You’ve most likely never heard of Noel Lee, but you’re definitely aware of what he built. He’s the guy behind Monster, the high-end speaker cable company (sidebar: don’t get me started on those cables) and the guy who began manufacturing the headphones that eventually evolved into Beats after he partnered with Dr. Dre. When Beats was purchased by Apple, Dr. Dre and co. made off with $3.2 billion. How much did Noel get? Nothing. Now he wants his cut. From Bloomberg:
The most fateful product test of Noel Lee’s career took place in 2007 on a sunny day in Santa Monica, Calif. Starting in a proverbial suburban San Francisco garage, Lee had built a successful company called Monster that made and sold high-end speaker cables. In the mid-Aughts, he decided consumers would part with a couple hundred dollars for a more stylish set of headphones. After burning through millions of R&D dollars, Lee finally got a meeting in the office of entertainment magnate Jimmy Iovine, co-founder of Interscope Records. Joining Iovine was his business partner Andre Young, better known as Dr. Dre, the rap pioneer and a mogul in his own right. It would be difficult to identify a duo whose influence on popular culture in the 1990s exceeded that of Iovine, collaborator with everyone from Bruce Springsteen and U2 to Eminem, and Dre, a member of the seminal hip-hop group N.W.A., known for such anthems of black anger as F— tha Police.
A large man with a shaved head, Dre put on Lee’s headphones. He turned up the volume on 50 Cent’s bass-heavy In Da Club. “That’s the s—!” he exclaimed.
Beats by Dr. Dre, the headphones built by Monster and backed by Dre and Iovine, reshaped the audio marketplace almost from their debut in January 2008. Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Sean “Diddy” Combs—all wore their signature branded Beats models marked with a lowercase “b.” LeBron James and Serena Williams favored Beats; so did British soccer idol David Beckham and Apple co-founder (and longtime Iovine friend) Steve Jobs. The candy-colored headphones became required accessories not only for celebrities but also for subway riders and mall rats everywhere.