“We had this new product, we’d taken these orders, and we couldn’t fulfil them. We couldn’t manufacture.”

After standing down some staff, and giving the remaining staff 50 per cent pay cuts, the company got through the worst of it.

“We did what we had to do to survive,” he said. “We did what we had to do to hold on to those orders, and we were able to continue to take pre-orders.”

And then an unexpected thing happened. Having almost destroyed the business, the pandemic went on to help it.

“There weren’t a lot of options for people, particularly when it came to seeing any form of specialist, because all the hearing clinics had closed,” Mr Miller said.

Everyone now has things on their ears when they want to talk to people through a computer.

Justin Miller, Nuheara CEO

“So the direct-to-consumer [sales] model that we had been building over the past 18 months really came to the fore. We were able to communicate with people, educate people and ultimately transact with people.

“In a strange way, COVID may even be the making of us. We had been slowly bringing people online, but the pandemic accelerated that, and brought forward [the move to online purchase of hearing products] by a few years, in the space of three months.”

Something else has happened to Nuheara during the pandemic, too. In October HP, the world’s second-largest notebook PC maker behind Lenovo, struck a $2 million deal with Nuheara, under which the Australian company would conduct “the development and engineering of an earbud variant specific to HP’s confidential use case”.

The precise terms of that deal have yet to be announced, but it may prove to be a coronavirus-related fillip for Nuheara, too.

Fewer interruptions

The IQbuds2 Max earbuds contain technology that separates human voices out from background noise, to help their wearers hold face-to-face conversations in noisy environments such as pubs and restaurants.

But when the earbuds are attached to a mobile phone or a notebook computer, that technology also works in reverse, separating out the wearer’s voice from background noises, before beaming it via Bluetooth to the phone or laptop.

The technology helps people who are working from a noisy household to hold Zoom or other online meetings with fewer interruptions, and it is likely HP’s deal is related to that function.

Mr Miller refused to elaborate on the specifics of the deal, but said: “The change that COVID has brought about is that everyone now has things on their ears when they want to talk to people through a computer. That may give you an indication of why Big Tech is looking at us.”


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