Invisible Hearing Aid Maker Eargo Recruits All-Star Talent
Deep-Pocket Backers Fund Direct-to-Consumer Market Expansion With $52 Million Investment
After launching a new product and raising $52 million for direct-to-consumer market expansion early this year, invisible hearing aid maker Eargo announced it has recruited top software, marketing, and finance executives who previously worked at Apple, Visa, and Tesla.
The black portion of an Eargo hearing aid is about the size of an invisible-in-canal (IIC) hearing aid.
Products and fundraising
The California company is best known for the Eargo Neo, which it sells online for $2,750 a pair. Introduced in February 2019, it is a rechargeable hearing aid that fits completely inside the ear canal and features four pre-set sound profiles, advanced noise reduction and feedback cancellation, and connectivity enabling remote hearing-profile adjustments by Eargo hearing health professionals.
Time Magazine named the company's previous product, Eargo Max, one of the Best Inventions of 2018, citing its innovative design that features comfortable, patented "Flexi Fibers" made from soft silicone and an open fit to reduce occlusion. Eargo Max currently sells for $2,150 a pair.
Last March, Eargo raised $52 million from blue-chip venture capital firms and announced ambitious plans to drive growth in the hearing aid market by "destigmatizing hearing loss through consumer-driven innovation." While it hasn't disclosed its sales or unit shipments, Eargo said it plans to hire an additional 100 employees in 2019.
Building a consumer-focused team
Eargo's announcement this week underscores its investment in its direct-to-consumer sales infrastructure. Rather than recruiting top talent from the hearing aid industry, Eargo attracted senior execs with extensive experience working with big-name consumer brands:
- Fernando Cruz, Vice President of Software Engineering, joined Eargo from Rappi, Inc., a late-stage Latin American on-demand delivery startup, where he served as Chief Technology Officer. Previously, Cruz was Director of Online Store Engineering at Apple, Inc., where he led the development and transformation of Apple’s e-commerce and m-commerce solutions, redesigned the Apple Online Store’s backend system, and launched consumer-focused features that fostered an improved online-buying and in-store pick-up experience.
- Shiv Singh, Chief Marketing Officer, came from Visa, Inc., where he served as Senior Vice President and Global Head of Innovation/Go-to-Market; he was also Visa’s SVP and Global Head of Digital & Marketing Transformation. At Visa, Singh designed, built, and launched an all-new Visa.com across 140 countries that saw increased traffic and conversions. He also activated sponsorships with the Olympics and the NFL.
- Adam Laponis, Chief Financial Officer, came from Tesla, Inc., where he served as Vice President, Worldwide Financial Planning & Analysis and Business Operations. At Tesla, Laponis developed pricing strategies, overhauled the order-to-delivery process for the Model 3, and implemented campaigns that increased in-store revenues.
Eargo hearing aids resting on an Eargo charging case.
Disrupting "archaic" hearing aid industry "overrun by inflated prices"
In its announcement, the company said it is disrupting the hearing aid market—"an archaic industry overrun by inflated prices, needless intermediaries, and complex purchasing barriers."
By selling direct to consumers online and bypassing the traditional independent-audiologist sales channel, Eargo says it can offer better value than other premium hearing aid brands.
Rather than depending on independent audiologists, Eargo provides its own professional remote support to consumers. Customers can send their audiograms to Eargo and consult on the proper program settings over the phone or online with hearing professionals on staff.
Note: Remote care is a hot technology in the traditional hearing industry as well. Major brands, like Phonak and Signia, provide products that may be adjusted in real-time over patient-to-pro video chat. In contrast to Eargo’s model, initial hearing aid fittings are done in person, where objective calibration tests may be run to establish safe and adequate amplification. If you are a consumer and wish to learn more about the pros and cons of Eargo’s approach, we recommend watching the video below!
Dr Cliff, AuD summarizes the pros and cons Eargo's "Plus" model and their service delivery model. Closed captions are available on this video. If you are using a mobile phone, please enable captions by clicking on the three small dots.
“Try before you buy” retail outlets
It’s also possible to try out Eargo hearing aids before you buy them at ten b8ta stores around the country. The innovative walk-in shops let you try out Eargo, and other products typically sold only online.
Working with an in-store b8ta representative, you can experience Eargo hearing aids firsthand, hearing what it sounds like, and seeing how it feels and what it looks like. You can purchase it directly from Eargo, either from the website or by calling the company, while you are still in the store.
Eargo hearing health professionals will consult with you on the programming settings that should work best for you, and the company then ships the hearing aids to your home.
Three models, each with portable recharging case
The company currently sells three hearing aid models, all for mild-to-moderate high-frequency hearing loss. The higher-priced models feature better audio fidelity, more amplification, and better noise reduction and feedback cancellation. In addition to Eargo Neo and Eargo Max, you can buy the entry-level Eargo Plus for $1,650 per pair.
All Eargo hearing aids come with a portable recharging case that, when fully charged, can provide power for the hearing aids for up to a full week. The hearing aids can be purchased without a hearing test or audiologist's prescription. And Eargo offers a 45-day trial-return period and a one-year warranty.
The company said investors in the round of financing include New Enterprise Associates (NEA), the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation, Nan Fung Life Sciences, Maveron, and Future Fund, Australia’s sovereign wealth fund.