What’s the inspiration behind AudioCardio?
It all started when I took my grandfather on a trip to Montana during the summer of 2016. I knew it would be one of the last trips—if not the last—we would be taking together. During the trip, I witnessed his declining health, especially when it came to his cognition. He was great at hiding his cognitive decline, saying things like, “oh that’s right,” or saying, “sorry, I was mistaken.” I realized my grandfather's memory was much worse than I thought. It wasn’t just simple forgetfulness, but signs of a more serious condition—dementia. This was a truly devastating realization for me and my family.
Immediately after this trip, I started educating myself on cognitive decline, dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. I came across a Johns Hopkins study that showed an association between untreated hearing loss and dementia, along with other studies associating isolation and depression. The study showed that individuals with untreated hearing loss were up to five times more likely to have dementia.
My grandfather suffered from severe hearing loss and tinnitus, which started during his service as a hydraulics engineer in the U.S. Air Force. He refused to purchase hearing aids (even though he knew he needed them) due to the expense and the negative stigma associated with them. This is a common theme among many individuals we serve.
What moved you to launch a company to address this issue?
I started this company because people like my grandfather refused to seek help due to the fact that solutions on the market are expensive, hard to access and have a negative social stigma associated with them. As studies have shown, and based on my personal experience, this greatly contributed to his decline in health, his dementia, and ultimately robbed him of his golden years.
How did you meet your co-founder?
Sam had been researching and developing various hearing technologies when we were fortuitously introduced through a mutual contact. This introduction happened not too long after my grandfather’s decline in health began to really accelerate. I knew that getting this science and technology out to the world was something I had to do.
Sam is very technical and works on research, development, and the science behind our solution. I manage the business operations—ranging from sales and marketing, to product and operations, all with the help of our team, of course.
Sam and I challenge each other to think differently. We have very different backgrounds and approach problems in very different ways. Although we often think differently, we are both open minded and have the same mission to provide access and care. We resolve problems collectively and efficiently. We also challenge each other to do more and to push further when it comes to our goals and options for growth.
How does AudioCardio battle the misconceptions and prejudices around hearing loss?
Part of our mission is to drive education and awareness around the importance of hearing health and the secondary mental and physical health issues associated with untreated hearing loss. We try to remind people that early care and management can help avoid more devastating situations. We also remind people that stigma should not be the reason why they jeopardize their overall health and that there are solutions that are cost effective and easy to access. With many changing regulations and consumer brands entering the hearing industry, we are hopeful that collectively, we can remove the stigma associated with treatment and care.
What’s been the #1 (or two) top challenges you’ve faced while launching your company?
While launching AudioCardio, we’ve had some great wins, but we have also faced a few challenges. I think our biggest challenge thus far has been around compliance and adherence to our program.
Today’s consumer is so used to having things arrive on demand. We often want results on demand, too. It takes consistency and adherence to the directions in the AudioCardio app before any progress or results can be noticed. We recommend that people use the app for a minimum of 14 days before assessing whether the app is a good fit for their unique situation. Our clinical studies show that more than 70% of people will get a significant effect of more than a 10-decibel change if they use the app for 14 days in a row. To help people stay on the app, we designed the sound therapy sessions to be passive and and to run in the background of our users' daily routine.
Another challenge we faced was launching the first full version of the app during a pandemic. Many of our marketing efforts and activations were based on live events and engaging with users. With the cancellation of events, we had to rethink our marketing efforts and shift them accordingly.
How do you handle risk and competition?
We take calculated risks: risk versus reward. We look at the resources we have and discuss which options we have, based on them. Then, we look at the potential of that opportunity and the potential outcomes. We also look at the probability of these outcomes. Decisions are made based on these factors before putting plans of action in place.
We also have a unique outlook on competition in the market. First, we don’t like to look at other companies in our market as competitors. We all have similar goals in helping to improve the lives of others and providing support to those who need it. We tend to focus on our core expertise, our products, and on providing the best support possible while staying on top of industry trends and companies.
We like to think of competitors as companies we haven’t partnered with yet.
How did your past experience as an advisor and business developer shape the way you grew your company?
I learned a lot from working in fast-paced, high-growth startups, including some of the less successful startups, and from my time as an advisor. Most of my experience came from working in B2B SaaS models, but during this time, I was also learning about direct-to-consumer businesses to help broaden my skillset. I was able to go from understanding issues and resolutions at a high level to rolling up my sleeves and putting my knowledge into practice, often working in the trenches with the founders. This experience helped me better prepare for our own journey with AudioCardio.
Have you learned anything new or surprising about yourself through this process?
One major realization I came to while building AudioCardio was that stepping away from work was actually a good thing. I used to think of stepping away as time that could have been used to build the company and finish tasks. I realized that stepping away for a day or two, every now and then, is actually really helpful. It helped me look at things from a different perspective and be more creative. It is also very helpful in avoiding burnout.
What’s been the most fulfilling part of AudioCardio?
It’s the calls and emails we get from satisfied customers. It’s great to get positive feedback on how much our solution is helping and changing lives. It’s one thing to show evidence in clinical studies, but it’s so incredibly rewarding to hear the stories of customers mentioning that they can hear and enjoy the sounds of birds again, that they are less frustrated when talking to friends and family, and that they are happier now that they are able to engage in more social activities. These are the stories that keep us going day in and day out.
What was it like to go on Meet the Drapers?
I learned a lot about production and the overall experience was great. Since we recorded during the pandemic, the stage was very different from an on-site production. We learned to adjust to our current capabilities while distancing, and it was an incredible experience to be a part of.
I was definitely nervous running up to the show, but once things were in motion all of that went away.
What’s your team culture like?
We are an open and transparent team. We talk about the why and the end goal, so that we all understand why and how we came to a decision. We are results-driven, so if a certain decision isn’t producing the expected results, we move on to other potential ways to accomplish that goal. We are constantly looking for efficiencies and ways to work smarter. By having a collaborative and open culture, we are able to find creative ways to work better.
What is your superpower?
I would have to say my superpower is attracting talent and support in our mission. We have been able to share our story and attract experts in various skills and industries to join AudioCardio, even at this early stage. Getting buy-in from the team, as well as partners and advisors, has really helped us validate our research, products, and credibility.
What’s your kryptonite?
Overthinking or analyzing a situation. As a CEO, I need to be aware of the various risks in our business. I am constantly thinking about worst-case scenarios to mitigate risk. This can get in the way of moving quickly at times, but having an open dialogue within our company has helped me and our team overcome this potential issue.
What’s your favorite sound?
My favorite sound is the sound of the ocean. The repetitive cadence and power of the waves crashing is very calming for me.
Do you have any other hobbies/things you like to do in your spare time?
I enjoy spending time with friends and family, golfing, and working with other startup founders to solve problems. There have been instances where spending time doing other things outside of focusing on AudioCardio has been difficult, but the pandemic has made me realize that this is a necessity. It has helped me step away, renew my energy, get new perspectives on issues, and be more productive when I return to my work.
If you could give yourself one piece of advice 5 years ago, what would it be?
You don’t have to analyze every potential issue you could face in your business. Focus on what you can control, be aware of other potential risks, and make decisions to mitigate them as they come up, rather than preparing for them all upfront.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
Create, don’t wait. One of my best mentors taught me that you create your own opportunities in life. If you want or need something, go for it, don’t wait for it. Find ways to make it happen now instead of waiting for what you think is the “right time.” It’s stuck with me throughout my career and something that we have all bought into at AudioCardio.
Do you have a(ny) mentor(s)? If so, what have they taught you?
I’ve had some great mentors at different stages of my career. They have all taught me various things about business and how to set and accomplish goals. However, some of the most impactful advice is around understanding human behavior. By understanding the person or organization on the other side of the table, most importantly their interests and desired outcomes, I have been able to accomplish more by aligning myself or our organization to meet those interests and needs.