Ever consider that headphones could help 275 million people with hearing loss? This guy did. Meet Joe Huff, InsideHook’s Man of the Month for August.
There are people in this world who’ve never heard music.
Never thrilled to Duke Ellington’s buoyant keys on “Take the ‘A’ Train.” Never cocked an ear to the reedy keen of Woody Guthrie. Never felt the calming balm of Leonard Cohen’s pimpish hum.
Not by choice, mind you, or because there’s no radio within reach, or even because Leonard Cohen is an acquired taste.
They haven’t heard that music because they’re one of the millions of people walking this earth who simply cannot hear.
And that’s where a handsome man from California named Joe Huff comes in.
He’s got a plan to help hearing-impaired people the world over, and he’s going to do it by selling a device typically associated with — of all things — damaging people’s hearing.
Yes, Joe Huff is going to help the hearing impaired by selling headphones. And he’s well on his way.
Joe Huff is 35.
Technically, he’s the co-founder of LSTN: an L.A.-based startup that sells headphones.
Not chintzy earbuds, but heavy, over-the-ear cans with reclaimed wood casings: beechwood, cherry wood, ebony wood. All meant to evoke classic axes, like the Gibson Les Paul Goldtop.
And the LSTNs look, feel and sound — to borrow from technical parlance — damn good.
But Huff’s business card doesn’t say CEO. It says Director of Positivity.
As in good vibes. As in social consciousness. As in, yeah, he’s a surfer.
“We’re not just ‘another headphone company,’” says Huff. “We had this idea at LSTN to make a cool product that could affect social change.”
How he affects that change is simple, though it makes him no less admirable for it. For every pair of LSTN ‘phones sold, LSTN makes a donation to the Starkey Hearing Foundation.
Starkey, a regular at the Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting, is pretty much the UNICEF of hearing advocacy groups.
Their goal: give one million people hearing aids before the decade is through.
With LSTN’s help, they’ll make it.
Huff wasn’t always on a mission.
After college, he wanted to start a clothing line. But he ended up working more behind the scenes, offering services in logistics, production and sales for apparel companies.
Two things changed his course.
One was a client meeting with an idealistic start-up called TOMS – the guys who donate a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair sold.
“It’s amazing how much and how quickly that brand resonated,” he says.
The second change: a very bad year. In 2010, Huff’s dad passed away, he separated from his wife and his dog died.
“It gave me this push,” he remembers. “I had to stop and ask, ‘What do I really care about? What can I do to make the world a better place?’”
Realizing he had already cultivated a fantastic network of business associates, he sold his fashion shares (“It was 2010: with the economy, my partner thought I was crazy!”) and embarked on a new quest: leverage his business acumen to improve someone’s life. Or many someones’ lives.
“In the U.S., the private sector gives $300 billion to charity, but 99% of that comes from people 35 and older,” he says. “Which is strange: you think the younger generation is going to change the world. So I started thinking about ways to get in front of that demo.”
He started with a charitable clothing line, This Shirt Helps. Then he met Bridget Hilton, a former music publicist who shared his ideas about social enterprise: craft a cool product. Use that product to do real, tangible good.
So far, the reviews have been spectacular. And people have noticed: starting this week, Whole Foods is selling LSTN in-store, a first ever distribution arrangement for the brand. A Spotify collab is coming. So are talks with Entertainment Tonight and Extra.
It’s a hard gig, but Huff insists on having fun.
“It has to be fun,” he says. “And it has to be a product somebody wants. It’s product first, then add in the story. You have to have a real working budget, a retail strategy and understand margins.”
That’s just good business, y’hear?