Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
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Bright idea

Wheaties launch, grow specialty sunglasses business

They’d been bouncing business ideas off one another all semester when one day in December 2012, while studying for a computer science test in the basement of Wallace Library, Nishon Radhakrishnan ’15 and Harrison Bramhall ’14 finally found one that stuck.

Radhakrishnan was talking about wanting a pair of all-wood sunglasses but had noticed their prices were too high. He thought it might be cheaper to make sunglasses with wooden sides and plastic fronts.

“I was like, that’s pretty interesting. I know a ton of kids that would buy them,” Bramhall recalled. “We started looking into the idea and we found all these different shops that were making them and they were just ridiculously priced. No college kid was going to be able to afford them, and that’s the main market. We decided that we could do it better.”

They came up with a design that incorporated the popular Wayfarer style, made of low-cost plastic, in the front with lightweight bamboo sides and then searched for a company where they could outsource the manufacturing. After a lot of talking, often with people who spoke limited English, Radhakrishnan found what he believed to be a reliable manufacturer. He placed an order for 500 pairs and hoped for the best.

On a Saturday the following May, Radhakrishnan was doing yard work at a friend’s house when his dad called to tell him a package had arrived. He sprinted home, opened the box and found their sunglasses inside.

“It was definitely one of the most exciting moments of my life,” he said.

Tints Wear founders Nishon Radhakrishnan ’15 and Harrison Bramhall '14 with company CEO Matt Guruge '14.

Tints Wear founders Nishon Radhakrishnan ’15 and Harrison Bramhall '14 with company CEO Matt Guruge '14.

They priced the sunglasses at $24.99—a far cry from the $120-plus prices often found online—and came up with a company name, Tints Wear. The response on campus was immediate.

“The second we posted pictures on Instagram with people wearing them, sales just started flying in,” Radhakrishnan said. “I thought I was going to be selling these at Hampton Beach in my spare time. Little did I know I might have a company on my hands. We sold out in the first month or so, and we doubled over in the next shipment.”

They started working on a website, tintswear.com, and hit the streets that summer to sell and market their product.

Working for the weekend

Bramhall was working a 9-5 internship in Boston that summer and used every spare minute to build up the company. “We always talked about how much fun we were having on the weekend, just working for the company,” he said. “I was sitting in my office one day and just put my face in my hands, and I texted Nishon and said, ‘At this point, I’m just living for the weekend.’ And we were like, that’s it. That’s what it’s all about.”

They had a popular product, a company name and now a slogan.

“I think it captures everything that we believe in,” Radhakrishnan said. “You have to work hard during the week, and you should reward yourself with having a great weekend.”

Back on campus that fall, Radhakrishnan and Bramhall were struggling to balance the business with their class and extra-curricular schedules when they were approached by Matt Guruge ’14, a senior English major who had recently started his own marketing company with a friend. They liked his vision and felt the company could use additional guidance, so they drew up an agreement making Guruge Tints Wear’s chief executive officer.

Since then, Guruge has been busy building a marketing plan, booking events, spreading awareness of their product and even brokering a few deals to develop promotional eyewear for companies such as Jack Daniels and Maker’s Mark. This summer, Tints Wear will be a vendor at the Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion at Meadowbrook and at several events throughout the summer. He also is working on a promo video, with scenes shot here on campus, and plans to throw a launch party.

“This summer’s really about promotion, about getting out there,” Guruge said. “And moving forward it’s really about expanding the business. We want to take over the Cape area and most of New England and then move on from there.”

Guruge will be working full-time for Tints Wear now that he’s graduated, a prospect he's excited about. “Working for a start-up requires at least 12 hours a day, and working 12 hours a day plus school was intense; there wasn’t a lot of sleep. So it’s actually the first time in my life when I get to concentrate on one thing and do it 100 percent," he said.

Lessons learned

Guruge credits his Wheaton education with giving him many of the skills necessary for a CEO.

“A CEO is supposed to be a lead strategist, but it’s a lot of talking to people and pulling a lot of disparate topics together, and that’s really what English was and what the liberal arts overall is about—pulling a lot of different things together,” he said.

Bramhall and Radhakrishnan will continue working on Tints Wear, too, as president and chief operational officer, respectively, although Bramhall has landed a full-time job at Boston commercial real estate company Stag Industrial. Radhakrishnan, an economics major, has one more year at Wheaton and said he has already been able to put into practice some of the lessons he learned in class.

“I deal with a lot of numbers, so corporate finance, micro and macroeconomics, any of the statistics classes, really helped me streamline the process. It’s crazy how much of what I learned this year I’ve applied to the econometrics of the business,” he said.

Bramhall, also an economics major, said he has benefitted from Wheaton's diversity.

“You get to meet a lot of different types of people and you really learn to accept everybody for who they are and start to love people for their uniqueness. I think that’s one of the biggest things I’ll take away from Wheaton,” he said. “In starting your own company, that’s really important, especially starting what we call our own ‘block,’ or lifestyle brand. You want to grab as many people as you can with similar interests, and when you have a background like Wheaton, it really helps you connect to a nice wide audience.”

So what’s next for Tints Wear? New styles, new products and more living for the weekend, according to the co-founders and their new CEO.

“I think we all just want to see it grow as large as possible,” Bramhall said. “It’s pretty amazing how influential companies can be in society, and we’d love to be able to influence a mass amount of people. We think we’ve got a good idea, a good way of living, and a lot of people relate to that.”