Alango Technologies, which was officially founded in 2002, but which has been registered as a company since 1998, is not a startup. It is a successful company in audio signals processing for handsfree mobile telephones that has entered the medical device field in recent years with the development of a line of products that includes special earphones for the hard of hearing and for noisy surroundings. Company founder, president, and CEO Alexander Goldin, who immigrated to Israel in 1991, came from the medical devices sector. Before founding Alango, he worked in the 1990s at Biosense and Elscint. "Alango is a direct continuation of the work I did in audio signals processing for most of my career," Goldin says.
Biosense was sold to Johnson & Johnson for $427 million. Goldin used his share of the proceeds to found a new sound company in partnership with legendary Israeli soundman Tommy Friedman and Altec Lansing, one of the world's leading sound companies, which has been through quite a few changes. "I thought that I had found a lifetime of work in sound, but we had another partner, with which relations began to worsen, and Tommy fell ill with cancer and died in 2001. That was a tough blow, both personally and professionally, because everything was connected to him."
When this activity closed down, Goldin founded new sound activity with some of the employees of the old company, and that is the Alango of today. The company's first product was software for a handsfree car phone, and this is its leading business to this day. " Our revenue from this sector amounts to several million dollars a year," Goldin says. "We have 40 employees: two third here in Israel and one third at a development center in Russia."
How to enter an unattractive market
The company has other sound products, but one of the main focuses now is hearing aids. "All of the devices today use the same technology," Goldin says. "As early as 1998, I tried to persuade Biosense founders Shlomo Ben-Haim and Lewis Pell to invest in a hearing devices company, but they didn't believe in this sector, and with good reason. I started to follow it, though, in order to fully understand why the market was unattractive, because after all, there are 1.2 billion hard of hearing people in the world, 370 million of whom are disabled. Maybe 20% of the ones in the US and 30% of the ones in Europe use a hearing device. Why? The reason is both the stigma attached to the device and the fact that the devices don't really solve the problem, while their price only increases with time. Hearing devices amplify the sound, but that doesn't mean that you hear the content better."
According to Goldin, making the devices smaller in an attempt to hide them affects their functioning. "A small microphone is noisy by definition. The battery is small, and is therefore not chargeable. You can't run new software on such a product," he says.
Goldin's idea was to offer a large obvious earphone like the earphones that most of use daily. "What does a Bluetooth earphone actually do? It improves the sound, it cleans the noise, it communicates with the telephone, which is a serious matter for a person with a hearing problem. Our technology can do all of these things."
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Goldin: "These's an element of that, but we believe that people will get used to the device, and in any case, it's designed initially for people with a slight hearing problem. They don't have to use it all of the time; they can use it for a phone call, in a noisy room, and in other than ideal conditions."
"We wanted feedback from the adopter of the innovations"
Simultaneously with Alango's development, a device with a similar purchase went to market, made by a company names Bose, known in the earphones sector. To some degree, this product opened the market for Alango. A leading website for hearing products, which compared the products, found that Alango's was better in certain areas, and was cheaper. The website also noted approvingly a specific feature of the product - the ability to slow the pace of speaking in order to cope with fast talkers and foreign languages.
Development of the product was funded through a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, mainly for marketing reasons. "We wanted the feedback from the adaptors of the innovations in exchange for a discount on the product. Thanks to the feedback, we were able to upgrade the software."
A month ago, Alango announced that it had signed a distribution agreement with Oaktree Products, a leading company in audiology products with expertise in hearing. Other companies recently began entering the market.
"The decision to enter the market first with our product was because conventional Bluetooth companies were not enthusiastic about entering this sector. Forget about the hearing devices companies, because they're a monopoly. They also bought the marketing channels. They like selling a little at a high price and including the service in the price. An audiologist who sells devices of the hearing companies to 10 customers a month is set up; he doesn't need anything else, but that's not a good model for the market. Our products are also not technologically similar to their product, because they run on chips in the consumer electronics sector, not the medical sector."
Goldin says that Alango's product interfaces with a phone app that facilitates hearing tests, and at least for people with slight hearing problems, the product can be adapted without an audiologist.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on March 11, 2019
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