Behind the Glasses Blog

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Nobody wants a hearing aid

The World Health Organization estimates that 466 million people worldwide have disabling hearing loss, and yet only 17% of them actually get hearing aids or cochlear implants.

As I’ve spent time getting to know customers / patients, audiologists, and industry experts, what I find most remarkable is that the industry is manufacturing and selling products that people simply don’t want.

Of course, people need hearing aids.

But they don’t want them.

Why? Don’t they work? For the most part, yes—I’ve found that people with moderate hearing loss are generally quite happy with their hearing aids. Of course they also cite several situations in which they don’t work, but they are satisfied overall.

Were they excited about spending thousands of dollars on a pair of customized earbud amplifiers? Of course not. In fact, several people I spoke to didn’t go back to their audiologist for their second pair of hearing aids—they went to Costco instead and saved thousands of dollars.

Do they brag to their friends about their hearing aids, as an expensive purchase and human augmentation? No. In fact they often buy devices that are as discrete and invisible as they can possibly get away with.

Do they go back to their audiologist for questions, additional tuning, or other support and advice? No. Not a single person I spoke to with hearing aids even thought about going back to their audiologist with questions (and they do have questions… which I answered for them while encouraging them to ask their audiologist.) The only time their audiologist reached out to them was when the warranty was up on their hearing aids, to ask if they would like to get them looked at ($$$). On the other hand, everyone I spoke to with cochlear implants has been extremely diligent about therapy and follow-up visits.

I could go on, but what I find interesting from a Product perspective is that this situation seems to go against what one learns from lean startup and customer development frameworks.

Ash Maurya, author of Running Lean, and inventor of the Lean Canvas, has this mantra—which I subscribe to:

Life's Too Short to Build Something Nobody Wants

Yet, this is an $8.3B industry that continues to build products that nobody wants!

What can we learn from this?