John Rho: Solving the “cocktail problem” for hearing aid users


Ladder works is a publishing platform for various picture books and online programs whose mission is to empower more than one million children to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features our interplanetary journalist Spiffy’s interviews with inspiring social entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial ecosystem builders advancing the UN SDGs.

Hey everyone, this is Spiffy, your one and only interplanetary reporter reporting from planet Earth. I’m excited to talk to John Rho, an entrepreneur working to make the world a better place through his work with ListenIn, as CEO and co-founder. Are you ready to be enlightened?

Nice : Hello, John, welcome to the blog! What challenge do you take up at ListenIn?

John: Thanks for inviting me, Spiffy! ListenIn tackles the problem of cocktail parties, which particularly affects hearing aid wearers. When in a bustling crowd full of dozens of people talking at the same time, the main speaker drowns out, making it difficult for the hearing aid user to have a conversation.

Nice : What motivated you to do it?

John: Growing up, my dad used to tell me how hard it was to talk in places like restaurants. He’s been wearing hearing aids forever, so it’s always been a dream of mine to tackle this problem.

Nice : In your own words, how would you say that ListenIn works for a fairer world?

John: ListenIn wants to make hearing aids that feel very seamless and don’t get in the way of everyday life. While other communication solutions, such as sign language gloves, push the hearing-impaired individual to accommodate others, ListenIn wants to create solutions that fit into the natural flow of conversation. We want to make sure that hearing aids don’t feel like a hindrance in these busy social settings; rather, we want to give every wearer the confidence to talk to new people and enjoy their lives through a device that helps them hear conversations more clearly. Our goal is accessible design and inclusive functionality.

Nice : I like this! Tell me about a recent organization initiative and its impact on your community.

John: We recently launched our app and are sharing it with hearing aid wearers. Seeing these users’ eyes light up when they can hear clear conversations in a busy Starbucks is such a rewarding experience. Being able to test our research/technology in action gives us the motivation to tackle these big problems and improve the quality of life for others.

Nice : Please share an experience where you faced failure and didn’t give up. What did you learn from this?

John: Failure is the greatest teacher. A few years ago I had worked on another hearing aid that used bone conduction technology to deliver sound. I was a naïve high school student who jumped too fast in ideas and ambition, and I was extremely confident that this device could help my dad hear better in places like restaurants. But when tested, it was so heartbreaking to see that it just didn’t help. But experiences like these helped me search for alternatives, and I eventually shifted my focus to software-centric approaches that led me down this path today with ListenIn.

Nice : What did you recently unexpectedly learn from someone?

John: When I started learning to drive, I stopped at a green light turning right and my instructor let me down. I complained to him about the minor infraction, but my instructor left me these wise words: “Focus on the solution, not the problem.” Next time I didn’t think too much about it and just turned right onto the green without complaining.

Nice : Is there anything else you would like to tell our audience?

John: Feed your creative side: Design and build as much as you can while you’re young and can explore the world!

Nice : Thank you for speaking with me today, John, it was an honor!

John Rho is a student at Harvard College studying Applied Mathematics in Computer Science. In his spare time, he enjoys playing basketball and Minecraft.(Nominated by Alex Parks at the Harvard Innovation Lab. First published on the Ladderworks website July 14, 2022.)

© 2022 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Anushree Nande. Spiffy artwork by Shreyas Navarre. For the Ladderworks Digital Curriculum to help children in K-3 advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy’s Corner here.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.


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