Vinyl Me Please Interview with Bridget Hilton, Founder of LSTN Headphones

On July 3rd 2015

bridget-hilton-ideamensch

picture via IdeaMensch

VMP: So, LSTN is obviously an awesome company and we’re huge fans. To start at the beginning, could you tell us a little bit about how you started working in music?

Bridget: I started working in music when I was 15, I was working at a concert venue in Detroit, a record store, and also writing a bit for a local magazine. All odds and ends jobs but it was awesome. The only down side was my hour and a half commute from my parents’ place in Flint, Michigan was terrible, and is probably the only commute I’ve done that’s worse than LA traffic.  It was worth it though because I ended up getting a job at Universal Music Group about a year after I graduated highschool. I was just an intern at first, mostly doing mailroom and assistant type stuff, but I moved my way up and when they closed the Detroit branch in 2007, I moved out to LA to work at our HQ there.

VMP: What kind of work were you doing with UMG after your move out West?

Bridget: Mostly I was planning and coordinating record releases and marketing plans for upcoming albums. I got to work with a lot of big bands in the process like James Blake, The Weeknd, Florence and the Machine, etc etc. Not gonna lie, it was pretty cool.

VMP: Haha that’s awesome. And you had the idea for LSTN while you were doing that?

Bridget: Yeah I got the idea while I was there and started working on it then as well. I was working from home which was so fun and that gave me the flexibility I needed to work on both. I basically got to do my day job half-assed and start my own company at the same time [laughs].

VMP: Amazing! So how did the idea for LSTN come about?

Bridget: I knew that I always wanted to work in music, but I’d also wanted to do something entrepreneurial. I hated working for other people, and I was always thinking about ideas for companies I could start so I could strike out on my own more. I also was really interested in philanthropic work but, I mean, I wasn’t from money or anything so the idea of working in that field seemed like something that wasn’t totally cut out for me. That changed though when I saw thevideo of a girl hearing for the first time. It was this light bulb moment for me where I realized wanted to help more people in the same way she had been helped because music had given me so much and I couldn’t imagine anyone going their whole life without hearing it.

As far as choosing a product and getting going, headphones were really interesting to me for a couple reasons. One, I naively thought there weren’t all that many headphone companies. I mean, I seriously had no idea that there were so many of them already [laughs]. Two, most of the companies I did know about weren’t all that impressive to me from both a  quality and an aesthetic perspective, and so we decided we’d make something that we felt was a much higher quality, better looking line of headphones.

Once we had a prototype, it took us almost a year to ramp everything up and we launched in April of 2013. We’ve been around officially for 2 years, which is kinda crazy to think about now. These have been the best and most insane years of my life.

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picture via Forbes

VMP: That’s so cool. Congrats on how far you all have come in such a short time! Tell us a little bit about how LSTN works as far as helping fight hearing loss.

Bridget: Sure, so quarterly we tally up all of our sales and then we give a really big chunk of the sales to the Starkey Hearing Foundation. We’re donating based on the number of headphones sold, and we also go on all of these trips, which you may have seen, where we help distribute these hearing aids to people who can be helped by them. And we pay for those trips out of a separate budget, so we’re not paying for those out of the pool of money we’re donating to Starkey. I say that to say: at the end of the day we’re giving back a huge piece of our gross earnings (not net) to this cause and I’m really happy that we decided to do it that way.

I mean, it’s crazy. We’ve seen thousands and thousands of people who have never heard anything in their life start to hear again and it’s absolutely insane. Really powerful stuff.

VMP: What are some of the stories from those trips that are the most memorable?

Bridget: Our first trip has definitely stuck with me. We went to Peru and helped 10,000 people there. It was grueling and I’ve never worked so hard in my entire life [laughs], but it was so great to see so many people being helped at one time. I remember one girl who was 18, and her mom had saved up for a really long time to buy her a bus ticket to come see us and get a hearing aid for her birthday. It’s crazy how lucky we are, and how little access some parts of the world have to basic things that could help so much.

The coolest place I’ve ever been is Kenya, no question.

VMP: Where in Kenya did you go?

Bridget: Well that’s the best part about it, we went to 10 cities in Kenya and it obviously was a really long trip. It was crazy though because in less than 24 hours we went from the Maasai Mara, which is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen in my life, to Kibera which is the biggest slum in Africa and not very far from Maasai Mara. Was a weird juxtaposition between the two places being so close to one another.

VMP: Wow. How many trips do you go on each year?

Bridget: We did more when we first started, we may not do as many this year. We’ve only done 2 this year so far, and we’ll probably 2 more. Probably once a quarter, I guess. We go as often as we can.

VMP: What does the future hold for LSTN, as far as you can tell right now?

Bridget: That’s a great question. I’m really proud of everything we’ve been able to accomplish, and the more we do the more we feel like we could be doing. There are so many people left to help, and I’m excited to be able to contribute even more to that effort as we grow. From a product perspective, we’re proud of what we’ve accomplished with our headphones and I’m excited about some of the other ideas we’ve been working on as well. It’s going to be an exciting rest of the year.

You can follow Bridget and LSTN on Twitter at@bridgethiltonand@LSTN

Tyler is the co-founder of Vinyl Me Please and is the sort of person who might wander off into the woods if he’s not watched closely.

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