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The Future Is Now: “How we can create an affordable, self-administered solution to hearing loss” With Dr. Alexander Goldin

The silent epidemic of hearing loss is spreading, and the cost of untreated hearing loss is growing. If we provide an affordable, self-administered solution to hearing loss, we will help children to succeed more in learning, adults to be more efficient at work, and the elderly to stay active and connected to other people. We […]

The silent epidemic of hearing loss is spreading, and the cost of untreated hearing loss is growing. If we provide an affordable, self-administered solution to hearing loss, we will help children to succeed more in learning, adults to be more efficient at work, and the elderly to stay active and connected to other people. We will reduce the huge cost of unaddressed hearing loss and use that money to make other aspects of human life better, I hope.


Dr. Alexander Goldin was born in USSR in 1959, won a silver medal in World Championship for Juniors in rowing in 1977, received his PhD from the Russian Academy of Science in 1990 and moved to Israel in 1991. In Israel Dr. Goldin worked in several international companies including IBM, Jonson & Jonson and Altec Lansing as the head of Altec Lansing R&D lab. In 2002 Dr. Goldin started Alango Technologies Ltd that, after 10 years, became a major supplier of digital sound enhancement technologies worldwide. In 2015 Dr. Goldin decided to develop high quality, affordable solutions for hearing impaired people that has become Wear & Hear brand of Personalized Hearing Amplifiers.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

In1999, exactly 20 years ago, I was asked by two prominent people in the Israeli medical startup industry (Lewis Pell and Shlomo Ben Haim) to give my opinion about the technological portfolio of AVR, an Israeli hearing aid manufacturer. AVR had started to experience financial difficulties by that time and these gentlemen were thinking about investing in it. I had absolutely no understanding about hearing health, hearing aids or the hearing aids industry. I did have 20 years of experience developing computer technologies that enhance digital acoustic and other types of signals for voice communication and some medical applications, but I didn’t know how relevant that knowledge was for hearing aids. I had to learn. Frankly, I don’t remember if I used the Internet to research the topic. Google was only founded in 1998 (although there were some other search engines around at the time, such as AltaVista and HotBot). In any case, information on the Internet was scarce and not well organized. However, due to my special status, I was given all the available information about AVR, its patents, its competitors and the status of the hearing aid market. And, I had some books and magazines. Eventually, I learned enough to become highly interested in the subject. Since then I’ve been following the regress in hearing health worldwide and corresponding developments in the hearing aids industry that I can hardly call “progress”. Here is a sad statistic from World Health Organization: in 2001, roughly when I started analyzing the situation, there were 250 million people worldwide with disabling hearing loss. Today, this number has increased to 466 million. And, it is estimated that by 2050 over 900 million people will have disabling hearing loss. Hearing loss is, sometimes, called the “silent epidemic”; it is silent for its victims and, often, for those who need to deal with it. Untreated hearing loss is directly related to learning disability in children, inefficiency at work for adults, and feelings of isolation amongst the elderly. There are multiple studies showing a strong connection between unaddressed hearing loss and a much higher risk of dementia and other health problems. Altogether, it is estimated that the cost of worldwide hearing loss today is about 750 billion dollars. Much of that huge expense could be avoided by using hearing aids, but, unfortunately, hearing aids fail to provide a universally-acceptable solution. Their penetration rate in the U.S. is less than 20%, in Europe it is about 30%. The situation is even more catastrophic in low income countries where less than 3% of people with hearing loss use hearing aids. And, as I have observed over the years, the situation is not improving. By 2014 I had my own company, positive cash flow, talented engineers, and enough relevant consumer electronics industry connections to invest in developing an alternative, disruptive solution to address hearing loss. After five years of hard work we now have it. Actually, we have just the first generation of it.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I have plenty of stories, but I understand “interesting” as both relevant to this interview and educational. It happened four years ago, before our first product was released. My mother suffered from severe hearing loss and wore hearing aids throughout the day. At that time the external walls of her house were undergoing repair with a lot of loud noise being generated from instruments like jackhammers and disk saws. I was living about 300 hundred meters away from her and suggested that she spend the noisy times of day at my place. To my great surprise, she declined, saying that the noise didn’t really bother her. To avoid the annoying racket she was simply taking out her hearing aids and most of the noise was gone. That taught me a lesson about consumer products and customer preferences. A product may work perfectly, but people will only love it if they can control what it does. In our case this lesson has transformed into the “be in control of your hearing” slogan, and the corresponding product form factor and features.

Can you tell us about the “Bleeding edge” technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?

There are always multiple technological challenges when you develop a new product. This is especially true for hearing enhancement. Surprisingly, hearing is the most sophisticated human sense. A healthy young ear can process sounds that differ by up to 1000 times in frequency (20…20,000Hz) and more than 3,000,000 times in strength. By comparison, our eyes can only detect lights that are not more than two times different in wavelength (from violet to red) and differ in brightness by not more than 1,000,000 times. In a system as sophisticated as the human auditory system, many things can go wrong. Hearing loss is not a simple attenuation of sound perception, like what one experiences when covering his or her ears, inserting ear protection plugs, or listening through a wall. It involves multiple mechanisms often related to how the brain processes the signals from the hearing nerve. That is why the complete restoration of hearing, unlike restoration of vision by glasses, is not generally possible. There are many technologies that can help us to hear better. Personalized sound amplification, noise and reverberation reduction, enhancement of sounds in the user’s field of view are just a few of the technologies used in modern hearing aids (and in our products as well). All these technologies are a part of our “bleeding edge” technological portfolio. However, they are not considered a breakthrough. I believe the real limitation of hearing aids to provide a remedy to the silent epidemic of hearing loss is that user’s hearing is under the control of an audiologist (or hearing aid dispenser). It often takes 4 or 5 visits to tune hearing aids and, in many cases, the result is not satisfactory. Nobody can hear what the user really hears, doesn’t hear, or cannot understand. There is also a shortage of audiologists, even in developed countries (especially in remote rural areas). In low income countries the situation is much worse. The real breakthrough of what we do is in allowing the user to take the full control of his or her hearing. After performing a simple, 5-minute hearing assessment using a smartphone app, all sounds are automatically adjusted to match the user’s preferences. And the user is still able to fine tune what he or she hears in specific environments by changing the amplification of different frequencies, the levels of noise reduction, and some other parameters. The breakthrough is in making the hearing assessment short and easy, but precise, and the hearing amplification controls simple and intuitive, but without sacrificing the freedom and quality of adjustment. This is the key to success for providing a solution to hundreds of millions of hearing-impaired people worldwide. Today we are close to it.

How do you think this might change the world?

The silent epidemic of hearing loss is spreading, and the cost of untreated hearing loss is growing. If we provide an affordable, self-administered solution to hearing loss, we will help children to succeed more in learning, adults to be more efficient at work, and the elderly to stay active and connected to other people. We will reduce the huge cost of unaddressed hearing loss and use that money to make other aspects of human life better, I hope.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

According to the Taoist classic by Lao Tzu, “When everyone sees good, then bad exists.” Today hearing aids are considered medical devices. In 2020 the FDA will issue guidelines for Over The Counter (OTC) hearing aids. The opponents of OTC hearing aids (and our devices) say that hearing loss can be a result of medical conditions which require medical or surgical intervention, including such conditions as earwax build-up, ear infections, or a perforated eardrum. Anyone who buys an over the counter device cannot check his or her condition, thus ignoring it and ultimately making it worse. This is bad. This is the same as selling painkillers over the counter. Pain is an indication of a deeper problem. Taking a pill can help us ignore our pain, thus allowing us to miss the onset of a serious illness. It happens quite often, actually. Should we stop selling painkillers without a prescription? That is unthinkable… The common consensus is that the price for such a decision would be too high. It’s the same with hearing aids. By avoiding a very small percentage of cases where hearing loss is caused by physical conditions, we pay a heavy price of leaving most hearing-impaired people without any solution at all. I believe we can find an automated solution for those minority cases as well. An otoscope connected to a mobile phone can take pictures of a user’s ear and those pictures can be sent to cloud-based artificial intelligence trained to differentiate between healthy and problematic ears to produce an automated diagnosis. Maybe one day I will be able to invest in this idea as well, but I hope others will do it earlier.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

Yes, it was my presentation at the Technion Computer Engineering conference in 2014 called “Convergence of signal processing for voice communication and hearing aids”. Sometimes, in order to understand something, you need to tell it first to others. By that time my company had developed a large portfolio of technologies improving the quality of voice communication. After the conference I realized that I am not so far from developing a disruptive device that could improve the quality of life for people with hearing loss.

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

When people are asked about hearing loss and a treatment for it, they will answer “hearing aids” even though, as I mentioned earlier, worldwide adoption rates for hearing aids are incredibly low. We at Alango Technologies are creating a new category of hearing enhancement devices that are affordable, versatile, stylish, and self-tunable. Unfortunately, most hearing-impaired users are not aware of this option. We need to inform them. And, after people hear about something new, it takes them a long time to start believing in it. We need to shorten this process and that is where we need help. I hope this interview will give us such help.

What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?

In addition to the traditional publicity vehicles (Web site, newsletters, tradeshows, professional conferences, Google, public relations firm), we have partnered with the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) to gain exposure for our concept and products in several of their chapters’ “demo rooms”. Additionally, we have launched a “Brand Ambassadors” program to leverage the excitement and contacts of hearing enhancement enthusiasts. Also, this year we plan to take part in the World Health Organization’s “World Hearing Day” activities. We are doing our best to promote our solution, but if you haven’t heard of the Wear & Hear line of hearing enhancing products before, we haven’t done enough. We are planning to do more.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I am thankful to many people whom I have met in life. I got help and learned a lot from them, but there was one person who had a tremendous impact on my professional career. It was my father. He was a great, self-built engineer who started working as a heavy truck driver during the World War II when he was only 16 years old. By age 50 he was a scientist leading a big R&D lab in the Russian Academy of Science, responsible for the development of satellite sensors and preparing ionosphere maps for the orientation of Russian spaceships. He discovered ozone holes in the earth’s upper atmosphere long before this knowledge became public in the West. I have saved his work with those maps (which were a top Russian secret 50 years ago). He taught me what it means to be a sportsman, an engineer, a scientist, and a human being. Sometimes I still miss my dad’s guidance.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Alango Technologies is a successful technological company. Our technologies are integrated into tens of millions of cars, mobile phones, and mobile phone accessories worldwide, improving the sound quality in voice communication. That success allowed me to invest in developing the Wear & Hear brand. The main driver was not commercial. The main goal was to leverage our many years of our experience to improve the lives of hundreds of millions of hearing-impaired people who, for whatever reason, do not use hearing aids. However, we do need to be successful business wise without sacrificing our goal. That will give us more power to help more people with different forms of disabilities. Helping people with tinnitus is the immediate task. Stuttering and other speech disorders are next. Assistive devices for deaf and blind are also in our road map.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

Don’t think about technologies or products, think about value.

We engineers like to invent new things, and we like the things we invent. We like them so much so that we think everyone will like them and pay money to use, integrate, or promote them. We are educated on “success stories” believing that it will be our experience as well. As a result, we don’t see the whole picture. Individual people as well as big corporations look for value in technologies or products, not the technologies or products themselves. Values are the ability to solve real customer problems without introducing too many new ones. Do you think the benefits of using your invention vastly exceed the hassle of using it?

Don’t confuse positive reaction for your technology or product with business potential

Yes, you are confident in your product’s value, so you’ve created a technology demo or even built a product prototype. It received positive reviews, got good media coverage, and potential users like it. Are you on a path to capture the world? Maybe. Every year we see new companies on the CES floor with finished products, great professional reviews, and positive and extensive media coverage. The following year we see less than 10% of those companies, and only a few survive beyond that. The problems of each company start with the first clients. Clients may think differently, expect more, or intend to use your technologies or product in a way you did not imagine. Be ready to discover the hard business truth about what you do. That’s what I did with the first generation of our software technologies for voice communication.

Things will not go YOUR way. You must follow THEIR way.

All good, you are ready. Now you must plan. As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once wrote, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” So, you make a precise plan with well-defined milestones. And then things will start to go wrong very quickly, exactly as Winston Churchill predicted when he said, “Plans are worthless. Planning is priceless.” That is because plans are made today but implemented tomorrow. Be ready for the changes, sometimes quick and unpleasant changes. The economic crisis of 2008 happened very fast and almost killed my company. It could have been much easier had someone taught me this lesson before.

Everything normally takes 3 times longer and costs 5 times more than planned.

Does it mean we need to change the plan? No, if we do, the rule will still apply to the new one. Just plan to modify your plans when necessary.

Don’t start a war without an army.

Army means commanders, soldiers, and armor. You will need managers, employees, and money. And you will need better managers, more employees, and much more money than your initial estimate. Are you confident about your reserves? If not, don’t start your adventure yet, think how to go about it in advance. Abraham Lincoln was quoted as saying “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” Even if you do achieve it without preparing your “axe”, it will take much longer and cost you much more gray hair. That is what happened in my case.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

We don’t need to invent something new. There is a Hebrew word “Tzedakah” meaning “justice” or “righteousness,” but which is commonly used to signify charity. Actually, it is more complicated than charity and philanthropy. In its highest, but greatly simplified form, it means to give a person something which results in the recipient no longer living by relying upon others. Traditional Jews commonly tithe 10% of their income to support those in need. Similar traditions exist in Islam and some other religions. I think we shall transform this personal form of Tzedakah to a corporate responsibility. With the current state of technology, we can create thousands of devices that can help people to improve the quality of their lives. Sometimes these devices will not bring any financial profit to their developers or manufacturers, but this shall not stop us. Big and small companies need to invest a part of their profit into developing and manufacturing affordable assistive products. Everyone, including the shareholders, will benefit from it one day.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Albert Einstein once said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” We need to think out of the box using past experience, but without being limited by it. In our case we have a huge number of people with hearing loss and very small penetration rate of hearing aids. We’ve identified the problems. It is because of high cost, social stigma, limited functionality, and the need for professional assistance. Does it mean we need to create a more advanced, less expensive, less noticeable hearing aid that is possible to fit remotely? That is what hearing aid manufacturers are trying to do, and this is the same type of thinking that created the problem. To solve the problem, we need to think differently and invent something new. Instead of making the solution small and invisible, we need to make it stylish and fashionable. Instead of making an expensive medical device, we need to make an affordable consumer electronics device. Instead of relying on professional assistance for distribution and fitting, we need to make our solution off-the-shelf and self-managed. This approach won’t necessarily guarantee success, but, according to Einstein, any approach based on “common practice” will lead to failure.

Some very well-known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

You have a unique opportunity to help transform a successful technological company into a billion-dollar product-oriented enterprise. With 1.2 billion hearing impaired people worldwide, hearing enhancement devices are the most needed wearable electronic devices in the world. We have a proven technology developed in-house and integrated into our Wear & Hear brand of products. These products are currently being sold and are generating good professional reviews and satisfied customer testimonials. We are discussing cooperation with the leading distribution channels, big retailers, pharmacy chains, and optical stores. We are doing it in the U.S., EU, and China, and we will move to other regions soon. We are welcome everywhere, but we are still at the beginning of our journey. We need to start developing a new generation of products using the latest achievements in the semiconductor industry. We need to support hearing health screening that will also promote our solutions in cases where hearing loss is detected. But, most importantly, we need to make the greater public aware that, finally, they have a stylish, multi-functional, self-managed, and easily affordable solution to counter the effects of hearing loss. Next year, when the FDA finally releases its guidelines for “Over The Counter” hearing aids, it will bring a big change to the U.S. and worldwide hearing health. We need to be prepared. We need your help to make it big, really big. Let’s do it together and make this world sound better to all of us.

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