Today’s guest is a social entrepreneur. About 10 years ago, she took some off-the-cuff advice that said, you should build your career around three things you are passionate about. For my guest, these three things are music, charity, and the environment.
She is presently the founder of LSTN Headphones, a headphone company with a goal of giving the gift of hearing to those without. Perhaps you are one of the millions of people who have seen the commercial on YouTube: where they put headphones into a young girls ears as she can hear for the first time ever — that’s LSTN Headphones.
Every pair of headphones LSTN sells gives the gift of hearing to someone — they have been able to give that gift to over 15,000 in the U.S., Kenya, Peru, and Uganda.
Prior to founding her own company, my guest worked her way up from working at a record store, promoting concerts, and eventually landed at Universal Music Group at just 19.
Now, let’s hack …
In this 32-minute episode Bridget Hilton and I discuss:
- The importance of keeping yourself informed and reading voraciously
- How traveling can help grow and build your business
- Bridget discusses the value of self-education
- Admitting that you are wrong and taking the blame
- How music changed her life and what she wants to do with it
The Show Notes
- LSTN Website
- Bridgett on Twitter
- Jon on Twitter
- The Four Hour Work Week
- Creativity Inc.
- Girl Boss
- Smart Cuts
Building a Business Around Your Passions
Jonny Nastor: This is Rainmaker.FM, the digital marketing podcast network. It’s built on the Rainmaker Platform, which empowers you to build your own digital marketing and sales platform. Start your free 14-day trial at HacktheEntrepreneur.com/Rainmaker.
Voiceover: Welcome to the Hack the Entrepreneur, the show which reveals the fears, habits, and inner battles behind big-name entrepreneurs and those on their way to joining them. Now, here is your host, Jon Nastor.
Jonny Nastor: Welcome back, everybody, to Hack the Entrepreneur. Thank you so much for joining me today. I am the host, Jon Nastor, but you can call me Jonny.
Today’s guest is a social entrepreneur. About 10 years ago, she took some off-the-cuff advice that you should build your career around three things you’re passionate about. For my guest, these three things are music, charity, and the environment.
She’s now the founder of LSTN Headphones, a headphone company with a passion to bring hearing to those without. You’ve probably been one of the millions of people to see the commercial on YouTube where they put headphones into the young girl’s ears as you can see her for the first time being able to hear and the look on her face — that’s LSTN. Every pair of headphones LSTN sells gives the gift of hearing to someone.
They have been able to give the gift of sound to over 15,000 people now in the US, Kenya, Peru, and Uganda. Prior to founding her own company, my guest worked her way up from working at a record store, then promoting concerts and eventually landing at Universal Music Group at the age of 19.
Now, let’s hack Bridget Hilton.
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We’re back on another episode of Hack the Entrepreneur, and I want to welcome Bridget to the show. Welcome, Bridget.
Bridget Hilton: Hi, everyone.
Jonny Nastor: Thanks so much for joining me. I appreciate it. Bridget, let’s jump straight into this. Can you tell me, as an entrepreneur, what is the one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your successes so far?
The Importance of Keeping Yourself Informed and Reading Voraciously
Bridget Hilton: I think that self-education is really, really important. I know everyone reads, especially entrepreneurs. I read about a book a week, if not more, and then I read like every single magazine and blog out there about business. I think it’s super important to keep yourself informed and educated and to know about things.
I also think it’s really important to travel and experience different cultures and learn about the different people of the world and how, maybe, their buying habits are different than the ones here. In order to grow your company globally, it’s really important to travel.
Jonny Nastor: Yeah, two interesting things. You read a lot of — voraciously — business books?
Bridget Hilton: Yup.
Jonny Nastor: What’s the one that sticks out to you in the last six months or something?
Bridget Hilton: The last six months? My favorite business book of all time is The 4-Hour Workweek, but I know that most people would have probably seen that.
Jonny Nastor: All of us, yes.
Bridget Hilton: I’m not that unique. But in the last six months, I really liked Creativity, Inc. by the guy who started Pixar. It’s really good.
Jonny Nastor: Wow.
Bridget Hilton: I really like Girlboss by Sophia from Nasty Gal. It’s a great one. Smart Cuts is really good. There’s been so many good ones in the last year I can’t even tell you — just amazing books.
Jonny Nastor: Nice. And travel — besides showing you different markets, do you think maybe it teaches you resilience or dealing with the unknown or other things that might help you as you sort out how to start, build, and grow a business?
How Traveling Can Help Grow and Build Your Business
Bridget Hilton: Yeah, I think that it definitely teaches you resilience. If I can go to China alone or with one other person and figure out how to manufacture things there by ourselves, I think that we can handle a lot of things here in the US. It’s definitely a lot harder to go places and deal with the unknown, but it makes everything back here in the US a lot easier on you in my opinion.
It’s good to meet different people and see how they react to different products and different cultures, and I love it. We travel probably 50 percent of the time.
Jonny Nastor: Yeah, to me it really helps with the unknowns. I had a guest on here, and he related to being able to land in an airport that he’s never been to where there’s a language that he doesn’t speak at all. He feels totally comfortable in it, and he’s related that to business — how every day, basically, you’re doing stuff you’d probably never done before. You’re trying to just guide your way through it. The whole trick is just not freaking out and calmly going about it, right?
Bridget Hilton: I mean, “fake it before you make it” — the whole trick.
Jonny Nastor: Exactly.
Bridget Discusses the Value of Self-Education
Bridget Hilton: It was funny — I was just talking about that maybe an hour ago with one of our interns, who was asking me like, “What’s the biggest challenge and what’s the biggest benefit at the same time?” It’s definitely learning things that you have no idea how to do and just doing it and acting like you know how to do it when you really don’t.
Jonny Nastor: Yeah, nobody really knows what they’re doing. I’ve learned this now. Before you do it, you don’t know how to do anything. It’s just how it is, right?
Bridget Hilton: Exactly.
Jonny Nastor: Yeah, people can look at you and say, “Wow, you run this great business,” like, “Yeah, well a few years ago, I had never run a business.”
Bridget Hilton: Exactly, and everyone is scared, and they’re like, “I can’t do this because I’ve never done it before.” No one started doing that. I mean, everyone starts in the garage or in an apartment or whatever. Very few people are born with, “Oh, here’s a billion dollars to start a company.”
Jonny Nastor: Exactly, and if you were born with a billion dollars, you probably wouldn’t start a company.
Bridget Hilton: No, it’s too much work.
Jonny Nastor: All right, let’s go to starting. I find that there’s a time in every entrepreneur’s life when they realize one of two things. Either they have this calling to make something big and make a difference in the world, or they simply cannot work for somebody else. Bridget, can you tell me where you fit into that spectrum and when you discovered this about yourself?
How Music Changed Her Life and What She Wants to Do with It
Bridget Hilton: Sure. I agree with both points. I think that it would be really hard for me to work for someone else, especially now after I’ve spent a few years not working for someone else. I think that I’m just not really into that. My entire history of my career was all in the music business. I’ve been doing this since I was a kid. I started when I was 15 years old working at venues, and then I wrote reviews about different records for a newspaper.
Then eventually I landed at a record label, which is what I wanted to do when I was a kid. I started when I was 18 at Universal Music Group, the biggest music company in the world. It was great for a few years. I got to hang out with musicians and go to all these concerts, and it was really cool. The music industry is not a great industry. It was going downhill, and I was looking to get out a few years ago, trying to do something on my own. I didn’t really want to work for anyone else.
Around that time, I’d seen a YouTube video about a woman that was hearing for the very first time. She was around the same age as I was, and it was just a super kind of light-bulb moment. I was like, “Wow.” I can’t imagine my life without music — like what the world would be like without sound. That kind of jump-started my need to start my own thing that mattered, and I wanted to give back to people who couldn’t hear.
That was the whole reason behind starting LSTN. We sell headphones, and upcoming, we’ll sell speakers and other music products. The proceeds go to giving people hearing for the very first time.
Jonny Nastor: Wow.
Bridget Hilton: Our company started not only because we didn’t want to work for anyone else — because who wants that? — but also because we did have a higher purpose to starting a company.
Jonny Nastor: Of all the companies you could have started, a headphone company is definitely not one of the easiest ones.
Bridget Hilton: The funny thing is that I really didn’t know before starting it that there was that many. I knew about Beats and Skull Candy and Sol Republic or whatever, but I didn’t know that there were thousands of headphone companies out there.
Jonny Nastor: Yeah, and manufacturing them, getting them into stores, I guess — everything. Wow.
Bridget Hilton: It’s a lot. It’s intense. I went to CES a month ago, and walking around, you get overwhelmed with the amount of competition that you have. It’s a really intense industry. But when we started, we wanted to do headphones, first because there was all these other companies doing it, but at the same time, there was nothing that we felt really met our expectations, or maybe our fashion sense, I guess. I’m not super fashionable, but I didn’t want to wear something that was plastic in bright green or something like that.
We made them into a classic-looking product, something that would be cool in five or ten years, like a Levi’s or Ray-Ban. You can’t tell if it’s 10 years old, because it looks the same as it did 10 years ago.
Jonny Nastor: Nice.
Bridget Hilton: That’s kind of why we chose headphones. And it’s a great vehicle to give to hearing because it just relates so well, as well as speakers and everything.
Jonny Nastor: Yeah, and when did you say you started LSTN?
Bridget Hilton: We launched officially in April 2013.
Jonny Nastor: Wow.
Bridget Hilton: We’d been working on it for six months prior to that.
Jonny Nastor: April 2013. Is there anything that if you could go back now to April 2013 with what you know about the business, and about business in general, that you would do differently?
Bridget Hilton: Yeah, I definitely think I would have started earlier if I could have. That’s the number one thing. I don’t think that I should have spent so much time working for someone else because working for myself has been the best experience of my entire life. But other than that, of course there’s a ton of things that I would have done if I would have know what I know now. I wouldn’t have worked so hard on certain press outlets or certain sales accounts that might not matter.
For example, with press, we’ve been reviewed in, say, 500 outlets. We’ve been in tons and tons of press but maybe only 1 percent of that has actually mattered. I think that’s a lot of distraction. We’ve been super distracted by so many things where we could have just really focused on the top 10 electronics blogs, or whatever, and then we would have gotten the same output. If I would have know that, then we probably could have saved a lot of time and money, but you live and you learn.
Jonny Nastor: Yeah, since then, I guess you’ve read The 80/20 by Richard Koch? It kind of teaches you, I guess, that now.
Bridget Hilton: It’s so true. We can pinpoint exactly what has mattered and what hasn’t mattered.
Jonny Nastor: That 20 percent. Okay, so let’s move to work because you told me you travel almost 50 percent of the time, and you’re running a successful company. It’s got to be a hard thing to do. Today’s a workday, Bridget. Can you walk us through the first, say, 30 minutes of your morning routine to set yourself up to do what it is you need to do?
Bridget Hilton: Sure. Every single day is different, but today, I had a call with one of our sales people. We’re trying to get into a major retailer. I’m not going to name names, but it’s one of the top two in the world. So I had a call with them, and we were discussing our strategy and whatnot, and then I had a call with our lawyer, who we talk to quite a bit. It’s very important to get a good lawyer.
I came into the office, and we just moved into a new office, so we’re kind of getting it ready and getting all the new furniture and everything. We have interns that are stopping their semesters soon, so they had to do a project on the company, so I had to do some interviews with them.
Every day is different, but it’s always fun. I really like being here in LA in the office because — fortunately and unfortunately — we travel so much that me and my business partner probably don’t spend enough time here. We just got back from Europe, so now I can be here all month, so I’m pretty excited about that.
Jonny Nastor: Nice.
Bridget Hilton: I don’t have a certain routine as far as like, every day I get up and work out for however many minutes. I don’t really do that because it’s just so hard because of our schedules.
Jonny Nastor: Yeah, so do you even work a set workday, or is this just what you do now?
Bridget Hilton: This is just what I do.
Jonny Nastor: It kind of seems like that, yeah. “Okay, well it’s 5:00.”
Bridget Hilton: Yeah, there’s no set 9-5 and then, “I’m good. I’m done.” No, we work all the time. There is no stopping. But at the same time, ‘work’ could mean that we’re going to a safari in the Maasai Mara in Kenya with our charity partner. It’s not always super hard or anything. It is really always kind of work-related, most of the things that we do. I don’t mind it all. I love it. I love what we do, and it’s very fulfilling. It’s really a great experience to be an entrepreneur.
Jonny Nastor: Yeah, exactly. At the beginning you told us that you’re great at self-educating and reading and consuming information voraciously to stay on top. Can you now, Bridget, tell us something in your business that you’ve discovered since April 2013 that you’re just not good at?
Bridget Hilton: There’s a lot of things I’m not good at, but luckily I have business partners. I tend to stay on the marketing, PR, branding, product development types of things. I typically have my business partners work on the taxes and the operations and the payroll and all of those things that I personally am not very good at. I really don’t even care to be good at them. I just want to focus on how we can make our company bigger and better and more visible. They definitely take on some of the not-as-fun parts of it, so I’m grateful for them.
Jonny Nastor: How do we find these business partners that want to just do the taxes and the bookkeeping?
Bridget Hilton: The boring things.
Jonny Nastor: It’s funny because I never end up talking to them.
Bridget Hilton: I got really lucky.
Jonny Nastor: Yeah, they’re never the people that want to get on to these conversations, though. I guess because they would just talk numbers and spreadsheets, and it’d be kind of like, “Okay, I get it.”
Bridget Hilton: Yeah, that’s the less-sexy side of it, but it is definitely the most important side. You have to have both. You have to have someone who, maybe, not enjoys it, but that doesn’t mind doing that, because I would not be very good at that at all.
Jonny Nastor: Yeah. Okay, let’s move on to struggles and failures because as entrepreneurs and as human beings, one of our greatest struggles always is the fear of being wrong and failing. As you’re launching a business and figuring this whole thing out, I’m sure you make decisions to do things as a business that end up not being absolutely correct.
Could you, Bridget, tell us how to be wrong?
Admitting That You Are Wrong and Taking the Blame
Bridget Hilton: I’ve certainly been wrong a lot. I don’t know how to be wrong. I guess it is hard to fess up and say, “I was wrong,” you know? “This is my fault.” It’s especially hard when you’re in a small company because everything that you do affects the other people in it. I don’t know how to be wrong. I can give you an example of when I was wrong.
Jonny Nastor: Yeah, let’s see that.
Bridget Hilton: We did a television show back in November, and we had to give away product to the audience. You would think that because it’s one of the biggest TV shows in the US, that we would get some traffic or something from that, but no. We got nothing. We gave away a ton of product for no traffic to our website, and really, we got nothing out of it. I was the one that was like, “Let’s do this.”
I had to come back to our team and be like, “You know what? I made a mistake. We shouldn’t have done that. We wasted a lot of money. We could have done a lot of better things.” I think as long as you fess up to it, you don’t place blame on anyone else — you can’t say like, “My employee did that,” and if your employees are doing something wrong, then it’s probably you — I think that’s a good way to be wrong.
Jonny Nastor: Exactly.
Bridget Hilton: It’s just that you make sure that you’re honest about it, honest with yourself and with your employees and with your team, and they’ll respect that and they’ll respect it more than saying, “It was your fault.”
Jonny Nastor: Yeah, because you’re right — even if your employee does something, it is probably ultimately your fault, because you probably sent them in that direction.
Bridget Hilton: Right.
Jonny Nastor: Did you sit down, ever — or maybe you didn’t sit down, maybe you were on a plane — and figure out why you didn’t sell anything from a giant TV show?
Bridget Hilton: I honestly think that in the press — this is something that we’re so on top of usually — there’s only few things that matter. There’s a lot of big names out there. If you’re in the New York Times, or if you’re in whatever, then it must mean that you’re a huge company. But that’s not true because if you’re in these niche sites, if you cater directly to your audience, it’s going to go a lot farther than if you cater to a general audience.
This was a daytime show that was definitely not our target market, but I thought “Oh, there’s probably some people out there that care.” There’s so much stuff on TV at all times — constant advertisements, constant ads on the Web and TV and billboards and whatnot. There’s so much noise out there that your time is better suited for catering to your niche rather than the general public, I think. That’s kind of what we learned there.
Jonny Nastor: Yeah. People like to say that that’s probably the case, that you should obviously target your specific audience, but you would think you have this massive platform to go. Obviously some people are going to like it, but it turns out that’s not the case. You have stats to prove it.
Bridget Hilton: Right, exactly. I have so many stats. We’ll have giant celebrities tweet about us, for example. I’m not even kidding — it won’t even get five hits to the website. But if we’re on some random, weird site that we’ve never heard of, we’ll get thousands of hits. It’s really random, and you have to figure out what it is.
I think the public is definitely smarter, and they know when they’re being marketed to, and social media is so busy. So you can’t really rely on celebrity or TV.
Jonny Nastor: Yeah, and I love that. The Internet to me is the great equalizer because this giant celebrity with millions of followers tweets out, and you get like five people. Something you’ve never heard of sends thousands of people.
Bridget Hilton: It happens all the time to us.
Jonny Nastor: That’s amazing. I know, that’s amazing, isn’t it? I love that.
Bridget Hilton: It’s crazy. It’s really sad, because then we get excited: “This person’s going to talk about it!” Then nothing happens.
Jonny Nastor: Yeah, like I was saying before, my daughter, who’s 10, knows who you guys are. She’s like, “Dad, listen. I see them on YouTube. I see their ad all the time.” I was like, “Wow. That’s amazing.” Because you’re right. You’re not Beats, you’re not Skull Candy — these massive companies with literally billions of dollars behind them. You said you’ve had how many views on YouTube?
Bridget Hilton: Oh yeah, we have like almost 27 million views on YouTube.
Jonny Nastor: That’s awesome.
Bridget Hilton: It’s pretty crazy.
Jonny Nastor: It’s so good. I love it. Okay, before we wrap up, I need to go into projects with you. ‘Projects’ can be a loose term — you said you wanted to get into other products as in speakers and such, too. Where LSTN is at this point, how would you guys go about deciding what is a new project or something you guys should take on in your business and go all in on, say, like that speaker?
Bridget Hilton: I think with speakers it’s a pretty logical expansion of our brand, but we also are being smarter about it now rather than saying like, “We’ll just do this, and then like maybe it’ll sell, who knows?” That’s kind of what we did at the beginning, and it wasn’t very smart, but luckily it ended up working out. With the speakers, we met with Nordstrom, we met with Brookstone, and all of our big retailers. We said, “Hey, this is what we’re thinking about doing. What do you guys need?”
We know that we can sell a lot online on our side because we have incredible fans of our brand that will purchase our products because they feel like they’re a part of what we’re doing. They’re part of something that’s bigger than just a headphone company. We know that we sell a minimal amount on our site. Then, to get into these massive accounts, we kind of have to cater to them a little bit and say, “Okay, if we make this, are you going to buy or not?”
Basically, if they say yes, then at least we know that we’re not making something just for the site. We’re making something for all the big stores, which is really becoming increasingly important for us. Because, say, Brookstone in an airport — it’s in like every airport in the US. For us to have a presence there is really important.
Jonny Nastor: Yeah, I would think so, and having those raving fans is also amazing.
Bridget Hilton: Yeah. We have really incredible people that like our brand. We got super lucky with our customers.
Jonny Nastor: Or not lucky — you’re the one in charge of branding. You can take it. Take the credit — it’s okay.
Bridget Hilton: We’re very humble.
Jonny Nastor: Yeah, and that’s good. Bridget, it’s awesome to watch what you guys are doing and we’ve gotten to talk about your company in passing, but can you specifically tell the listeners where they can go to find out more about you and your company?
Bridget Hilton: Sure. Our website is LSTNheadphones.com. We sell there, and we also sell in a lot of locations around the country and internationally.
Jonny Nastor: Excellent. Is your mission still to change the world through the power of music?
Bridget Hilton: It definitely is. That’s where we started, and that’s where we keep going. So far, we’ve been able to help over 20,000 people hear for the very first time.
Jonny Nastor: That’s amazing.
Bridget Hilton: It’s been a crazy experience and a great experience. We’ve been all over the world, and we’re just excited.
Jonny Nastor: Yeah, that’s a beautiful and amazing mission to have. And 20,000 people — I would say you’ve succeeded at this point. For those 20,000, that’s amazing, and I think you’re just getting going.
Thank you so much for taking the time to stop by and chat, and I will link to your site on the show notes for everyone so that it’s easy for them to find. Keep doing what you’re doing, Bridget, because it’s great to watch, and you’re helping a lot of people.
Bridget Hilton: Great. Thank you so much for having me on. I really appreciate it.
Jonny Nastor: My pleasure. Bridget, thank you so much for joining me today and for what you’re doing. You’re pouring your heart and soul and life into not just a business, but a social entrepreneurial endeavor to help other people. You’ve given the gift of sound to over 15,000 people now, and that’s amazing. If you’re out there listening and you in any way want to help people get this gift of sound and be able to enjoy music and be able to enjoy podcasts the way we can and get the benefit out of both of those things, LSTN Headphones is the place to do it.
Check it out. Every pair that gets bought, they literally give one person the gift of sound. That is amazing. If you need a pair for a gift for somebody or for yourself, check it out. These are amazing headphones with amazing reviews, and they do such just amazing things for people. I’m blown away by Bridget. I’m blown away by her company, and I truly, honestly think that it’s something that very much needs to be supported.
Bridget has a mission of changing the world through the power of music, and she’s self-educated through reading business books voraciously, and she’s doing amazing things. She said a lot of smart things. She said a lot of things that made me like, “Wow,” — stop and think — just powerful stuff.
Bridget said one thing. Didn’t she? She did. She said one thing. Did you get it? Did you hear it? Let’s do it. Let’s find the hack.
Bridget Hilton: I would have started earlier if I could have. That’s the number one thing. I don’t think that I should have spent so much time working for someone else because working for myself has been the best experience of my entire life.
Jonny Nastor: That’s the hack. Yes, Bridget, working for myself has been the best experience of my life as well. And this might be an obvious hack. Maybe that’s what it is. You know that I like to not pick the obvious ones, sometimes, but this one’s too much and it’s too powerful. It is echoed amongst so many people that have finally stepped up and taken the chances, taken whatever it is — the hard work to create your own business.
Once you do that, and a couple of years in and it is successful, the biggest regret is always looking back and saying, “Why did it take me so long to start?” That’s why I focus so much energy and time of replying to emails, talking to people on Twitter, Facebook, in Facebook groups. I focus on trying to get people unstuck because it’s that being stuck that stops you from starting.
I know that once you finally get unstuck and you start and you stick with it long enough, big amazing things will happen for you, and then you will look back and say, “Jon, why didn’t I start sooner?” Just like Bridget said, just like I say — it’s epic. It’s a big thing to get over and to know that you’re in that situation and you’re stuck, I know it’s hard looking forward when you don’t know where to go. You don’t know what to do next.
It’s even harder and even worse once you have taken those steps and you look back and think of the years and the months that you’ve wasted not starting. Bridget, thank you so much. That is one of my favorite hacks I’ve had yet. Thank you.
All right everybody, it’s been a lot of fun. I am still giving away 10 Seth Godin books: It’s Your Turn. It works well with this, actually. It is your turn. The Internet gives you that power. It’s time for you to step up and do it.
This is a book that will inspire you to do just that. I’m giving away two copies every week via my newsletter that comes out Sunday afternoon — two copies every week for the next five weeks. Get on that email list, and I’m going to randomly pick two people, and you will get a book delivered straight your door, autographed by me, Jonny. What more could you ask for? Get on the email list.
You’ll see the email opt-in at the top with my face beside it. Put it in there, or go to HacktheEntrepreneur.com/Seth if you want a particular page just for it. I would love to hear it. The newsletter is the best writing I do every week. I work really hard at it. I really enjoy it, and I love the feedback that I’m getting. Again, thank you so much. It’s awesome that you join me. It’s awesome that you are out there, and I’m so happy to have this connection with you.
Again, once you get on that email list, hit ‘reply’ to even the welcome email. It comes straight to my phone, straight to my laptop. I’d love to hear from you. I’d love to hear where you are and what you’re up to and what I can possibly help you with.
It’s been fun. I thank you again, because there’s a lot of options, and it’s great that you stop by for a half hour. Until next time, please keep hacking the entrepreneur.