We talked to Chris Ellis of AudioCardio about sound therapy and the effects of COVID-19.
What made you start AudioCardio?
Chris Ellis: I took my grandfather on a trip to Montana during the summer of 2015. During the trip, I witnessed his accelerated and declining health, especially when it came to his cognition. He was great at hiding it, saying things like, “oh you’re right” or saying, “sorry, I was mistaken.” I realized that my grandfather’s memory and deteriorating health 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 my family and me.
I came across a Johns Hopkins study that showed an association between untreated hearing loss and isolation, depression, and dementia. 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. His hearing loss started during his service as a hydraulics engineer in the Air Force. He refused to purchase hearing aids even though he knew he needed them due to the negative stigma associated with them. This is a common theme amongst many individuals we serve.
We built our technology into a mobile app for this very reason, in hopes of helping people who are suffering in silence.
How does AudioCardio innovate?
Chris Ellis: We have conducted research, clinically proven, and patented our method to stimulate the cells inside the ear in hopes of helping people suffering from sensorineural hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears). Over 70% of the people that participated in our clinical studies had a significant change in their hearing within 3 weeks. On the product side, we work closely with our customers to improve their experience and build new features to help them make more progress as they continue to use our solution. We are also working on several studies with various interest groups and communities, ranging from musicians and veterans to senior living communities.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your business, and how are you adjusting?
Chris Ellis: Like most businesses, we have had to make adjustments. Some companies have had to reprioritize their initiatives and budgets. We are limited to who we can work with based on regulations to reopening and increased safety precautions. Seniors are some of our most vulnerable populations, and keeping them safe is paramount. Although they are in need of hearing solutions, we are limited in how we can reach them. We also had a good number of opportunities in the large and loud events space, but several of those opportunities have been delayed. We have had to adjust and find other ways to partner and work together now that these events have changed or gone away (for now). We have moved to remote meetings, adjusted timelines, and got creative in how we can work with the different industries as we all adjust our businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Overall, it’s been a good transition as our efforts are starting to show good results.
How are you reaching and supporting your customers during these times?
Chris Ellis: We have shifted our focus to digital strategies when thinking about reaching our customers. We are now doing more performance marketing and working with our partners to help distribute AudioCardio. Being that AudioCardio is a mobile app, we have the ability to deliver our product to anyone that has a smartphone or tablet and internet connection. We are now supporting several veteran organizations and nonprofits as hearing loss and tinnitus are prevalent in the active military and veteran communities. These types of partnerships allow us to continue to grow while providing support, where it is often inadequate (for various reasons). AudioCardio was built to withstand these social distancing times since we do not require an in-person visit and can be accessed anywhere, anytime.
Did you have to make difficult choices and what were they?
Chris Ellis: Being that we are an early-stage startup, resources are limited. We had to take a hard look at our monthly burn to make sure that we can power through and survive the current state of the world. We had to be honest with ourselves. We had to be ruthless in adjusting and prioritizing our core business and customer needs. Then we had to think about what resources we needed to execute on them. Unfortunately, this meant downsizing our team for the time being. It was a difficult task, and not one we wanted for any of our team members. Luckily, they have been able to keep afloat during all of this, and we do hope to ramp back up when things start to align better.
What are some of your biggest challenges as a startup in your industry?
Chris Ellis: Credibility. Although we have conducted studies, receive unsolicited and positive emails from people with hearing loss and tinnitus, there is still skepticism. We have been taught that hearing loss is irreversible and that there is nothing a doctor can really do if you suffer from tinnitus. As we gather more data, more testimonials, and positive outcomes, we hope to break through this barrier of support and credibility.
Solutions on the market are hard to access, expensive, and have a negative social stigma associated with them. We want to be an option for those that are in need and not being served.
Your final thoughts?
Chris Ellis: The “consumerism of health,” as we like to call it AudioCardio, is here. With so much misinformation in the world, the lack of trust in large institutions and corporations, consumers are looking for alternatives to overpriced medication, treatments, and therapies. Rather than waiting to treat conditions, we as consumers are looking for more cost-effective early intervention and preventative solutions, often powered by technology. This is evidenced by the explosion of wellness apps like Calm, Lumosity, and Apple Health. Consumers are taking health matters into their own hands and doing a far better job monitoring their personal health. We know this is more than a trend. It is just the beginning and will continue to open up new opportunities for prevention and non-invasive solutions that you can access anywhere at any time.