Rob Shardlow, our CEO and Nick Rawlings, CMO were on BBC Radio Northampton to talk to Helen Blaby to introduce Audacious, a new mobile network provider with a difference. As well as talk about our technology and being a Northamptonshire based company, with ties to the local community.
Helen: Now, mobile phones, everybody’s got one, haven’t they? Well, saying everybody but figures suggest 95% of households in the UK have a mobile phone. And for the most part they’re great but not everyone has the same experience. Now a Northamptonshire company is trying to make mobile phones easier to use for those who’s hearing ability has made using a mobile phone more difficult. Rob Shardlow and Nick Rawlings are from Audacious. Thank you very much for coming in.
Rob: Hello Helen!
Helen: Who wants to tell me the background?
Rob: I’ll lead on that. I’m Rob. So, the Audacious story started about 60 years ago. Our founder, a guy called Matthew Turner, was born with hearing loss, quite severe hearing loss, actually, and was told at an early age unfortunately by his doctors that he would have limited intellectual capacity and was going to struggle in life because of his hearing issues. Despite that Matthew went on to become a very successful international financier. And disproved all the people wrong, which is great. But he’s always sort of harboured a frustration with the telecoms industry at large because they failed to address the needs of those with hearing loss. It’s the mobile phone audio they serve up is the exactly same for everybody regardless of your hearing loss. And clearly for the 1 in 6 people in the UK with hearing loss they struggle to hear on the mobile phone. That’s over 100,000 people in Northamptonshire.
Rob: For example, with hearing needs. So Matthew was very frustrated, very determined and very focused on getting it solved. Hence the name Audacious because he’s been quite audacious in delivering this story. He worked with, he’s not an audiologist but he’s an experienced person and a determined person and he got with one of the leading professors in the world. A guy called Professor Brian Moore, who’s a lecturer at Cambridge University and in fact one of the leading audiology experts and developed this technology. Which in simple terms allows a mobile phone user to have a personalised audio experience. That took him about 12 years to get through that process. With three rounds of clinical trials which has given us what they call European Medical Device certification. So it’s a bonified medical solution that Matthew’s brought to market. So, yes, it’s been a long journey. An exciting one, a determined one and it’s actually a world first. It’s the first time in the world a mobile phone service has been launched to specifically address the needs of those with hearing loss.
Helen: It was interesting because I did the test on your website this morning where you phone you have to click buttons to say whether you can hear certain sounds or not. So is it a mobile phone service like EE or Vodafone? Or does it work differently to that?
Nick: No the, so it’s Nick here. So, the charm of it is it works exactly the same as your mobile phone service you use today. So, it’s a SIM card that goes in any phone in existence and once you’ve done the online hearing test, effectively you’ve got a personalised service that you can access with that SIM card. From then you just dial and use the phone exactly as normal so we supply a service that comes with minutes, texts and data so the actual product is a really simple one for the customer and something they’re very familiar with. A SIM card and the whole point was actually to do something which didn’t mean people needed to change their behaviour or the way they used a phone. To effectively allow people to use the phone normally.
Helen: I didn’t, I always think that I’m going deaf. I think it’s what I do for a living that’s doing it. But I always thought that it was low frequency that I had trouble with. According to your website it’s high frequency that I have trouble with.
Rob: Well hearing is a very personal thing. And people hear things differently and so your hearing is your hearing. That may be different to the person next to you perhaps and importantly hearing changes over time. So, with the Audacious service we encourage our customers to take the hearing test at the outset and then to repeat that on a fairly regular basis. So, for example, every 6 months because hearing can change over time
Helen: It can
Rob: And of course when people change their handset then we also suggest they redo the hearing test because handsets will have different speakers in them. So that would be another point which the hearing test would be done.
Helen: So how much does this cost? I mean is it on the side of your normal mobile contract? Is it a mobile phone contract?
Nick: It’s a mobile phone contract
Nick: So the idea is that you switch to Audacious from your existing service provider. So it’s no more complicated than going from EE to O2 it’s just swap your SIM card and you can use our service and it gives you all the normal stuff apart from, we’re the only ones in the world who can give you the personalised audio.
Helen: So how much am I looking for, for a plan?
Nick: Plans start from £14.00 a month.
Nick: So we’ve tried to make this kind of commensurable with the pricing of other services out there.
Helen: And it’s pretty much the same so: text, calls, data- that kind of thing as well?
Nick: Exactly that yup, so different levels of data depending on what you use. But yeah, virtually unlimited minutes and texts with our plans as well. So yeah, designed to be identical to the kind of tariffs you see on the market today.
Rob: The great thing about our proposition, well many great things other than providing personalised hearing from a contractual perspective, our contract is simply a rolling 30 day contract.
Helen: Oh, Okay
Rob: So there is no long term commitment. You, even then we offer people a for 28-day money back guarantee. So it’s an easy, nice way to trial the proposition. No long term contract. And it works with any handset. So you don’t need the latest, greatest device. Whether you’ve got a 3310 from 1995.
Helen: Which probably hasn’t been charged since then
Rob: Or the latest, greatest Samsung or Apple device- it works with any device. So literally take out your SIM, put in the new SIM and away you go. We sit on the UKs biggest mobile phone network.
Helen: So your coverage is alright then?
Rob: Coverage is the best in the UK.
Helen: The interesting thing, having done the test was that you get the audio played to you of an ordinary call and then the audio of your personal call and my goodness me, it- there is a big difference isn’t there?
Nick: Well, wonderful, great that you heard the difference yeah.
Nick: And that’s exactly what we want. We want to give people the experience upfront of being able to hear that difference before making a commitment, so. And it’s remarkable, isn’t it? Even with a, you know, relatively modest level of hearing loss, or actually even for people who generally struggle with hearing on the phone in a noisy place. The difference of having a frequency specifically designed to your ear is quite remarkable, in terms of, there’s a bit of a wow effect that we see with a lot of people who try this and go “crikey” it sort of, it shines a light on what they couldn’t previously hear the sounds and things they were struggling to hear or missing. And that’s brilliant, that’s great that you had that experience.
Helen: When I sat there doing the test, I wasn’t clicking for quite some time and I thought “ooh” I can’t hear anything. Has it disconnected? Are you absolutely losing your hearing?
Rob: The really nice thing is, with the test you’ve done by going to the Audacious website is a test that anybody can do, so you don’t even have to have an Audacious SIM to try it. So you can sit in your armchair at home with your existing mobile phone service, and go online to the Audacious website, do the hearing test, so you don’t have to get our SIM in the first place. It’s a great way of try before you buy, to experience the benefit.
Helen: Yeah. How does it work then? Or would you have to kill me if you tell me how it works? Is it a trade secret?
Rob: It’s not a trade secret. It’s probably beyond my pay grade to try and explain it. Professor Brian Moore and Doctor Michael Stone would be able to give you, erm, a greater insight. But in simple terms, the way mobile phones work is, it already compresses sound, so it does that to make an efficient communications network. People with hearing loss have got further compressed sound, so you’re adding problem on top of problem, and we know from research that people with hearing needs struggle in mobile phones in particular. The way the service works is, just like any other mobile phone service, so you make the call it goes from A to B. In between A and B our little processor, our box of magic sits, which is where the clinical, erm, certification sits. And the core between it being placed and received, swings into our processor and that call is then dynamically reprocessed to compensate for your hearing loss and delivered to your ear to a sound which is most suitable for you. So it literally swings off into a lay by, the sound is reprocessed, and delivered back onto the network and hits your ear within milliseconds. So you don’t notice the delay, all this happens in a little black box of magic which we can’t explain, I would have to kill you
Helen: Yeah, I understand, erm..
Nick: Within that black box of magic is the effectively the code of your individual hearing, so what you’ve done online is effectively created a profile of your specific hearing level over the phone. So, the magic box is effectively applying the compensation based on what the online hearing test has told us you can’t hear. So that’s what happens in the lay by, our magic box that Rob described.
Rob: Absolutely, absolutely.
Helen: Now the cynic in me says yes. Sometimes I might have it in my left ear, sometimes I might have it in my right ear, the hearing might be different. But we are actually creatures of habit, aren’t we? When I think about it, I always put the phone up to my left ear.
Nick: Do you? Okay, yeah.
Rob: Yeah. People, you’re right, people are, tend to be fairly creatures of habit. We’ve also found that, people don’t just have to have hearing aids, so we know from research there’s a lot of stigmatism attached to hearing aids. Wearing glasses, is deemed to be acceptable. But for many people hearing loss is less acceptable, it’s obviously less visual than a visual impairment. So, actually we’ve found in our clinical research that people either, with hearing aids, or those that haven’t accepted hearing aids yet, traditional hearing aids, still get a benefit. So, a lot of people are joining our service, that don’t actually use traditional hearing aids supports because they find there’s a nice simple way to address an aspect of their life. Whereas other people that are further into their hearing needs journey, that do wear hearing aids, again, we find they’re enjoying a benefit as well. So, it’s a complimentary solution to other audiology services.
Helen: Well I think it’s absolutely fascinating, if people want to find out more about it, or join, how do they go about doing so?
Rob: Well, go to our website, audacious.co.uk. You can find all the information about the product and the service there, the history of the business, you can do the soundcheck, and it’s a really fun experience, it’s a great way to do that. At the end of that process, you can either call our trained team based out of Northampton. We’ve got 25 people in the office that have all been trained in dealing with people with hearing needs, or you can buy online. And if you want to become an employee of the Audacious family, we’re a new business. We’ve been in Northampton now for about 12 months or so, and we have national ambition. In fact, a global ambition, because part of our team are also looking at international licensing as well. So, it’s a great business, and we look forward to joining some of your listeners perhaps as customers, or indeed as employees of Audacious.
Helen: How many customers have you got at the moment? Do you know?
Rob: That is a trade secret.
Rob: But it’s more than we expected.
Rob: And our phones are ringing like crazy, so the more we welcome.
Helen: I wish you all the best thank you very much for coming in to tell us all about it.
Rob: Thank you.
Nick: Thanks Helen.
Helen: Rob Shardlow and Nick Rawlings from Audacious.