot right now, but it’s incredibly important.
Dave Kemp 54:45
Yeah, I mean, I think that just to go off that point, I think that people need I think they need guidance of their options, but obviously I think people there is going to be a cohort of people that maybe we’ve never really served in this industry before. That will be a do it yourself cohort, like undoubtedly, that’s going to be a decent amount of people that just choose to go that route, maybe down the line, they’ll want to enter into the professional funnel, if you will. But I think that there’s like, equally as big or if not significantly bigger portion of people, that they just want to know that they’re making the they’re doing their due diligence, they’re making, you know, the right choices, and then they want to hand it off to a professional because they know there’s value in having somebody that is you’re just like you said, like you have a personal relationship with your audiologist. I mean, I think that this is a really one of those things where I personally think that there’s going to be a broader appreciation for the hearing healthcare professional, particularly as they decouple from the sale of the device in like, focus exclusively on that and be more around the support and the, the, you know, the consultative pneus that I think is so vital to this whole thing. Because as you all can attest, it’s like, you know, if your, your technology starts to go a little bit wonky, like there’s that, but there’s also just like the personal relationship element of this of like, you know, just trying to kind of like sort through some of the different challenges that you’re in having a sounding board like that’s, I think, just really, really important and why there’s I think, a ton of value right there that hasn’t ever been, I think fully unlocked by the by the masses, really, it’s only been unlocked by the people that have come into this, like prescription hearing aid funnel. And what’s interesting is like, when this now is opening up to the, I think the broader public, I think it is given an opportunity for a different kind of element for the professional that like is more mass marketable, I guess.
Blake Cadwell 56:58
Yes, I totally agree. I think about I think a lot about the Apple Genius Bar. And you know, Best Buy Geek Squad, those things have those features of those companies. And those two companies that are extremely direct to consumer, I mean, apples complete direct to consumer business, but you look at it, they still had to add the professional layer, which is genius bar. And most of the customers of genius bar are folks who are over 50 and love genius bar, you know, there’s a huge like, it’s one of the most popular features that Apple has. So, you know, there’s there’s a lot of shaking out to figure out how all this works. But people are going to need support. And I know I need support. And I know a lot about this stuff. And so that’s why I know for sure folks are going to need help.
Dave Kemp 57:40
Yeah, absolutely. Blake. Well, thank you so much for coming on today. Here. suddenly.com. What else should people connect with you on? If they want to link up and get more information? Where should they contact
Blake Cadwell 57:54
you? Yeah. So the websites actually soundly.com You can go to here soundly.com as well, which was your blog? Right? Yeah, my Yeah. And I and it’s still my personal blog. So if you want to read my writing, in maybe by the time you you publish this, I will write my piece about my hearing aids working for me. But yeah, here’s suddenly.com Is the blog soundly.com is the experience that we talked about, you know, folks can reach out to me on email or LinkedIn, I’m email@example.com. And you know, if there are people, you know, in the, you know, audiologists and hearing aid professionals that are interested in in collaborating or helping to create content, you know, I’m definitely very open to connecting. I think that’s been one of the most interesting and fulfilling parts of this project. It’s meeting so many wonderful people. So, you know, if you’re hearing this and you want to say hi, shoot me an email. That’s that’s a good way to get in touch.
Dave Kemp 58:46
Awesome, man. Well, thank you so much. Thanks for everybody who tuned in here to the end, and we’ll chat with you next time. Cheers.