Idan Meir thought he was building a technology to help stores sell more goods. He wound up with a product that allows blind and visually impaired people to navigate malls, universities and hospitals.
“It happened almost by accident,” Meir says, explaining the genesis for RightHear, the pioneering accessibility app he built with cofounder and CTO Gil Elgrably.
The two had created a technology to offer virtual on-the-spot coupons to shoppers based on Apple’s iBeacon technology. iBeacons are small self-powered Bluetooth transmitters that can be placed on walls and roofs in a retail location. But the business model wasn’t making sense.
“We needed to build a very large user base for this to work,” Meir tells ISRAEL21c, and that was turning into a very large challenge.
Then, during a 24-hour hackathon sponsored by the Ra’anana municipality, the Tel Aviv suburb in which RightHear is based, Meir and Elgrably had an insight. Rather than marketing the app to end users, what if they pitched it to the venues as a way of making their space accessible to people with visual impairment?
It was just a hunch. “We didn’t even know if blind people used smartphones or apps since they’re so visual,” Meir said. But they put together a prototype in the hackathon and, the next day, the Ra’anana municipality connected Meir with several blind people in the city.
“They were blown away,” Meir says. “They were so excited about it, even though we didn’t have a product yet.”
In the last two years, though, not only did RightHear develop a product, but it has made some 200 venues accessible. RightHear charges the venues a fee based on the number of access spots deployed (they’ve installed about 1,500 so far in Israel and the United States). Moreover, the company is profitable, without taking a dime of outside investment. The app is free for users.
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