Interview: Monster's Noel Lee & SOL Republic's Kevin Lee Talk Beats By Dre Success & the Future of Sound

Interview: Monster's Noel Lee & SOL Republic's Kevin Lee Talk Beats By Dre Success & the Future of Sound

Monster vs. SOL Republic?

SOL Republic's been gaining a ton of attention lately. I'm sure everyone wants to know: What's your view on Kevin's headphone line?

Noel: I’m really impressed with what Kevin’s done.

Kevin: That’s a big thing for me. When he gives me kudos, that’s like the fourth time he’s given me a pat on the back in my life. The third time was “good job on Beats.” So that was a big deal. I was like “my dad likes the headphones.”

How hard was it telling your father you wanted to move forward with your entrepreneurial aspirations?

Kevin: I think there were multiple reasons for me to do it, but from a business/strategy/marketing reason, it was to go to the rest of the music youth that wasn’t necessarily educated on sound like we did with our first product line. LRG was like my learning ground on that, about authenticity and being the brand. At first, I said, “we need to create a new company and brand” that stood for exactly just music headphones, as opposed to all the things Monster does. So that was the easy part, and me always wanting to expand my abilities, it just seemed natural to say, “OK, I helped you build a company. Now I have to learn the accountability to run my own company.” And my dad offered to help, financially. I said, “I’m not saying I don’t want your help, but I want to figure out how to do it without your help.” He said, “Good, you’re on your own.”

 
My dad offered to help, financially. I said, “I’m not saying I don’t want your help, but I want to figure out how to do it without your help.” He said, “Good, you’re on your own.—Kevin
 

Well, Noel, what was your initial reaction?

Noel: I asked myself: What is a father to do for his son who wants to be in business? Well, you could bankroll it and do several things. But that’s not a learning process because you won’t feel like you accomplished it on your own. You can’t really call it your own unless you do it on your own. Kevin's been working with the company for years. But he was always protected. If he did something wrong, there was a net. He really had to fly without a net. If he was going to start his own company, I aint gonna catch you. If you succeed, you did it on your own, and if you fail, you’re on your own. So the initial conversations were if he was going to create something on his own, it’s important for him to know he did it himself. In terms of what I could do to make him a success: you gotta find your own money. You can’t go to a bank because you have no collateral. So you got to find investors. And you have to know accountability when dealing with investors. He’s going to be up your butt telling you how to spend money, and it’s not going to be daddy telling you. He never had that pressure when he worked for me.

That’s such a ethical and disciplined viewpoint. Kevin obviously played a huge part in the brand’s success, especially with the Beats By Dre project. We’re you sad to see him go?

Noel: Yeah, of course. It’s like you’re sad to leave your kid leave the house.

We know at the end of the day it’s all in the family. But level with us: Do you view your son as the competition?

Noel: Well, any headphone is competition. And when you look at what Kevin’s accomplishing, there’s always going to be a competitor. If not Kevin, it’s going to be somebody else. I rather it be Kevin than somebody else.

The both of you have products that are prized as unique and stylish. Touch on the innovative aspects and hardships of building a product from the ground up.

Noel: Nobody ever saw headphones as fashion. So we pioneered the concept that it can be fashionable. If you can’t do it differently or better, there’s no sense in doing it. There are leaders and there are followers. And some of the followers are copiers: counterfeit. So there’s hundreds of people out there, thousands doing that. If I make a headphone, I just got to China and there are a thousand manufacturers. It’s easy to pick one from the crowd and say, “you know what, modify the color on this one,” and that’ll be my headphone. And there are hundreds of companies that go out there and do that. Doing a headphone from scratch and being innovative, doing something that no one else has ever done, both in sound and innovation, is really hard.

Kevin: I felt comfortable starting my own business knowing the DNA I got from my father around innovation. My dad really did innovate what you could get out of a speaker and video cable. He did innovate on what you can get out of a power strip. Did innovate on what you could get out of cleaning products for your TV and laptops. And when we did headphones, we didn’t know for sure that we would get a headphone that looked or sound that good. But it was a part of our DNA to figure it out. And it took us a while to figure it out.

 
Nobody ever saw headphones as fashion. We pioneered the concept that they can be fashionable.—Noel
 

In the public eye, you’re viewed as the Head Monster. Then they’ve dubbed Kevin the “Little Monster”. Seeing how you’ve just launched a new headphone company, consumers might be mislead into thinking SOL is a subsidiary of your father’s company. Does it bother you that some people might view SOL differently because of your family ties?

Kevin: It doesn’t get to me. I don’t know if the consumers view it that way. Maybe like the trade press, like Billboard and all that stuff, but the consumers I think don’t get that at all. Even when we did break the story, with them knowing who I am, Noel Lee’s son, it didn’t get to me at all because all of this has come from a good place. I grew up with the same passion as my dad surrounding music and sound, and the same entrepreneurial spirit. So to me, this has been something that I’ve worked for and lived for all my life, in so many different ways. So stuff like that isn’t even on my radar.

When Kevin talked to you about SOL Republic, was there ever any discussion about doing a partnership to where you would have his company under the Monster umbrella, like you’ve done with Beats?

Noel: We had both talked about it. Not saying it wouldn’t have been a good idea. I might not have been or it would have been a better idea, but it wouldn’t accomplish the reasons why he started the company to begin with. He’d just end up in the same place—with a smaller company being part of a bigger company. Maybe sometime in the future, but right now, we’re not ready for that because he has to get to a place as successful as Monster is, or maybe even more successful.

Tags: beats-by-dr-dre, monster-cables, sol-republic
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