Jabra Enhance CEO Adam Karp (second from left) is pictured with his leadership team which includes (l to r): COO Neal Modi, Chief Design Officer Nicole Cadoret, CTO Elad Kolet, CPO and incoming CEO Steve Jacobs, GN Store Nord CFO Søren Jelert, GN Head of Investor Relations Rune Sandager, and Head of Clinical Audiology Dr. Christina Callahan, AuD.
Adam Karp enjoys challenging puzzles—usually it’s a crossword or other word puzzles. But back in 2018, it was a different kind of puzzle that attracted his attention. Why, he wondered, was the hearing aid industry disregarding online hearing care and using a 20th-century business model in the digital age?
He decided there must be a better way to increase accessibility and put more hearing aids into the ears of people who need them. That led him to co-found and become CEO of Lively, a start-up hearing aid company. Lively's triple-digit rate of growth attracted the attention of Danish hearing aid giant GN Store Nord which was the sole supplier of Lively hearing aids. GN bought the company in 2021, renaming it Jabra Enhance and installing Karp at the helm of its over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aid channels.
As with Lively, the key concept behind Jabra Enhance is to offer world-class hearing aids that cover the unique needs of millions of Americans, with a consumer-friendly webpage to explore, affordable pricing, and options for receiving professional care. Today, Jabra Enhance sells hearing aids via three distinct sub-brands:
- The core brand, Jabra Enhance Select, is sold online on the company's website and by other retailers, including Best Buy and Amazon. They are over-the-counter hearing aids but have the important option of professional telehealth support from Jabra’s audiology team.
- The Jabra Enhance Pro is dispensed in person by licensed hearing care providers in Costco Hearing Centers.
- Lastly, they offer the Jabra Enhance Plus, an earbud-style OTC hearing aid that comes with more limited telehealth support and can be found online and at many retail stores.
This week marks a big turning point for Karp and a significant milestone for Jabra Hearing as he hands over the company's reins to Jabra Enhance's Chief Product Officer Steve Jacobs.
Karp spoke to Hearing Tracker from New York.
You’ve had some high-pressure jobs in your career. How do you like to de-stress?
Karp: I am a big believer in meditation, so I try to meditate twice a day. I took that up seven or eight years ago. At first, I was incredibly skeptical, but I have really come to embrace it. It can be very helpful especially, as you can imagine, during some of the more stressful times working at a startup.
Obviously, it doesn’t show [laughs] but I actually devote time to working out every day. Usually, about an hour of cardio every morning on the elliptical machine or the treadmill to get the day started.
I am also big on puzzles, crosswords, and other word puzzles.
What brought you to this job?
Karp: My background is in marketing, and I worked at big companies and small companies. Some were either already 100% digital and with others I helped take them online. Then I became the co-founder and CEO of Lively, a direct-to-consumer hearing aid company. Lively was acquired by GN in 2021 and is now known as Jabra.
What drew you to the hearing health sector?
Karp: In part, it was because my father was in denial about his hearing loss, and I saw how frustrating for a family that can be. He’ll kill me for saying that [laughs]. He now wears his hearing aids all the time, and it has made a dramatic difference in how he interacts with people.
I saw how frustrating the whole process of getting hearing aids was, and I wanted to change that. I also spotted an interesting and incredibly exciting opportunity. I didn’t want to just sell hearing aids, ship them off in a box, and say, “Good luck.”
I saw an underutilized technology in terms of remote fitting and telecare. So, we give our customers an online experience guided by licensed clinicians. We’ve had customers in Alaska who once had to fly two or three hours to visit an audiologist to get a fitting and then return again for adjustments. Now, they can do it all from the comfort of their own home.
Speaking of your customers, tell me about your first customer and his story's impact on his life and on you.
Karp: He was a security officer in our office building. He was actually a veteran who had hearing loss, but for some reason, he was not covered by the VA. He couldn't afford hearing aids, and we told him, “We want to test our customer experience. Will you help?” So we did the fitting on a Friday, and then on Monday, he handed our head of audiology a handwritten note.
It's still framed in our office to this day. He wrote about how our hearing aids were changing his life. His son was a musician, and he had never really heard his son's music before. I mean, we were all practically moved to tears.
That was the first of thousands and thousands of similar stories that we’ve heard since then. Sometimes, it’s as simple as “I can now hear the birds.” But it’s clear we're allowing people to hear better—which makes a massive difference in people’s lives.
But many people who could enjoy those benefits don’t want to take that first step and get hearing aids. How do you address that resistance?
Karp: We've done focus groups and discovered that the resistance to hearing aids for first-time wearers is shockingly high. As a marketer, it’s the hardest sale that I've ever had to make, and yet it delivers the most value of anything I have ever been involved with.
The Jabra Enhance app connects Jabra Enhance Select hearing aid users with a hearing care professional for initial fitting and ongoing adjustments.
We try to overcome that in a number of different ways. I think, broadly speaking, the brand we have created is more approachable and less dated than some of the other brands out there in the market. It’s tech-forward and worn by millions around the world. Also, with the word “Enhance” in the name of our hearing aids, we hope people see them as just an extension of equipment they already wear. After all, lots of people already walk around wearing earbuds.
Building a tech-forward, consumer-friendly brand with ease of access helps people overcome that stigma.
How do you define your leadership style?
Karp: My number-one goal is to hire great people and figure out what the right mix of talent is for our company. One of the values we really care about is customer outcomes, and we’re a very mission-driven company, so that means finding people who have both the right skill level and empathy and who are genuinely motivated by helping people.
The large decisions are team-driven. Even though not everybody may agree with a decision, we come together, move forward, and execute.
What challenges have you had to meet?
Karp: I think probably the largest challenge we faced was ensuring we could keep up with demand. We’ve unlocked a lot of demand through new marketing channels, and when OTC aids came online in October 2022, we saw a surge of people interested in our products. How do we keep up with that? How do we fine-tune and ship enough devices, and how do we ensure we have enough capacity on our audiology team to provide the appropriate services?
On the other hand, having to meet increasing demand is a nice problem to have.
What’s next for you?
Karp: This is my last week as CEO of Jabra Hearing. While my journey with Jabra Enhance is coming to a close, I'm excited to hand the leadership baton to Steve Jacobs. There is still so much opportunity in the hearing health industry to increase accessibility and I look forward to watching Steve and the Jabra Enhance team continue to bring forward innovative, user-friendly, accessible technology to ensure more and more consumers can address their hearing loss.
As for me, I plan to return to my entrepreneurial roots with a business focused on mobility and comfort products for seniors.
Digby Cook is a veteran journalist with a wide range of experience in television news, documentaries and newspapers. His interest in the science of hearing is both professional and personal.