How I started a business in Scotland

We’re thrilled to now be offering funding and support to Scottish entrepreneurs – it’s never been a better time to start up. To kick things off we’re holding an awesome event on 22nd June in Edinburgh talking about how to start up in Scotland.

One of the speakers at this event will be Marty Bell of Tens. Tens is a sunglasses brand that literally makes the world around you look better – their lenses are based on Instagram filters. Here’s how Marty (@marty) started a business in Scotland.

How I started a business in Scotland - Marty Bell, Tens


The idea

The idea was the result of a conversation on a long car journey through the Highlands of Scotland with my good friends Kris and Tom.

We come from a photography & film-making background, and living in Scotland we'd always find ourselves doing the same colour edits on our images and videos trying to make things look happier and warmer. On this especially grey trip we joked about being able to Photoshop real life, and at that moment it struck us - you could probably do that with a sunglass lens.


Getting the ball rolling

The next day we made a private Facebook group and started brainstorming how the brand and products might look. We made folders filled with inspiration for the logo, how the website might look, ideas for the brand name, packaging from other brands that we loved. We became hugely excited about the concept at this stage. It really fuelled the fire and gave us the drive we needed to make it happen, knowing how it could look if we put the hours in.


Proving the market

We decided to launch the brand via a crowdfunding campaign which we pitched as a pre-order to potential customers. We agreed in advance of the campaign that if it didn't achieve its target that the project probably wasn't worth pursuing. 

We set out to raise £10,000 in four weeks to allow us to fund our first factory order; we ended up raising that in two hours and at that moment we realised there was probably a market for Tens! The campaign raised over £370,000 from customers in 100+ countries around the world.


Defining the target customer

We designed the brand and our first campaign for the modern day adventurer, or urban explorer. They would be between the ages of 18-35, love the outdoors but also have a keen interest in technology, fashion and new products.


How I started a business in Scotland - Marty Bell, Tens


Getting started with marketing

We spent a huge amount of time perfecting our crowd-funding campaign to ensure our brand looked the best it could, and that we were explaining our product in a way that anyone could understand. The video took weeks of planning and script-writing, we made custom graphics for the campaign description, organised photoshoots with friends to show-off the product perfectly and made animated GIFs that illustrated why the Tens lens was different to everything else on the market.

Before launching the crowd-funding campaign we lined up a key press exclusive with VICE's Creators Project. This proved invaluable. Once VICE featured us, CNET instantly picked it up too, then TIME, Wired, Huffington Post, HYPEBEAST and countless other titles picked it up.

We had a very tight press plan which was super effective, which I'd suggest to anyone launching a crowd-funding campaign:

  1. In your press release, wrap the campaign in a viral, clickbait-esque headline that you know will cause intrigue and get clicks. The reality is that many writers care more about clicks than the product they're writing about. Clicks on the article makes their publication money from ads on the page, and this pays their salary. The headline we picked was 'Photo filter sunglasses', which press picked up as 'Instagram Sunglasses' or 'Instagram for real life'
  2. Build a mini-site for press which features your video, links to high-res imagery (Dropbox works great), ~5 paragraphs of text summarising why your product is amazing, and even your product explained in a tweet. Make it easy for writers - give them everything they need to feature you.


How I started a business in Scotland - Marty Bell, Tens


Finding a manufacturer

We spent two years in our spare time trying to find the right manufacturer, being messed around by agents and sketchy factories we found on Alibaba. When we found ourselves completely stuck and unable to find a factory that could create the lens we dreamed of, I decided to reach out to a local acquaintance with a wealth of knowledge in clothing and accessory manufacturing. He loved our concept and quickly nailed the perfect sample of both the frame and lens. A couple of weeks later we welcomed Usi to the team.


Making mistakes

We naively gave customers the option of free non-tracked delivery during the crowd-funding campaign, which turned out to be a major headache. Many packages were lost whilst en route to countries outside of Europe and we had no way of finding them. We took quite a hit on time & money replacing all of these pairs and sending them out again (we did track them the second time!)


Biggest success so far

I would have to say the success of our crowd-funding campaign (which I keep blabbing on about) has still to be topped, but having Tens worn by Richard Branson and stocked in the Necker Island gift store is definitely a close second.


Next steps

We're constantly trying to improve the brand we've built. This summer we're building a custom referral platform to reward our most loyal customers with exclusive Tens products and items from other brands that we love. We're creating a new content hub on our website that will be filled with engaging content; tales of travel & adventure, entrepreneurship and people doing great things with their lives. Alongside that we're directing a huge amount of our focus on creative PR and getting in front of as many new people as possible. We're still a small fish in a very, very large pond.


How I started a business in Scotland - Marty Bell, Tens


Being an entrepreneur in Scotland

We found very little options for funding to help get us started in Scotland, which was disappointing. We had a difficult couple of months meeting banks and government initiatives designed to help businesses get started - although sunglasses in Scotland probably sounded a bit ridiculous to them.

However, once we found ourselves some initial success and proved there was a market for Tens, we began to benefit from a number of fantastic government schemes. Scotland are especially good at supporting costs for hiring new staff.


What would be your advice for anyone else thinking of starting a business in Scotland? 

Do it! There's a fantastic business scene in Scotland and everyone is very open to sharing ideas and experiences. The size of the scene here in comparison to somewhere like London makes it very easy to reach out to people doing great things. Take the time to find out which funds are available to help you. Don’t start a summer product and expect to be able to do photoshoots in Scotland!


Entrepreneur in Scotland? Grab a ticket to our event in Edinburgh on June 22nd.