Long before Lady Gaga fans took over the term, Kevin Lee-son of Monster founder/CEO Noel Lee-was known as "the little monster," and his father "the head monster."
Now, the younger Lee is looking to establish his own place in the consumer electronics landscape with the launch of his own company, SOL Republic. Its first mission is to make and market a line of high-quality headphones at an affordable price.
If that sounds a lot like the Beats by Dre line, that's because Lee oversaw the partnership with Beats Electronics as Monster VP of marketing and product development. In an interview with Billboard, Lee talks about SOL's initial priorities, his reasons for leaving Monster and how his father feels about him striking out on his own.
1. Why are you starting SOL Republic?
Beats by Dre was my main big project at Monster. As soon as I launched that, I went to my dad and said I wanted to continue my passion around that. The goal was to bring good-sounding headphones to everybody. And I wanted an opportunity to do my own thing. So that's what this is. It's an opportunity for me to build a special company of great people and culture and define the vision of everything, like my dad did 33 years ago when he created Monster.
I'm very excited about the success of Beats because it's a proven concept that people will care about sound, especially young kids. With that proof-of-concept in place, I looked at the marketplace and said, "There is still a huge missing element, which is great sound at a midprice point." Look at every consumer group out there; there's always a low, middle and high end. There really isn't in headphones that sound good, look good and have an emotional connection to consumers.
2. What kind of products are you making?
We're making headphones for the 18-year-old music fanatic, the 21-year-old scenester and the 25-year-old DJ. We went through about 60 different design ideas. Consumers' No. 1 complaint about headphones is that they break so much, and that's because there's so many moving parts. I wanted to create a headphone where the headband has zero moving parts, so I can make it for cheaper and be more durable. I haven't broken one yet. The headband is a single piece of polymer, and the speakers [ear cups] can slide completely off. So now I can exchange different kinds of speakers for different kinds of sound or quality, and change out my style. We also developed some sound technology that gives this product a lot of bass and kick. And you can control the high, because people like to turn up their music.
3. Will you release any artist-branded headphones like Beats by Dre?
We can build product and bring it to retail, but we can't deliver the message around the importance of music and sound the way artists can. From a marketing standpoint, we've reached out to a lot of people, especially in the DJ world, to help spread that message around.
4. Are you only making headphones, or will you do other things?
The grand plan is to be a lifestyle electronics company that relates to music culture. So yes, it's beyond headphones. It'll be anything that makes sound. We've defined ourselves around music discovery and experiences. We'll do a lot on our website and Facebook with promotions around discovering music. A lot of these "saviors of sound" are going to talk about discovering their music. We'll be partnering with other people that have content and music discovery services. You can definitely expect us to get into speakers for the home.
5. Why are you doing this on your own, rather than with Monster?
We could have easily done this at Monster. The main reason was personal. This is an opportunity for me to do something on my own from scratch: define the brand and culture and vision. If I want to get kids to step up to $30 earbuds, it has to be more than just sound and style. It has to be an emotional connection to the brand. To have that kind of connection, the brand needs to be hyper-focused around something. And that's why I wanted a company that was hyper-focused around music, youth, headphones and style.
6. How does your father feel about you starting a company that's competing with Monster?
I have the full blessing and support of my father. On the business side, the market opportunity is just huge. We've just touched the surface there. There's going to be different aesthetics in brand and headphone types. Monster has a lot going on in headphones and will do very well. On the personal side, I wanted to do it on my own. My father has been tremendously supportive of my doing exactly that. This isn't some kind of son-leaving-dad thing. I still maintain a senior executive role at Monster on strategy and stuff, but I'm pretty much focused 100% on this new company.••••