Surf's up! Audicus Founder Patrick Freuler doesn't mind a little snow when surfing.
Patrick Freuler is not afraid to take risks or embrace a challenge. Whether it’s winter surfing in a frigid ocean or pushing himself to run, bike, and swim through a grueling triathlon, the founder of the hearing aid company Audicus is powered by a competitive drive.
He brought that same drive to his business career and, in 2012, embraced a challenge that would help change the hearing industry. Freuler had been working as a healthcare investor at Bain Capital when he saw a growing need and spotted an opportunity.
Freuler realized that getting a hearing aid was a costly and complex process, and that led him to found Audicus. He based it on a simple principle: “Getting high-quality hearing aids should be easy, accessible, and affordable.”
Today, Audicus boasts a track record of helping hundreds of thousands of customers, and the company estimates that, collectively, it has saved consumers some $50 million.
It also has introduced some pioneering innovations along the way. In 2017, Audicus introduced one of the first online hearing tests to help deliver fully customized hearing aids backed by support from hearing aid specialists. Then, in 2020, the company was the first to introduce a subscription service. In exchange for a monthly fee, customers receive free upgrades to the latest model every 18 months, a regular supply of cleaning and maintenance products, and priority support.
Freuler spoke to HearingTracker from his office in New York City.
Freuler presenting at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.
I know you have a busy and stressful job, so let’s start off this interview with something fun: What do you like to do to unwind?
Freuler: First, I like to spend a good amount of time outdoors. I think that’s very, very important. Even though we’re based in New York City, I don’t have to go far to find wilderness to go hiking in.
In high school and college, I played competitive sports and was always very much into endurance sports. I started out as a competitive swimmer. I still do a little swimming but only as part of doing amateur triathlons.
Does that mean we will see you at the Paris Olympics?
Freuler: No, no. I think that would require a double life [laughs]. And there just aren’t enough hours in the day.
But I do know you’re well-traveled. One might say you had a rather geographically confusing childhood, didn’t you?
Freuler: Yes, my parents are Swiss and they did a fair amount of economic development work in Latin America. I was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and grew up there for the first part of my life. At some point, we returned to Switzerland for a good amount of time, then my parents decided to have another go at living abroad, so we ended up moving to Spain and the Netherlands.
So, it was kind of back and forth. Lots of different cultures, different school systems, and ways of life. Ultimately, you learn how to adapt to new environments, that’s for sure.
Eventually, I went to Boston and MIT for college. As a kid I was always very, very interested in science, mathematics, and technology, so I studied aerospace engineering.
You ended up working at Bain Capital. Is that where your focus became a bit more down to earth?
Freuler: Yes, my particular interest at some point gravitated more and more towards healthcare investments in medical devices and so on. Ultimately, I got more and more interested in the hearing sector and started to keep an eye on the industry.
I’d always been entrepreneurially minded, thinking about new ideas and businesses I’d like to run. But I was not just interested in entrepreneurship for the sake of entrepreneurship. I wanted to launch something that would have a large-scale, positive impact on the world. And I also wanted to do something that involved technology, creativity, and innovation.
Audicus Omni 2 hearing aid was recently reviewed and received good marks from the independent HearAdvisor Lab. Photo: Steve Taddei, AuD.
You founded Audicus in 2012, and it was a very different industry then.
Freuler: Right, hearing aids were still very, very expensive, and the user experience was very arcane. I looked at it from an outsider’s angle and thought there must be a better way to get more access for people and leverage the technology. In the last 10 years, this dynamic has shifted quite a bit.
When we opened our doors that first day and our customers began receiving our hearing aids at a fraction of the cost offered by other providers, I started realizing how much of an impact we had made on people’s lives.
At some point, you realize that you actually don't have to look very far to find people who are struggling with hearing loss and probably in your own family. My grandmother, for example. Her hearing started to deteriorate at a very fast pace, and she began to turn more inwards and faced an accelerated cognitive decline. Of course, we mitigated that as much as possible with hearing aids.
It’s not only the technology that’s changed in the past ten years. Have you noticed that your customers are changing too?
Freuler: You know that an average 60-year-old thinks of themselves very differently than they did 10 years ago. They want to stay healthier for longer; they want to stay more socially active for longer.
They’re more tech-savvy. So, we’re dealing with a demographic that also has different expectations on how they want to live their lives.
Everything is changing and getting better for the consumer. This is a very exciting time.
There are now tens of thousands of people wearing Audicus hearing aids. Are there any of their stories you can share?
Freuler: There are plenty of stories, of course. One that sticks out was kind of a coincidence.
A couple of years ago, I was in Las Vegas on my way to give a speech about hearing loss at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). I got into a conversation with my Uber driver and I noticed that he was actually wearing a pair of our hearing aids. I was like, wow, this is really cool. He was able to function at his job and communicate with his customers in his car.
Encounters like that reassure me and make me realize I did the right thing launching Audicus.
Ultimately, it’s about making a positive impact on people’s lives—and not just by a bit, but by a lot.
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.