Some startup stories feel pre-written in the stars.
Audiologist and entrepreneur Dr. Lana Joseph-Ford, or Dr. J., is on one of those seemingly pre-destined paths. But it was not without its fair share of adversity. Growing up with a speech impediment, Dr. J battled years of bullying and belittlement in an oversaturated education and healthcare system that couldn’t help her for almost a decade.
As an adult, Dr. J built one of America’s top hearing clinics, supporting the outreach of ear health to babies, children, and seniors. But in the city of soul, a chance encounter with Drake expanded her entrepreneurial trajectory to develop the next big thing in headphones…and she’s ready to disrupt the entire music industry.
Read on to learn more about this incredible founder’s journey and how her Breakthrough NOLA experience propelled her to go global!
digitalundivided: Take us on your founder journey. What inspired you to launch your businesses?
Lana Joseph, Jrumz Ear Wear: I had a speech and hearing issue as a little girl. There were certain words that I could not pronounce, like “strawberry.” I was bullied and teased because of my speech impairment. As a result, I had low self-esteem growing up. I had a hard time socially interacting with my peers. That went on for about eight years. A single parent, a single mom, raised me. She had a decent job, but she made about $35,000 a year and was raising my sister and me off of it. As a result, we had Medicaid, which is government medical insurance, and thank God for Medicaid. But unfortunately, because of the decreasing reimbursement rates on Medicaid, there were a lot of providers who weren’t accepting it. Even today, in 2023, there are still many, many, many providers who are constantly dropping out of Medicaid because Medicaid is not paying them enough to sustain their practice, pay their employees, or get sophisticated equipment. As a provider, I get it. So, there were only a few options for us. The Children’s Hospital had a one-and-a-half-year waiting list. New Orleans Speech and Hearing Center also had a one-and-a-half-year waiting list. Then, you have the public school system. Now with the public school system, you’ve only got one speech therapist. You’re lucky if you have one speech therapist to serve 500 to 900 kids. We can do the math.
Eight years later, when I was in middle school, my mom got the attention of a school nurse. The school nurse was able to get the speech therapist and get the school to issue me an IEP. When I finally received access to services, it only took three months of therapy for me to be completely healed of my speech impairment.
Now, imagine what would have happened if I had those three months of therapy eight years prior. Imagine how different my adolescence would have been. I could have been a completely different kid. Going through that experience is precisely what led me to start my parent company, High-Level Hearing Technology. Today, we have helped over 40,000 people to receive speech and hearing services. We’ve served 250 schools and daycare centers across 25 parishes (you all call them counties). We’ve truly made an enormous impact.
digitalundivided: Can you fill us in on what audiology is for those who are unfamiliar?
Lana Joseph, Jrumz Ear Wear: Sure. An audiologist is a doctor who specializes in hearing imbalance. So, part of being able to enjoy life is social interaction and hearing across several different frequencies on the speech spectrum. If you can listen to speech conversations, you can interpret them. That’s considered good hearing health. But we see that as soon as hearing loss occurs, or when hearing is damaged, the first frequencies that go are frequencies we utilize to understand speech. Those are the ones we need for speech clarity. That’s when you hear people say, “Can you repeat yourself? What did you say?”
Hearing is one of the senses we take for granted until we don’t have it because it’s invisible. Unlike vision, where corrective surgeries can help undo poor vision, unfortunately, with hearing, researchers are still trying to figure out ways to repair hearing. The cochlear hair cells, which are the nerves that help us to be able to hear, don’t come back once they’re gone. This is why we must be careful about what audio products we put into our ears, right? You can go out in the sun. Your eyes might dry out, you put some drops in your eyes, and boom, your vision is back. But with your hearing, you forget to turn the volume down once you blow it on some $5 earphones; that’s a wrap. Your hearing is not coming back.
digitalundivided: Tell us more about your companies. What do they do?
Lana Joseph, Jrumz Ear Wear: Our umbrella company High-Level Hearing Technology serves as one of the country's top Speech and Hearing clinics. That’s simply because we took a business model, streamlined it, and made it valuable. As a result, we’ve been high revenue earners. We also do a lot of mobile services with the speech and hearing clinic, and it’s been going exceptionally well. We love it because we can provide screenings and early intervention for these kids who need the services and would typically not receive them. But we’re also able to be vital to them in the schools.
When it came time to create Jrumz Ear Wear, I paired my experience with musicians and music with the science behind audiology and the importance of having healthy hearing. With the work I’ve been doing for ten-plus years, I pretty much said, “Let’s create a product that would be able to not only be high performance and advanced, but also something where we don’t have to turn the volume up so high to where it’ll damage our hearing over time.” That resulted in me developing the technology necessary to create Jrumz Ear Wear.
digitalundivided: …we heard a rumor that Drake fits into all of this somehow…
Lana Joseph, Jrumz Ear Wear: One day, I got a call from a guy with a Canadian accent. He was calling me to do work for Drake. I met the OVIO crew. They gave us four tickets to attend the concert that night. I was right there. I was, you know, “Kiki, do you love me?” It was great. It was great. They paid me $600 to do their impressions. But it led me to wonder…When I make customs, I only have to do it one time. It’s 2023. That was 2018. They have never called me back to make new ear impressions. But how many pairs of in-the-ear monitors do you think Drake’s team has bought between 2018 and 2023? Right?
That’s when I said, “Okay, well, let me invest some time and money and commit to seeing how I can create here.” I continued to get this encouragement from other musicians who said, “You’re an audiologist. It would be cool if you came out with headphones because I think if an audiologist came out with something, I would buy it.” In 2020 COVID hit, and I used the time wisely by investing a lot of time into continuing to develop this idea. Jrumz Ear Wear went from a little bitty baby ear mold to earphone technology and headphones.
digitalundivided: Are there any particular celebrities or musicians that you would love to wear your products?
Lana Joseph, Jrumz Ear Wear: All of them. That’s my answer. We offer high-level technology that could be great for musicians and performers of all calibers. We ended up connecting with a company out in LA, and they’re helping us to enter the music market strategically and target these high-level musicians, artists, and audio engineers. We were able to connect with Adam Blackstone, who is an Emmy Awarded musician and music director. He directed the Super Bowl, Essence Music Festival, and anything that’s big time…BET awards…he handled it. Because of his commitment and love of our product, he contacted us and provided our product during the Superbowl. So the past Super Bowl in February, Sheryl Lee Ralph performed Lift Every Voice and Sing, wearing Jrumz Ear Wear. Recently, Jay-Z had some folks that were performing in Jrumz Ear Wear. So, we’re seeing these artists that love the product. They’re appreciating the creation and wearing it. We believe we’ll see even more.
digitalundivided: What was your experience like in digitalundivided’s breakthrough program? What was helpful about the program in your startup’s growth?
Lana Joseph, Jrumz Ear Wear: Would we be where we are now without digitalundivided? digitalundivided had a founder come in to speak, and she broke many myths I had about retail. Once I heard her story, I knew I could get into retail, too.
After that, I developed my strategic growth plan — which I also learned how to do by being a part of digitalundivided’s Breakthrough program. We found a company that does global distribution and sourcing, and we have a team now that’s actually in China. We have a team in Indonesia that’s helping us develop partnerships and opportunities with manufacturers to get our product retail-ready in the US and globally.
One of my other favorite things about digitalundivided’s Breakthrough program was speaking with Chasity Williams, who was one of my mentors during the program. She mentioned, “Hey, you should consider collaborating with artists.” I thought that was something I would never be able to do. But it ended up being entirely possible. She had mentioned Tobe, and sure enough, his manager reached out to me; next thing you know, we were at Austin City Limits.
Access to people like yourself, Chasity, and other mentors who believe in you, heard your story and saw the opportunity for you. Every single class, every single session was extremely valuable!
Are you a Miami-based, early-stage founder looking to understand your customer better, grow marketing strategies, and gain networking opportunities to scale your venture? Apply to digitalundivided’s BREAKTHROUGH Miami program today! Each company accepted into the program will receive a $5,000 grant — applications close August 23rd, 2023.
[Editors note]: This interview has been lightly edited from its original transcription.