Hearables as Part of the Hearing Healthcare Journey: Interview with Nuheara’s John Luna

In this week’s technology spotlight, guest host Tony Sulsona speaks with John R. Luna, Chief Revenue Officer at Nuheara. 

The pair discuss the changes in hearing health delivery over the past several years and how the hearables segment is becoming an important and growing part of the hearing healthcare journey – particularly among consumers younger than those typically seen in hearing clinics today.

Full Episode Transcript

Tony Sulsona
Welcome to This Week in Hearing, where listeners get the latest information on all things happening in the world of hearing healthcare, from device technology, to pharma, therapeutics, to practice management, and much, much more. My name is Tony Sulsona. And I’m excited to be the guest host on this show today. I’m also excited to be introducing someone who, like me, has been in the hearing healthcare industry for over 20 years, and where we worked together for a number of those years in the middle ear, implantable medical device and traditional hearing aid space. With that, John, it’s good to see you again. And welcome to the show.

John Luna
Thanks, Tony. I’m happy to be here.

Tony Sulsona
You know, John, a lot of people in the industry probably already know you. But just in case for those of you who don’t, why don’t we start off by you telling us a little bit about your industry background, and particularly what brought you to Nuheara?

John Luna
Sure. My name is John Luna, if you don’t know me, I am the Chief Revenue Officer for Nuheara. I’ve been in the hearing space for about 30 years, started out in my 20s. And like Tony said, we’ve worked together in the past over the last 20 years, I’ve had the privilege to work and lead teams and work with great teams in the industry in the hearing space for the past 30 years and 20 years as an executive with both incumbent and startup companies. I’ve watched in commercialized class I to class III devices in the space with a lot of industry firsts from the first omni directional to directional switching product in the early 90s, which was remote controlled, all the way through the first implantable middle ear product with the Sound bridge. And then one of the first hearable companies with Sound ID in the Bay Area in around 2006 timeframe at AAA in Minnesota. So we’ve, you know, washed a lot of new innovative technologies, and I’ve been a part of a lot of change in the industry and continue to do so in the hearable space with Nuheara.

Tony Sulsona
That’s fantastic. And you know, John, let’s keep it between you and I let let’s not let anybody know that we’ve been around that long.

John Luna
Yeah, exactly.

Tony Sulsona
That That said, john, the industry landscape over the last few years has changed a lot since you and I worked together. Even the term ‘hearable’ has evolved since it was introduced by Nick Hunn back in 2014. We’ve even seen several incumbent Big Five companies position their earbuds, like the Signia x, Active X and others make headline news, like the Sonova purchasing news of the Sennheiser consumer business group and Jabra recently announcing their new Enhance Plus earbuds. Why do you think the hearable segment continues to evolve?

John Luna
Well, I think there’s multiple factors. You know, the growth in true wireless earbuds over the last five years has just soared. I mean, millions and millions of units sold globally. I think that’s a big part of it. So the consumer acceptance of something that’s an all in one convergence of technologies that allows you to do, you know, not just hearing, but listening and streaming and communication and voice activated use of Siri and other Google assistants. You know, or other voice activated assistant technologies is one aspect. I think the work from home aspect of COVID-19 required a lot more people to have something in their ears all day long on video calls like this. But I think it crosses all age, demographics and the form factors are acceptable to have something in your ear. So I think that’s a big part of why we’re seeing companies like Nuheara and others, and the Big Five incumbents and new entrants to the market, bringing in form factors other than traditional hearing aids and convergence, the technology from from hearing healthcare and hearing aid technology and amplification technology into products that can do more than that. So I think that’s a big part of it. And the interest level is high because here any growth has kind of been flat in decline to 2019, 2020. But if we if we look at the industry and the growth opportunities for the 1 billion people worldwide, that have a mild and and hearing loss, it could benefit from a hearing device in many of those countries. And in many of those cases, they need a non custom product. And so this type of form factor also allows and successfully allows you to fit most ears and provide them different levels of technology. So I think that’s one of the driving factors in the in the market growth, like I said, continues to outpace the growth in traditional hearing devices in those sectors.

Tony Sulsona
John, that makes a lot of sense whether you’re an industry insider to see how the market is developing or you’re a consumer and for oneself, see how these devices come into play, and make life and communication a lot better for them. You mentioned others. And we’ve also seen major companies like Bose and Apple enter the hearing aid market by way of hearables. In your opinion, do you think that these entrants are encouraging or discouraging for the evolution of hearable market,

John Luna
I think the evolution of the hearing aid, hearable and OTC market are all also converging. And so I think that the entrants to the category will raise the water level for everybody. I mean, the challenge is, you know, what the devices can do the target consumer the target hearing loss regulations you know, ultimately I think it’s good to have competition it’s healthy innovation like like, like I’ve been doing my entire career in the industry, it’s always driving either a new business model a new form factor or a new solution, a new device that that solves the same problems that the consumer experiences but it does it in a different way – a different price point, a different delivery model. And so I think competition is healthy I think innovation is healthy and we can learn from each other but at the same time, safety and efficacy is the number one thing that needs to happen with regard to devices that get into consumers ears for use especially with hearing loss so I think that’s something that the industry is looking at the government’s looking at jurisdictions around the world are looking at so I think it’s healthy I think that the new category that as an example the self fit category that was driven by one of the the newcomers to the category is exciting because it’s not OTC right? It’s a direct to consumer self fit opportunity. In that that’s opened a new category of hearing device in the United States at least. And so that’s something that’s exciting, new and different than the OTC so that that is also a different category that, you know, everyone’s looking at, but I think safety, efficacy and FDA oversight is important.

Tony Sulsona
John, that was a really great insightful perspective on where we have come from and where we are in hearables. Today, you know, John, not everyone in the hearing healthcare space realize that Nuheara has integrated the widely used NAL-NAL2 hearing aid fitting algorithm formula into its IQbuds application. How do you see this becoming a competitive advantage for Nuheara when the OTC regulations are finalized in the US?

John Luna
Sure. That’s a good question. We already have a competitive advantage with regard to the hearable space. And the validation that was done in 2018 by the National Acoustics Laboratory in Australia, led by Harvey Dillon, Ear ID was validated as an automated audiometry in a wearable hearing device in that study from 2018. So I the IQ buds application has the Ear ID functionality to it. And it’s both for iOS and Android. It does use NAL-NL2 two which is the standard in you know, for audiologists globally, and many manufacturers globally with regard to hearing algorithms for fitting to hearing loss needs. So it’s a competitive advantage now we’re in a clinical study, again with a national Physics Laboratory for our hearing aid product. And that, you know, I can’t speak to the specifics of the clinical study we’re currently in, but the advantage with the base of Ear ID and the NAL NL2 two algorithm, and then what we’re doing now and then in the future with the product will continue to be a huge part of Nuheara’s competitive advantage in both the wearable space and in the hearing aid space as we evolve.

Tony Sulsona
That’s great. That’s good news. And John, going back to the OTC legislation, given that it’s pending, do you think that traditional hearing aid channels can integrate products like the Nuheara IQbuds2 MAX hearable into their business model?

John Luna
Yeah, I mean they can do it now. I mean, we are hearable in the consumer electronics space so the IQbuds2 MAX product and the IQ stream TV are great options for any practice in any clinic. As you see in major retail globally, for us to offer consumers an option right there are presets in the product and there’s personalization in the product and the personalization allows a consumer to take a profile and have then the NAL-NL2 algorithm and Ear ID you know provide them some augmentation to their hearing which provides hearing enhancement with the current product. You know the the models are available and should be offered as an option by clinics I think because you know having owned 15 retail clinics and knowing that, you know, 30-40% of your consumers walk out the door, you know, the patients, clients, whatever you call them. depending on your business model, you know, that person comes in for help you go through a diagnostic process, whether it’s just a screening or whether you have done a full diagnostic workup as an audiologist or clinic. And you know, you found that person has 100% discrimination, they’ve got problems at only situational events in their life, whether that’s, you know, restaurants, social gatherings, or just when they’re out and about on the street. And they have difficulty hearing in certain environments, but not all all environments and not all the time and not with everybody. So a product like a hearable is just the solution. And these consumers are also walking out the door because they’ve got a mild hearing loss, they’ve got 100% discrimination when they’re in the test booth. But they still struggle, right, they still have difficulty in certain environments, this is the product for them. And it allows them to have something from you as the professional in that recommendation to say, hey, I’ve got a solution for you. And when you graduate to a need for a hearing aid or hearing device, or your lifestyle changes, you know, then come back to me and I’ll have another solution for you at a different price point at a different technology level. And so you can have them something for that person that’s walking out the door. So I think Yeah, they can offer something now and I think, you know, they can compete with OTC and DTC as that evolves. And and offer, you know, the simple solution, a lot of people have problems with is television, right. So you know, even when you have normal hearing, in a household with multiple people, you have, you have different volume preferences. For example, I like things a little bit softer than my wife or other family members do as far as television volume. They like the sound bar and the bass. And so I prefer, you know, probably because I’m on calls all the time all day long. You know, when I’m watching television, maybe at a different level. So just the simple solution of a television streamer with a hearable product is an easy solution for under $650 that a consumer can purchase from you. That gives them you know that full control of not only television, but everything else in their life with regard to controlling their soundscapes and, you know, active noise cancellation, streaming a telephone call streaming a video calls streaming of Netflix, and then the hearing augmentation, and then different settings for different environments in the world. So from working out to the street to just be at the office. So I mean, there’s a lot of options. And you can provide that to the younger consumer, our average consumer is 52 years old. And the average hearing aid purchasers 68 to 72 years old depends on who you ask. So you know, we can bring a consumer in with some need at a much younger age. And then, you know, offer them solutions as they graduate through the process and have that customer for life and have that loyalty to your clinic and the value of your services and your professional opinion. So I guess that they that was a long answer to the simple answer. Yes. Like,

Tony Sulsona
but that’s great, because you know, as you mentioned, not only does this give an opportunity for a clinician to broaden their portfolio, with products and solutions, we are talking about a younger, a younger clientele, that younger clientele is really going to benefit from your streamer, for example, where it’s a very easy setup process. The quality is amazing. And it fits the lifestyle, so many different people. So that opened up the door for acceptance, awareness, adaptability, those are all phenomenal fronts that Nuheara is on right now. And so,

John Luna
yeah, I mean, I think that, you know, everybody does everything on their phone. Right? Right, you don’t have you don’t have an iOS product, I know. But a lot of people have either Android or iOS, and everybody uses apps, everybody uses their phone to control at most everything they do all day. And for the younger consumer who’s still working, right, they’re still in the working world, many of them are working from home, either full time or part time, due to the current pandemic. And, you know, it provides a tool that can get them to their daily lives, as you know, I mean, I have had something in my ears for years. But you know, I wear these, you know, 6-7-8 hours a day screaming on calls like this for video calls. And so you know, I go through a full battery cycle and I recharge or have a second set, you know, not everybody has the opportunity to have 2 sets to switch out. But but I mean it’s something that is it’s functionally it’s, it’s, it works and it’s comfortable. And it’s comfortable for all that, you know, for situational wear or you know, wear throughout the day. And it’s really convenient.

Tony Sulsona
The other thing is very important, and not only did you speak to it, but you’re proving that point just by your visual presence, and that is you’ve got a good looking device, low profile, and even on our conversation here, crystal clear conversation. That’s proof positive of what you’re able to deliver with this product and products down the road and in your portfolio.

John Luna
And if there was a, you know, noise, external noise or outside noise or some other noise, I just have to touch it. I turn on the active noise cancellation and now I’m in silence just hearing you. So it’s pretty cool.

Tony Sulsona
Again, another obvious but something to to bring up. That touch feature is excellent for people who’ve got dexterity issues as well, too, because it’s just a tap. And a lot of ways that you can modify how you navigate through these different options in the app is fantastic as well, too.

John Luna
Yeah, no, it’s they’re exciting products to bring to market. And, you know, you know, working globally, I hear the same story and the success of the product worldwide. So it’s, it’s something that, you know, clinic should think about. And they’re fun to use, they’re fun to to share the use cases, with your patients and clients. And it’s something that, you know, we sell direct to consumer, but it doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be in every clinic here in the US.

Tony Sulsona
And, john, you have particularly seen this in your lengthy career, I’ve seen it as well, too. And that is, we have evolved to this point. And certainly, the the climate that we’re in over the last two years, year and a half or so with a pandemic has probably expedited that acceptance and desire to make life easier for communication, not only for devices, but communicating with people in everyday situations. So I applaud, you know, Nuheara and all the companies that are progressively looking for that that elevation and expanding to help people who have hearing concerns and just want a better lifestyle in general, like products from Nuheara, you know, I think this was a really insightful conversation. From your perspective, that means a lot. I think we probably could talk for maybe another hour or so, on that. But I think it’s a great starting point to have our listeners learn a little bit more about the hearable market, how it’s come to be, and some of the options available, obviously, including Nuheara. So with that, john, I want to personally thank you for being a guest today and spending some time to really present this information. And I also want to thank the entire team behind the show that makes this happen every single week. And of course, we have to big shout out to all those who are tuning into this podcast and video podcast weekly. So with that, john again, thank you very much. And that concludes our episode today. Have a great day.

John Luna
Thank you so much, Tony.

Tony Sulsona

Thank you. Take care.

 

About the Panel

John R. Luna is the Chief Revenue Officer for Nuheara. John is a seasoned executive with strong general management and commercialization experience who has held leadership roles at all levels in starting, building, and turning around public and private companies in consumer electronic self-care devices and medical devices over a 29+ year career. John served as CEO, COO and Chief Business Development Officer roles with iHEAR Medical Inc. and EARGO, respectively. John’s leadership roles with established and emerging growth companies successfully disrupted hearing healthcare business models, including InSound Medical’s Lyric™ device, as an agent of change to provide innovative solutions globally.

 

Tony Sulsona serves as the Senior Vice President of Strategic Partnerships & Business Development for the Intelligent Health Association and is a Board Advisor for AudioCardio, a digital hearing therapeutics startup. Previously, Tony was the Managing Director for a Swiss medical IoT startup following 16 years as Vice President of Sales for Bernafon, where he also served as Sales & Marketing Strategic Advisor and Brand Strategy Think Tank delegate for the US.


About HHTM

HHTM's mission is to bridge the knowledge gaps in treating hearing loss by providing timely information and lively insights to anyone who cares about hearing loss. Our contributors and readers are drawn from many sectors of the hearing field, including practitioners, researchers, manufacturers, educators, and, importantly, hearing-impaired consumers and those who love them.

2 Comments

  1. Did anyone actually proofread this “transcript”? As a person with a hearing loss, videos and podcasts are very difficult so I was excited to see you had a “transcript” of the video recording. To say I was disappointed would put it mildly, but then I realized this is from HHTM – and now I’m more than disappointed, I’m angry and chagrined! For a company who focuses on hearing health care and technology it’s pitiful to see how little you actually care about the consumer with a hearing loss when you post a “transcript” that is literally difficult to follow due to the abundant errors. Shame on you!

    1. Hi Mary,

      We’re sorry you encountered trouble. We actually spend a lot of time ensuring all our video content is captioned and that transcripts are available on all of these episodes. To answer you question, yes, this is all proofed by humans — sometimes they might miss a few things, since this can take a fair amount of time, but we do our best!

      We appreciate your understanding and patience. Thank you

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