Creating social change through the power of sound.

Bridget Hilton is founder of LSTN Sound, an eight-figure social impact business that creates social change through the power of sound through the purchase of audio products via their website and retailers like Nordstrom and Whole Foods. Since its founding in 2012, LSTN has funded 20 missions to help more than 50,000 people around the world receive hearing aids through their partnership with the Starkey Hearing Foundation. 

"Being naive was the best thing ever."

Briget HiltonFounder, LSTN

Transcription

Welcome to Building While Flying, a Sasha Group podcast where we interview business leaders about how they tackle challenges, stay resilient and navigate ever changing skies. 

[00:00:12] Mickey: Bridget, thank you so much for joining us on Building While Flying today. 

[00:00:16] Bridget: Thank you for having me. 

[00:00:18] Mickey: Of course, Bridget Hilton is founder of LSTN Sound, an eight figure social impact business that creates social change through the power of sound through 

the purchase of audio products via their website.

And retailers like Nordstrom and Whole Foods and Barneys LSTN, has funded 20 missions to help more than 50,000 people around the world receive hearing aids through the partnership with the Starkey Hearing Foundation. So, Bridget, I wanna get into the social impact side of the business in a bit, but let’s maybe start with what got you into kinda the music and electronics business in the first.

[00:00:47] Bridget: Sure. So I’ll go all the way back. I was born in Flint, Michigan to a very blue collar family in the auto industry and. Early on, I had a lot of negative experiences in my life, like divorce and drug addiction and jail and depression and all kinds of things that like, you know, no one would wish any, anyone else to have.

But I actually fell in love with music early on as a way to escape all of that and like dream. And think of my life could be bigger and better than that and it would be, you know, a ticket out to like a better future. But I obviously had no connections or money or anything like that to like, get out of that and like move to Hollywood or anything like that.

But yeah, my passion for music led me to doing a lot of these really, you know, lower end jobs, like picking up trash at concert venues, or, getting coffee for people at radio stations or selling band t-shirts, on the road out of vans and stuff like that. But eventually I got a real job, well, quote unquote, a real job in the mail room at a record label in Detroit.

And During that time I was like, you know, sleeping on couches and sometimes in my car, but it was like really, truly the best thing that ever happened to me because it led me to 10 years in the music industry in Hollywood. I moved to Los Angeles in 2007. And you know, worked with a ton of different people, like everyone from you know, Kanye to Taylor, to, oh my gosh, you know, the weekend and Rihanna and like all these amazing superstars.

And it was it was like everything that I ever dreamed of, it was incredible. 

[00:02:27] Mickey: Well chalk that up to another Entertainment career started by a mail room. I feel like that’s such a cliche, but in this case, like it sounds very authentic and very, like the ticket that you wanted to take for the ride you wanted.

Oh, absolutely. 

[00:02:41] Bridget: Like I’ll never, it was amazing. I couldn’t even believe that. I was like, and I was getting paid I think maybe 20 grand a year, like Right, 

[00:02:49] Mickey: right. Yep. But the mail room, you work your way out. You get 10 years in the music industry. And so you know, careers. And I feel like that’s such a classic entertainment.

Totally. Like how to break into the entertainment industry. . Yeah. 

[00:03:02] Bridget: There’s actually a book called The Mail Room that is about like William Morris and like what the people. People that have gone through that, but it’s very fun. But

[00:03:13] Mickey: was there a specific moment when you knew you kind of wanted to go from being an employee at a, at a major music label to being an entrepreneur that was gonna build a consumer electronics business? Like how did that shift happen? 

[00:03:26] Bridget: Sure. So absolutely. There was this moment that I was actually at work and I was just, you know, browsing YouTube as employees do

And there was a a video that I saw of a 29 year old woman named Sloan hearing for the first time. It was a super viral video. You might have seen it, it was like all over, like Ellen and whatnot. But yeah, I think I was 26 at the time, so it very deeply resonated with me. Just thinking about how important music was in my life and like what my life would look like without being in music, and I didn’t even wanna think about that.

So, , it super motivated me, gave me an idea to, when I saw it, I thought I wanna do that for other people. And I thought at the time maybe I could do it for one person. That would be incredible. But it ended up inspiring me to start LSTN. So we sell. Headphones and speakers and audio equipment and we give proceeds to our non-profit partner called Starkey Hearing Foundation.

Yep. I started the company with my co-founder, Joe Huff. And since we saw that video, we’ve been able to give over 50,000 people hearing around the world. So it’s been, that’s The most amazing experience of my life by far. I’m super, super grateful to have had that experience and that started in 2012.

So we, okay. We’re actually celebrating our 10th anniversary this year. 

[00:04:48] Mickey: That’s amazing. It’s crazy. So when you think back on kind of the earliest days of, okay, I watch a viral video and I’m like, I want to provide that for people and I’m gonna do that by creating my own, speaker and headphone and consumer electronic brand.

  1. Having not had experience necessarily, like in the building consumer. Yeah. Zero experience in consumer electronics. How important was it to kind of know your why, like from the beginning of that process? 

[00:05:15] Bridget: I mean, the why is the only thing, you know, why we’re here in the first place and like why we’re still in existence.

I obviously love, you know, our products and I. love d designing them and listening to them, but that’s not even, I would never do that without the cause, the cause was the whole purpose behind the business. And, you know, I was looking at it as a way to fulfill my own purpose is, was to help other people, have this experience of.

Of hearing music for the first time or hearing, you know, someone that they know say, I love you for the first time. Yeah, like that drove everything. And honestly, if I would’ve known how. Difficult, like being naive was the best thing ever. . Yep. If I would’ve went to CES for example, like 2012, like that would’ve, it would’ve never happened.

Yeah. 

[00:06:09] Mickey: You, I can’t do this. 

[00:06:12] Bridget: Yeah, I mean, there’s literally thousands of brands out there, and then the biggest ones of course are Apple, Sony, like Amazon, like the biggest companies in the world. And we’re like, oh yeah, we’re gonna try to compete with you with this. I cashed out my like, 401k from Universal and it was $5,000

[00:06:33] Mickey: There we go. I 

[00:06:33] Bridget: don’t even know what I was thinking, like I’m gonna compete with Apple with 5,000. Okay, 

[00:06:38] Mickey: here you are, 10 years later here we’re, it’s amazing. Well, so I wanna, I actually wanna go revisit some of those. Cuz I think what’s amazing about your story is a lot of people get inspired every day.

We see viral videos, we see, you know, something that comes across the news or just a something. We’re like, wow, wouldn’t that be awesome? But you actually took actions and took steps and built the business around it. And I wanna. Dive into that naivete that you kind of mentioned and not having experience in consumer electronics, and then getting into it, I guess how I wanna really know like the basics of like, how did you find suppliers?

How did you determine pricing? How did you think about building the brand? Like what are some of those earliest learnings that around just like, all right, this is a business model. How am I gonna, how am I gonna create the products? How am I gonna design them? How am I. Market them. What were some of those things that maybe you experienced within music at Universal helped you with, but then maybe what are those things you had to learn on the job?

[00:07:33] Bridget: Sure. So I think as far as sourcing goes it was during the very beginning of Alibaba and , honestly, we just. Kind of lucky, like we met an agent over there and they’re still with LSTN to this day, 10 years later. Amazing. And that’s very rare to meet someone overseas that can stay with you for that long.

But That really helped us. We basically, Joe and I like met and I’m not even kidding, maybe two weeks after we met, we high fived and didn’t have any business plan or anything and flew to China and just started meeting with factories. . That’s amazing. I had never been to Asia before, so I was like, 

[00:08:12] Mickey: dot let’s get on a plane and let’s go.

Yeah. 

[00:08:14] Bridget: Yeah. Like I had no idea what I was doing, but I was also. Just so motivated, to just get out and do my own thing to travel to help people. So when we first started, and we still do have some of these products, but when we first started it was very important to us to design the product in a way that would get people talking because obviously we didn’t have any money Yeah.

To advertise or do anything like that. Yeah. So we created our products all. Wood. So we had wooden headphones and wood and earbuds, and that’s all we had at the beginning. Because say you’re in an airport or something and someone will stop you and they’ll be like, oh, your headphones are really cool.

And then you’ll say, yeah, but that’s not even the best part. They also give somebody hearing. Yeah. And so, I wouldn’t say that to you if your headphones were just black plastic, right? , like there would be no opportunity, there would be no opportunity to learn about the cause. So we needed that viral thing that would help people talk about it on behalf of us because we didn’t have money to advertises.

But that’s 

[00:09:21] Mickey: a great, that’s a. Insight there around how do you design the product or even the product experience to get to kind of the thing you want to have happen. Right. Which is that door to open to say, but that’s not even the coolest thing about it. The coolest thing about it is that exactly you know, they help people here for the first time.

[00:09:39] Bridget: Yeah. And a lot of people just liked it because they were wood and I think that’s great and they’re beautiful, but the purpose was, You know, giving, hearing, and having like a sustainable product was great too. But the number one purpose was always hearing, so it really helped us get a lot of early pr.

We had a lot of early celebrity support and we never spent a dime on things like that until, you know, maybe five years in or. . 

[00:10:09] Mickey: That’s awesome. That’s awesome. I wanna talk a little bit about what you brought up already around competing with the biggest players in the world between Apple and Amazon and Sony and Boze but then you’ve also got up and coming brands.

You’ve got brands with celebrity musicians behind them, like . How often do you think about who you’re competing against? Or do you think about them at. 

[00:10:28] Bridget: Well, I think to say that we compete against them is like, . It’s not really true. Like we, I can’t really say that Apple is our competitor in a way because it’s the biggest company in the world.

You know, it’s like we’re just, we’re a very small competitor, but the way that we do compete is, We are very authentic and our stories real, and we never, we didn’t come from money. We didn’t come from celebrity or anything like that. We came from like the heart. So, yep. There’s a lot of other companies that we’ve worked with such as Google or Delta Airlines or Spotify, that.

Saw the authenticity that we brought and partnered with us and we used their platforms to grow. Like for example, we did a commercial with Google and this was quite a while ago now, but it was their most viral video they’ve ever made, like to advertise. And we were in the commercial and talking about what we do and I think it has 70 million views or something.

Yeah, so we’re not really competing with Apple at that point, but we are using other companies that aren’t as big as them to leverage our brand. 

[00:11:40] Mickey: I noticed some of those when I was checking out the companies, some of those bigger name partnerships that you’ve done over the years and you say all of those came from that initial wave of PR and the authentic story, that is the thread between everything that you guys.

[00:11:54] Bridget: Absolutely. I mean that definitely came from the beginning, but also, you know, like the Delta Airlines partnership for example we’ve made millions of headphones for them that were on the first class cabins for three years. And that was truly just through a lot of hard work and a lot you know, thoughts and prayers.

Yeah. And we were literally up against Bose to get that contract, and we’re, we had maybe four or five people in our office at the time, And we’re up against this multi-billion dollar company, so we really had to rely. the product, but also the cause behind it and the difference that, say somebody sits down in their chair and then they read a story about what this product does versus a product that they’ve seen a million times.

Yep. So it’s been, I’m not gonna lie and say it’s easy to do things like that. It’s very difficult, but it’s always been worth it at the end of the day. 

[00:12:50] Mickey: that makes me wonder about, cuz obviously that was a, maybe some sort of RFP or you found out about the fact that they were gonna be partnering with a company to provide those first class headphones and things like that.

And that’s such an awesome kind of B2B play. But what’s kind of the revenue breakdown between channels, right? So between like sales from direct to consumer versus through your retail partners versus through kind Those corporate programs versus gifting. 

[00:13:14] Bridget: Yeah, absolutely. It’s funny, we’ve really pulled out of basically all retail retail’s a very difficult space as you know. It’s dominated by people that pay money to be there. You know, if you go into a Target or Best Buy, those spots are paid for. So we don’t really compete in that space anymore.

We did at first because we were looking for these niche places. Like we were the first electronics ever in Whole Foods, for example. Yep. And then we were one of the only ones in, you know, a Nordstrom. We’re the only ones in Barney’s. We’re the only ones in a Birch box, for example. Yep. So we’re, we were looking for these places that BS and Sony and Apple weren’t.

But now it’s even harder. So right now our revenue breakdown, like we really do a ton of gifting. We do a ton of corporate partnerships, and then we do D to C. And I would say that’s the only , that’s the only three things 

[00:14:08] Mickey: that we do. Got it. Got it. And so is it led by corporate partnerships and gifting and then D to C is the.

[00:14:14] Bridget: Yep. it’s, it’s like kind of like split in thirds, I would say. Got it. Yeah. 

[00:14:18] Mickey: Yeah. Awesome. So maybe let’s dive into social good side of this. And you’ve brought it up almost every answer. And so it’s clear that that is the, north star of the company is how to support Starkey Hearing Foundation and giving the gift of hearing to people.

So how did you find them as a non-profit partner and what attracted you to them and what was it about, LSTN, that stood out 

[00:14:38] Bridget: so we, I initially started the company funding a different charity that was very small and they’re a great company, but they are only based in one tiny part of the world.

Yeah. So the thing about Starkey that really attracted me is that they work all over the world, like in almost every. country So hearing is something that affects everyone. It’s not just in one tiny part of the world. Obviously it’s the number one disability in the world. So looking at them, I was like, they’re the best in the business.

They have the best scores on every charity Navigator, whatever you’re looking at. Yep. But the best part about them is honestly, their founders are just, , some of the greatest people I’ve ever met in my life. They have a for-profit hearing aid company. Gotcha.

And they started it to. Give hearing aids to people like, if that makes sense. If somebody would write them in, this is like pre-internet days, , someone like wrote them a letter and said, I need hearing aids, but I can’t afford to buy them. Can you help me? They would always give those people that gift.

And so they’re kind of the OG social entrepreneurs in a way. Yeah. I mean, bill Austin, the founder and ceo, he’s. . He’s probably around 80. I’m probably butchering this, but he’s, you know, oh my God, he’s amazing. Like the first time that I met him, I remember we were in Peru and we were on this long mission, like two weeks in Peru.

We had 10,000 patients and. I was maybe 27 and he and he was just running laps around me all night long, all day, all night, just helping people. That’s his sole focus in life. And I’m just so inspired by them. They’ve been the most incredible partner I could possibly imagine. And they’ve truly changed my life forever.

[00:16:26] Mickey: So. Did you seek them out? How did you end up getting connected with them? 

[00:16:30] Bridget: Yeah, so I actually, when we were working with the smaller company, this is like very early on, like in 20 of our customers said, oh, you should work with Starkey instead. I know their executive director, I’ll introduce you.

So it was a totally random person that reached out to us on our website that had bought headphones. Yeah, that did this ripple effect and now we’re, you know, been partners with them for 10 years. So you just really never know like, who’s going to inspire you or who’s gonna connect you to the right person.

And 

[00:17:00] Mickey: That’s awesome. How does the partnership work? Are you guys providing them, I know you mentioned they’ve got a for-profit business on the hearing aid side. Are you providing learnings. From your consumer electronic business to them, are they providing learnings to you?

What is the nature of the relationship. 

[00:17:13] Bridget: Sure. So we look at our sales every quarter or so, and look at how much we sold and how much we can give to them. And basically we fund trips. So we’ve funded trips to, you know, Peru, Rwanda, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Sri Lanka, China, like all over the world.

Yeah. And we kind of look at their schedule and see like where we can fit. And we really do get in on the ground with them. There’s no difference between us and them when we’re there. But they do so, so much on the setting up part, which is just incredible. So yeah, we kind of get to come in and you know, do the work on the ground.

Yeah. After they’ve already set it up. So , I’ve done all the 

[00:17:59] Mickey: logistics. Yeah. So do you, is. Always you and your co-founder who goes, is it folks from the team? How do you kind of fulfill who gets to go on those 

[00:18:09] Bridget: trips? Yeah, so we haven’t gone unfortunately since Covid because they kind of shut down for a couple years.

But everything’s. Coming back right now, but yeah, usually it’s me and Joe and then whoever we can bring, like we can’t always bring, you know, everyone. It depends on cause we’re paying for it as well. We’re paying for everybody to go and it’s never a cheap thing. But yeah, we’ve brought our team many times and.

It’s pretty much the best job ever. . Do 

[00:18:42] Mickey: you have a favorite story from a trip or from a visit or from someone on your team? You kind of saw the impact on them? 

[00:18:48] Bridget: Oof. I mean so many times, but I’d say like my favorite. moment was still the first moment. You know, it’s like I had this dream of doing this and I thought if I could just do this for one person, then I would feel so good and I would love to do that for someone.

And we had this dream and we’re selling products and doing all that, but then the first time on the ground, like me and Joe helped this girl who was named Maria and it was her 18th birthday, she’d never heard before. And her parents had traveled with her for like two days through Peru and they were like, this is what we want to give her for her 18th birthday.

Yeah. This is the first person we’ve met. Wow. . And we were like, we don’t really know what we’re doing, but we’re gonna try and literally within 10 seconds, she was hearing and everyone’s crying I’m crying, Joe is crying and that. It was just suddenly like, my whole life I’ve been working up to this moment.

And it was so rewarding. And I think that’s still my favorite moment. But there’s been, I mean, literally 50,000 people that we’ve 50,000 those moments been on the ground with. So there’s a lot. 50,000 

[00:20:02] Mickey: people that you’ve physically been on the ground with. Yeah. That’s amazing. Wow. Yeah. So it’s not just you guys writing a check and getting a report back that you’ve impacted 50,000 people.

That’s you and someone on your team meeting 50,000 people over the past 10 years. 

[00:20:17] Bridget: Yeah. I mean, checks are cool, but yeah, the experience of doing it that’s what’s the best. 

[00:20:23] Mickey: That’s amazing. So as you guys are Coming out of Covid, so maybe we’ll be able to start doing those trips again. And, you know, You mentioned you had tested out kind of some niche retail what’s the roadmap for growth look like for you guys? What are some of the opportunities that are coming up?

[00:20:35] Bridget: Were really focused on just growing the, actually like the corporate partnership part of it, but, I will say right now my main focus is not LSTN actually so during Covid I was actually going through a really terrible time.

I, you know, obviously, Billions of people were . But I had this like really bad separation of this person that I was with for a really long time. And basically my life just kind of dissipated overnight. Like I had to move outta my house. I got separated. I like lost, you know, who I thought was my family and my home and Yep.

And then Snarky wasn’t doing missions right? So it’s like the main part of my business was gone, basically the part that I loved. So, right. I got super depressed and it was really the scariest time of my life. I had a terrible relationship with myself and like at that time I looked back on my life and I was like, what was the most impactful, important things that I’ve done?

And that was truly like just my experiences. Like I didn’t care about money, I didn’t care about status, or, you know, whatever. Anything like. So during that time we kind of made a pivot where, we’re obviously still running LSTN, and we have, employees doing the bulk of it. But Joe and I are currently doing keynote speaking and writing a book about Oh, nice.

Value of life experiences. Yeah. So that’s kind of our main 

thing. 

[00:22:09] Mickey: That’s awesome. you’ve built the business to be able to operate without you, you know, being hands involved in all of it all the time. Right. And I’m sure it took years to get to that point.

And now you’re able to start a new chapter while still being involved, with the trips, hopefully as those get going back and you’re using kind of absolutely that time of reflection to find the new opportunity. 

[00:22:29] Bridget: Absolutely. And it’s very similar to LSTN in a way that it all started with purpose yep. Like I believe that my purpose now is help other people have these incredible life experiences because Yeah, most people, Push their personal goals off to you know, this fictional, someday someday doesn’t really exist.

It’s ah, I’m gonna travel the world someday. It’s it’s a day on a calendar. That’s exactly what we say. That’s so funny. Is not a, the, that’s the the title of my talk is Make Someday Today. Yeah. And then we have a slide in there that. Some days, not a day in the calendar. I 

[00:23:09] Mickey: work in marketing for a reason, Bridget

I love it. Awesome. Well, we’ll wrap up with the final question. We ask everyone, which is you’ve had a lot of experience, Building, While, Flying and you probably understand that it’s important to keep calm under pressure. So when. Backs against the wall and you’re faced with a tough decision for your business.

What’s that kind of internal pilot checklist that you go through or process that kinda helps you get through it? 

[00:23:33] Bridget: I think for me, and you know, just being an entrepreneur in general it’s a very lonely thing, or it can be, so for me, When I’m under pressure faced with a decision, I always reach out to my network and I like my close personal friends.

It’s very important to have people in your life that will give you. Real true, honest feedback. Yeah. And not bs you . Yep. I, you know, I’m very lucky. I have an incredible business partner and so I can always count on him to give real feedback. But I do have also a group of friends that I reach out to and kind of Yep.

You know, survey them and say, is this what I should do or is this what I should? A lot of times they tell me the truth, so, and tell me the right thing to do. So there you go. I think that’s probably yeah, my 

[00:24:21] Mickey: answer. Awesome. Awesome. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for sharing your story on both LSTN and the new venture and it’s great to hear about the impact you’ve been able to make.

[00:24:31] Bridget: Thank you so much. I appreciate you having me on.

Thanks for joining us for Building While Flying today. I hope you learned as much as we did. We’ll meet you right back here next time for another flight.

Welcome to Building While Flying!

This weekly podcast is brought to you by Sasha Group. We’re the consultancy meets agency arm of the VaynerX family of companies. We help ambitious companies build strong brands that flex with the times through strategy, branding media and marketing.

In ever-changing times, businesses and brands have to shift and adapt. And across all sectors, there is an air of experimentation. Business owners are trying new things out in the wild;  building the plane while flying.

Our pilots, Katie Hankinson, Mickey Cloud, Maribel Lara, and Joe Quattrone will be talking to a diverse range of business leaders and founders. They’ll explore how these guests tackle various challenges while staying resilient and committed to growth. Through these real-life examples of strategies put into practice, we hope to inspire you to experiment and develop your own strategies as we all navigate these uncertain times together.

From mailroom to founder.

Bridget Hilton is founder of LSTN Sound, an eight-figure social impact business that creates social change through the power of sound through the purchase of audio products via their website and retailers like Nordstrom and Whole Foods. Since its founding in 2012, LSTN has funded 20 missions to help more than 50,000 people around the world receive hearing aids through their partnership with the Starkey Hearing Foundation. 

In her conversation with Mickey Cloud, Bridget shares her journey from the mailroom at a record label to finding her purpose and founding LSTN with her co-founder. Throughout the episode, she emphasizes the cause behind her business and why she chose to pursue this path: her desire to help people hear music. Building a cause-based business isn’t an easy path, and Bridget shares important lessons she’s learned along the way.

In-flight topics:

  • Breaking into the entertainment industry 
  • Building a cause-based business
  • Choosing DTC and partnerships over retail
  • Selecting the right non-profit partner
  • Having a strong support system
  • …and more!
Connect with Bridget Hilton:

LSTN Website: https://lstnsound.com/ 

LSTN on Twitter: https://twitter.com/LSTN 

LSTN on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/lstnsound/ 

Bridget on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bridgetlhilton/ 

Bridget on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/bridgethilton/ 

New York, NY
Chattanooga, TN
Los Angeles, CA