In this exclusive Q&A, we chat to Dr Elaine Saunders from Blamey Saunders hears, the 2013 My Business Awardwinner of the ActionCOACH Overall Award for Outstanding Excellence and the McAfee Award for Best Use of Technology
Having met many years ago while working in different areas in the cochlear implant industry and with a long history in cochlear implant research, in 2011 Australian hearing aid pioneers Dr Elaine Saunders and Professor Peter Blamey (pictured, right) decided they wanted to work direct with the clients (Australians suffering from hearing loss) they had been servicing from behind the scenes for years. So the Melbournians formed Blamey Saunders hears with the commitment to providing easy to use hearing aids of the best quality at a much more realistic price than what had hitherto been the market norm.
With a team that now numbers 20 staff, Blamey Saunders hears is disrupting the established main players in their industry by designing and producing revolutionary hearing aids that can be customised by the end user at home, saving their customers a whole lot of time, money and trouble. For this, Blamey Saunders hears was a deserving winner of both the McAfee Award for Best Use of Technology and the ActionCOACH Overall Award for Outstanding Excellence. Read on as Saunders explains how these Aussie innovators are successfully punching above their weight against bigger competitors.
My Business: What motivated you and Peter to start your own business?
Elaine Saunders: We’d been working in this area – together and separately – for some years, and were really, really keen to use technology to make better hearing aids and to make them more available to people. Many people who need hearing aids don’t use them, so we wanted to overcome the barriers of accessibility and cost, but at the same time make them better. I felt very confident that we could make a difference doing this. That might be the defiant optimism of an entrepreneur, but we knew a lot about the industry, a lot about the technology and the customers. We’ve got a fairly unique blend of experience between us and I was very optimistic. What we’re doing is really disruptive – we’ve grown pretty rapidly since launch and we’ve really developed our eHealth model and support team. I suspect that we’re one of the most sophisticated eHealth businesses in the world.
MB: How is Blamey Saunders hears using emerging technologies to get a leg up against the competition?
ES: It’s around the accessibility. Hearing aids have been on the market, in one form or another, for a long time, but until fairly recently, quite frankly they didn’t work all that well. We’ve made innovations in the technology in hearing aids, but perhaps more importantly we’ve used technology to change the whole delivery model. We’ve designed end-to-end systems for inside the hearing aid and the front end of the system that are designed to be very high quality, but are also very easy for people to set up. We’ve used technology to make truly excellent hearing aids based on bionic ear technology, which is a step forward from the old compression hearing aids. We’ve also made a very, very easy front-end system with an eHealth model so that people can buy online and set them up at home. But if they want support, we’re there for them. [Dr Saunders was unable to attend the Awards night, so sent her son (pictured right) in here place].
MB: It’s a very noble thing you guys are doing, helping people living with hearing disabilities…
ES: Well, that’s what motivates us – that’s what gets us all up in the morning. I’ve got a very, very bright team of young people and we put a lot of effort into training and are completely committed to helping people.
MB: What does it mean for you to be recognised as a My Business Award winner in 2013?
ES: It’s terrific! When you’re doing something disruptive it can be a bit lonely, so it’s terrific to have the recognition of the business community. It’s extremely valuable…I feel very honoured. We were always very hopeful, but you know the other applicants are going to be good quality. It really helps strengthen our brand, and it helps get the word out about us. It’s really that peer recognition, which is tremendous support for us.
MB: What are some of the key challenges that are unique to your industry and how have you overcome them?
ES: The big players in hearing aids are global multinationals or from overseas. They have very established channels through audiologists and are quite profitable. And this is partly the reason that hearing aid prices are so high in Australia. But we’re challenging that with a model that is much cheaper and much easier for people. We’re reinvesting everything that we can into building a better business, and we certainly believe that we’re doing something that’s fair by not taking big profits.
MB: Share with us some of the major successes Blamey Saunders hears has enjoyed to date.
ES: It’s definitely the letters we get [from customers]. Every single Friday we sit down with our team and we go through a letter we get from a client. There’s always at least one, and they’re fantastic. We get letters from people who have had to put off getting hearing aids for years and years because they can’t afford them, or they’ve been told they have to pay $10,000 or so for good quality ones, and it’s just beyond their reach. And we’re able to give them something that’s of exceptional quality and accessible. And they trust us. Getting awards is really helpful and important to us, but at the end of the day it’s really our clients and their letters that are the huge success for us.
MB:Looking ahead, how’s the outlook for Blamey Saunders hears?
ES: It’s strong – we’ve shown that you can take technology and do something really good in health. It’s using technology to make a better delivery model and a better service, and combining it with all the human elements of service, and this works because we’ve integrated service and products well together. And this makes it scalable, which is what you have to do in health today.
MY BUSINESS CONGRATULATES BLAMEY SAUNDERS HEARS ON BEING A DESERVING TWO-TIME MY BUSINESS AWARD WINNER IN 2013.