Not often top of mind for most Australians, the hearing aid industry is a murky one. A 2015 ABC story found that around a third of audiology clinics in Australia are owned by hearing aid companies while others receive commissions and other incentives to sell particular hearing aids to patients, leading to consumers complaining of overcharging and, of course, questions about integrity.
While the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has launched an investigation of business practices in the industry, Melbourne startup Ozen is hoping to be a more immediate solution to the problem by helping connect consumers in need to relevant information about hearing aids and independent audiologists.
Cofounders Akiva Szental, a commercial lawyer who previously worked for EatNow and Tweaky, and Noam Korbl, a digital marketing specialist with a finance background, were drawn to the problem after watching each of their grandmothers fork out thousands of dollars for hearing aids.
“We were astounded to find a real lack of information online about hearing aids. We were also amazed that despite one in six Australians suffering a form of hearing loss, on average people wait seven years before seeking help. There had to be a more efficient way to seek hearing related care than by visiting a clinic,” Szental said.
The pair decided to create an online model that not only makes hearing care accessible, but also removes the stigmas associated with hearing aids.
Ozen provides up to date information for users looking for information around the devices, clarifying the different types, their features, and costs. Then, when they are ready to get their hearing tested or purchase hearing aids, Ozen helps connect them to a partner audiologist for testing, fitting of the hearing aids, and after care.
Users can also ask Ozen initial questions via phone, email, or livechat before referring them to an audiologist.
Getting the audiologists on board wasn’t easy, however. Szental said he and Korbl approached a few when they first started building the platform, and while they saw interest, most didn’t want to commit to anything at the time. So the cofounders decided to keep building the site and build up the traffic, trusting that once the traffic came the audiologists would sign on to receive leads.
“As neither of us are audiologists we face a real challenge of getting the audiology community to trust us. However, once they get to know us, we’re confident we’ll eventually gain their trust. After all, we all want the same thing which is to provide Australians with better access to hearing care,” Szental said.
Accessibility to hearing care is set to become more important than ever as we face an ageing population. According to The Conversation, one in six Australians are currently affected by hearing loss, with this expected to increase to one in four by 2050. Hearing loss currently costs Australia $11 billion per year.
To get audiologists on, Ozen is currently limiting the platform to one audiologist per suburb to ensure that they will be guaranteed a lead if a customer comes from that area. Once a patient asks for a referral, Ozen contacts the audiologist to confirm that they are happy to see the patient, and then facilitates an introduction.
As well as the trust issue and the fact that Ozen has a limited sales budget with which to get them on board, the fact that the majority of audiologists and clinics in Australia are associated with manufacturers means there is a limited pool of independent audiologists that Ozen can sign up – however, once they are on Szental believes Ozen can help them boost business.
“Unfortunately, an increasing number of independent audiologists cannot compete with the big audiology chains, especially when it comes to marketing budgets and expertise. By joining our platform, we provide a steady stream of highly qualified leads which they otherwise would not have been exposed to,” Szental said.
It’s free for audiologists to sign up, with Ozen then charging them for referrals. Further down the line, Szental said Ozen will look to provide audiologists with other back-end services to lower their overheads and increase efficiency.
Over the next 12 months the startup is focused on driving consumers to its platform and, to serve them, bringing on more audiologists and building good relationships with them; after all, Szental said, its audiologist partners are the face of the Ozen business.
Image: Akiva Szental and Noam Korbl. Source: Supplied.