The entrepreneur wants his new business to replicate the disruptive success of Glasses Direct
Web entrepreneur Jamie Murray Wells made his name undercutting high-street opticians. Now he’s attempting to do the same for the hearing aid market with a new start-up, Hearing Direct. Murray Wells wants to mimic the success of Glasses Direct by offering customers cheaper hearing devices direct over the internet. With Hearing Direct, says Murray Wells, “you get a hearing aid for a tenth of the price of the high street, and that’s £100-200 of state of the art digital equipment.”
The direct model, he adds, is about “taking an industry and turning it on its head.” Murray Wells estimates that he’s already saved consumers around £40m with Glasses Direct. But the start-up was poorly received by incumbent opticians, who bristled at the entrepreneur’s labelling of their services as expensive. According to Murray Wells, pressure from high-street rivals persuaded suppliers to stop doing business with him, which forced Glasses Direct to suspend trading for two weeks.
Hearing Direct has similar potential for market disruption. According to the Royal National Institute for the Deaf, about one in seven of the population suffers from hearing loss. Murray Wells hopes to find a niche position between those customers that don’t want to wait for a NHS hearing device (according to Hearing Direct, NHS waiting times vary “between two weeks and 12 months depending on where you live”) and those that would rather not pay high street prices. According to the company, the average price of a high street hearing device is £1,000.
Hearing Direct offers customers a three-minute hearing test, which customers complete online, to determine whether or not they would benefit from wearing an aid. The site then recommends a device to suit usage and budget.
Murray Wells, who started Glasses Direct aged 21 in 2004, will take on the role of chairman of Hearing Direct, supported by three executive directors, Gary Hill, Stuart Canterbury and Joan McKechnie, all formerly of hearing aid manufacturing firm GN ReSound.