It’s safe to say the guys of Tints aren’t your average businessmen. They radiate passion and youth—as evidenced by their full-time student status and charming athletic style—capitalizing on their working knowledge of a college demographic to develop a perfectly groomed brand with Tints, LLC. Hot on the heels of Wheaton’s new Business major, Harry Bramhall ’14, Nishon Radhakrishan ’15, and Matt Guruge ’14 have helped put Wheaton on the student entrepreneurial map with their instant and rapid startup success.
Tints’ team of student professionals has started a product revolution in the field of accessible and fashionable shades. Radhakrishan, Tints’ Chief Operating Officer, explained, “We were talking about the trend of wayfarer sunglasses and all-wood designs, but how they sell for upwards of two-hundred to three-hundred dollars. We wanted a way to bring a popular form and material to the college market at an affordable price, so Harry started researching, and that’s exactly what we did1”
After about three months of designing and investigation, Bramhall, company President and Product Manager, had contacted an efficient and reputable manufacturer. An investor was secured, and they placed their first order for 500 pairs of Tints. “I’ll never forget that Friday,” laughed Bramhall, “but the first order was just to test the market and make sure we would get a return. In the few months following, Tints had placed and sold out of orders totaling over 3,000 pairs.
And so Tints was born. A timeless—yet trendy—body with bamboo temples, polarized lenses, and a price point that wouldn’t bring a college wallet to tears. “Bamboo is one-hundred percent sustainable wood and renews eight times faster than any other hard wood,” described Bramhall, “and the polarized lenses are polycarbonate, rather than glass or regular plastic, so they’re much more durable and keep costs down.” Not to mention the glasses’ spring-loaded hinges, 400 UV protection, lightweight form to prevent pressure points behind the ears (bye, bye headaches!), and the unmistakable look of a good time.
While the company’s growing success is, in part, attributed to its excellent quality and business plan, credit must also be given to its professional expansion and unique branding. This fall, Tints signed Guruge as its CEO after surprising him with a contract when he expressed interested in the brand as a marketing consultant. They’ve also hired Tyler Hurst as their graphic designer, Mike Irving (of Michael Irving Media) as videographer, John Mincarelli as Vice President of Sales, and three new sales associates…more than doubling the size of their staff. Their team and product reputation depends on constant social media relevance—think: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube—using the spread of their hashtags (#L4TW, #showmeyourtints) and inclusion of consumers in the product culture – an unlikely and ever-growing success. Even still, managing an internationally distributed product is a complex time commitment when balancing rigorous Wheaton coursework. Guruge, Bramhall, and Radhakrishan all laughed at the prospect of an equally divided schedule, but they all have their own ways of making it work.
“It’s tough being a student, athlete, and business owner, but you just have to regiment your life,” advised Brahmall. “I’ve accidentally picked up the ‘early to bed, early to rise’ thing. You’ve got to get stuff done when you have the time, since there’s never a dull moment. I think it’s great, personally.”
Radhakrishan agreed: “There’s always something that can be done. There are always phone calls I can be making, always questions that I can be answering about the website that I never in a million years expected…but instead of Harry’s method of early to bed, I’ve been staying up later.”
Guruge, of course, refused both options and laughingly admits he doesn’t sleep at all. “I do this all the time,” he admits, “and classes are actually a break. There’s a lot going on and it’s a full-time commitment.”
Surprisingly, the team agreed that the biggest challenge isn’t overcoming scheduling conflicts but instead dealing with business and financial politics. Older and more experienced companies have the advantage of knowing the industry—including the legal loopholes—that means they have the finances and know-how to drop contracts and easily avoid litigation for copyright infringement. “We see people copy our stuff, copy our slogans, copy our photos,” explained Bramhall. “It’s frustrating because they reap the benefits.” Radhakrishan recalls a deal with a legally confidential corporation that promised web promotions, endorsements, and a nationally renowned reputation. Once the contract was exchanged, the aforementioned company completely ceased communication and abandoned the partnership. “It was heartbreaking.”
Despite the setbacks that accompany competitive industries, the future of Tints looks bright. By the end of 2013, the sunglasses were being sold in more than 15 countries outside of the United States, including China and Germany. The team is currently designing a new prototype for the next generation of Tints to be sold in retail stores, and at least six different designs are already available on UStrendy.com. In addition to expanding the available styles—which will still use Tints’ iconic name and hashtag—the company is releasing a series of accessories, including a beer backpack with the #L4TW print to debut within the next month.
“We’re in the midst of garnering a lot of key sponsors and partnerships,” Guruge said, “including professional skier James Campbell and his sponsor Ram Sports. And on February 7th, we’re co-sponsoring CASA New Hampshire’s ‘Snow Fest’ event at Loon. CASA is a non-profit that advocates for neglected or abused children within the court system, and they reached out to us to supply merchandise. We’re very excited.”
They’ve also recently finalized the development of their college brand ambassador program to help with product distribution. Those selected for the program will have their own merchandise, bank accounts, and marketing material in order to maintain the personable reputation that Tints has created. Furthermore, upon graduation, brand ambassadors will be able to produce individual case studies for potential employers as an example of experience and understanding. Finally, the Tints team is presently designing a custom model of Tints specifically for two classified high-profile companies – a car manufacturer and liquor conglomerate.
At the end of the day, Bramhall, Radhakrishan, and Guruge acknowledged that it’s all about the love of the job. “Seeing your blood, sweat, and tears come to fruition in someone else’s excitement about the product makes it all worthwhile,” they agreed.
And their advice for budding student entrepreneurs?
“Just do it,” urged Radhakrishan. “It’s a lot of work and a little bit of luck, but it’s totally worth it.” His words were met with a nod from the team, until Guruge added appreciatively, laughing, “but sometimes it’s a lot of luck.”
*Footnote 1: the idea for Tints was born in the Madeline Clark Wallace Library!
*Footnote 2: Interested in getting involved? See the Tintswear.com website for more information.