Have you heard about the latest video trend on TikTok? The one that has 8.4 billion viewers tuning in? It’s ear wax removal. That’s right – viewers are tuning in to TikTok, YouTube and other platforms to watch the oddly satisfying process of removing cerumen from ear canals. This video alone has almost 2.9 million views!
We all have ear wax, yet it remains one of those taboo subjects that no one likes to talk about. However, that may be changing. Ear care has taken center stage with the FDA’s recent ruling making hearing aids available over the counter, without a prescription and for thousands of dollars less than they previously cost. And innovative new at-home wax removal products are now available. Ear care is finally getting the attention it deserves.
Innovating a Niche Market
“We’re all taught how to take care of our skin and our nails,” said Elyse Dickerson. “But we’re not taught at a young age how to take care of our ears.” The co-founder and CEO of Eosera, a female-led brand committed to solving an unmet need in the field of ear health, spent 13 years in the OTC healthcare industry before branching out on her own to solve a large, but often unspoken, need in a very niche market. Ear wax removal.
“I spent the first few months just talking to doctors. I let the doctors – pediatricians, geriatricians, GPs – tell me where their biggest needs were. They said, ‘if you had a product that allowed people to clean out their ears at home, you would have a game changer.’ So, we set out to do it.”
After nine months of collecting human ear wax samples from doctors and testing various formulations, she struck gold in 2017 and launched Earwax MD, the first significant innovation in the ear care industry in 60 years. The liquid drops, which sit in the ear canal for 15 minutes and dissolve wax, replace the goopy OTC gels and in-office procedures that, until then, had been the only solution for impacted ear wax – which can cause significant hearing impairment in people of all ages.
“Our first retailer was CVS,” said Dickerson. “They put it in all 8,000 stores right away because the ear care buyer hadn’t seen any innovation in this category in so long. We didn’t have final packaging or a contract manufacturer but, as any entrepreneur will tell you, if you get that order, you’re going to make it happen.” So, the start-up made 80,000 units in their first production run and shipped them to CVS stores. “Within one year, the ear care buyer had grown his category by 35% just from our one product.”
Profitable after its first year, Eosera now sells an array of ear care products in 28,000 retailers including Walgreens, Walmart, CVS, Amazon, Albertsons and Kroger. The company expects 2022 sales to be up more than 200%.
Dickerson shares tips on how she built a successful brand in a truly niche market.
Take a chance on yourself.
Dickerson recommends looking at every turn in your career as an opportunity. “I was let go from my job. I didn’t choose to walk away from a big, cushy corporate job. I was kicked out of the nest which was devastating at first but ended up being the greatest gift because it gave me the opportunity to take a chance on myself.”
You don’t have to know it all.
Dickerson was neither an ear care specialist nor a scientist. She just asked a lot of questions until she found a large, unmet need. “As a CEO or founder, you just have to be willing to ask the right questions,” she says.
Find the right combination of opportunity and product.
“We found a market that was completely untapped,” she says. But that would not have been compelling to her investors had they not developed a product that effectively solved the unmet need in that market. “If you can find the right combo of opportunity and product, the money will follow.”
Spend your company’s money like it is your own.
The number one reason businesses fail is that they run out of money, Dickerson says. “I wasn’t out throwing parties for our employees – I was spending our company’s money like it was my own and I think the investors really appreciated that.”
Surround yourself with smart people who have skill sets you lack.
“When I was raising money, I sought out people who live and breathe in the private equity world, and who could coach me on how to raise money,” she said. This also holds true for more mundane aspects of startup companies, like accounting. “Taking time in the early days to set things up properly is important. If you rush through too fast without the right knowledge or the right guidance, you’ll fall flat on your face.”
Practice conscious capitalism.
“You can make money, but you can do it in a positive way that has a positive impact on society,” says Dickerson. And that doesn’t mean being a charity, she cautions. The entrepreneur advises other women looking to start businesses to always put people first. “We decided to put our employees, our vendors and our investors in the center of everything we do and every decision we make. And if it doesn’t positively impact our people, then we’re not going to do it.”
There are many aspects of our lives — menopause? toenail fungus? — that are still considered taboo and are off limits for friendly dinner party conversation. But it is often those very challenges that most need a solution. Dickerson has shown that finding that large unmet need in a neglected market, then creating an effective solution, can lead to big rewards.
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