LivePlan Customer Interview: Innovative Solutions for the Hearing Impaired

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I had the pleasure of interviewing yet another one of our amazing entrepreneur customers – Dr. Robert Keefer, CEO and founder of Now Hear This, an audiology and hearing aid clinic in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Follow Dr. Keefer on Twitter @NowHearThisAuD

What is Now Hear This?
We provide hearing aids and hearing aid adjustments in Raleigh, North Carolina. We are staffed by a full time audiologist who was trained at the University of North Carolina. Our mission is to help you hear the clearest sounds in the most comfortable and cost effective way possible.

When did you start Now Hear This?
I started Now Hear This in March 2012, which was our first full month of operations.

How many employees do you have?
Six currently.

What is your background?
I graduated from Nebraska Medical School a little over 25 years ago. When I was in medical school getting my Ph.D. in biochemistry. I said, “I like science, but I like business more,” so I started down the path to combine science and entrepreneurship.

I have served on executive teams and boards of a number of successful and growing organizations in the life sciences industry. This includes Quest Diagnostics (formerly Smith Kline Clinical Laboratories), Analytical Technologies Inc, and Vista Information Solutions.  As a consultant, I led the marketing and business development activities for a number of advanced medical products and health services companies developing pharmaceutical and medical device commercial partnerships.  Civically, I’ve also served a 4-year term on the National Advisory Council of the National Institutes of Health (NIH/NIEHS), a two-year position with The Hamner Institute, and a 4-year term as President of the Board of I Love A Clean San Diego County.

Prior to starting up Now Hear This, I was a partner of TCG MedTech, a consulting practice in Durham, North Carolina where my partners and I operated the US subsidiaries of 5 European medical companies and received 9 FDA product clearances.  

What is the problem you’re addressing in the hearing aid market?
The problem is not the hearing aids; it’s the way they are fit. So many people who have hearing aids are unhappy with them. It’s frustrating to find the right solution and they are are costly (between $6000 – 7000). Most solutions amplify all the ambient noise making it very difficult for someone who is hearing impaired to participate in a conversation the way they’d like to participate.

At first, our brains can compensate for small losses of hearing. But over time we are deprived of the critical sensory input that keeps our minds healthy. This compromises our perception of the world around us, and may lead to more serious health effects.

What is your hearing aid solution?
Now Hear This offers many products for people who need help with hearing. We also specialize in musician’s In-Ear-Monitors, Musicians’ Ear Plugs, and Hearing Protection for other purposes, such as industrial work and hunting and shooting applications.

How are your products different from competitors?
We differentiate ourselves first and foremost because of our operating philosophy. We have a gold standard of care. Our device is also a big differentiator. It understands how the brain perceives sound across the entire frequency spectrum. We have a proprietary process and system that tells the audiologist what the patient’s target gains should be. We adjust the frequencies as needed – just like a voice is tuned to the arena where a musician is performing.

We identify how the brain perceives the sound by using a probe microphone that measures the output, called verification. We can then fine-tune the hearing aid to each person’s unique needs.

Something that has worked really well for us, and has proven our methodology, is we offer reprogramming of hearing aids. Anyone who has a hearing aid they are not happy with can have their hearing aid reprogrammed for $299. If they are not happy with the result we’ll give them their money back and reset the hearing aid to where it was when they first came in.

Tell us about some of your early wins.
We’ve already secured 350 patients in just 6 months! This surpassed our goals. It’s great knowing you’re helping people live healthier, happier lives – that’s true success in my book!

How has LivePlan helped you in your business?
LivePlan is so great that I don’t have one recommendation for improvement! I really liked how it forced me to think through key parts of my business, like my competition, market research, and calculating my margins. We’ve only been in business for 6 months, and we’ve already exceeded our sales projections by about 100%. I attribute a lot of it to the way the business plan was organized. It helped shape the marketing message, and the consistency in which it has been delivered.

What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?
Make sure you have a stable foundation in your personal life before jumping into entrepreneurship. Starting and running your own business is stressful and can put a strain on your personal relationships. Healthy relationships – in and outside of work – require 100% communication. You must be able to clearly communicate your needs.

Perseverance is also a necessity in entrepreneurship. The real winners are the ones that stick with it. It’s also important to have the ability to listen to all the signals, and knowing when to maintain your original course or when to make changes.

Market validation is also super important. It’s foolhardy to pursue a dream that can’t be realized in the marketplace. If you find that securing funding is your only hurdle, then I suggest finding advisers to help you and go for it!

What are you plans for growth?
Right now we’re bootstrapping our growth. I recently hired a CFO and I told him that we need to a plan for expanding and opening additional clinics in our region. The potential market for the hearing impaired is said to be 38M people in America. We’re hosting lunch and learns at physicians’ conferences to help educate physicians about our technology and setting up referral programs.

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Caroline Cummings
Caroline Cummings
An entrepreneur. A disruptor. An advocate. Caroline has been the CEO and co-founder of two tech startups—one failed and one she sold. She is passionate about helping other entrepreneurs realize their full potential and learn how to step outside of their comfort zones to catalyze their growth. Caroline is currently executive director of Oregon RAIN. She provides strategic leadership for the organization’s personnel, development, stakeholder relations, and community partnerships. In her dual role as the venture catalyst manager, Cummings oversees the execution of RAIN’s Rural Venture Catalyst programs. She provides outreach and support to small and rural communities; she coaches and mentors regional entrepreneurs, builds strategic local partnerships, and leads educational workshops.
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