How these guys got Richard Branson to fall in love with their product

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It started as a side hustle in the Scottish Highlands. Then, Sir Branson came along.

They say what you see on social media isn't real life, but sunglasses brand Tens is out to change that. And now, with a fresh investment from Sir Richard Branson, its founders are seeing a bright future.

Equipped with a special filter meant to use natural light to brighten the wearer's view, Tens claims to "make your everyday life look warmer and happier," according to co-founder Marty Bell during a video interview from an office in Glasgow. "Kind of like Instagram's 'Rise' filter," co-founder Kris Reid adds. "Except Rise washes you out a bit; it's better than Rise."

See photos of the incredible sunglasses and the Tens founders:

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"My amazing Tens..." 🌊 #FilterYourWorld ~ 📷@sionroe
Getting wet feet on a walk through the British countryside 🌄 Photo by @gavthane in the New Forest National Park 🌲 #FilterYourWorld
Tasmanian sunsets, through the lens of @yankeetango_ 📷 #FilterYourWorld
Today we shared the news that @richardbranson has joined our team! ☀️ We can't quite believe it... 😲
Sunsets at @maderasvillage, Nicaragua 🌅 #FilterYourWorld ~ 📷@middlevancleave
What a week it's been so far! ☀️ We're beyond thankful for all your kind words and support, and it's also been wonderful to meet some of you in our London pop-up. Today, @yoiain & @getdeluxe are here to welcome you with a smile 😎 Come say hello at 10 Earlham St. (Soho / Covent Garden) 📍 #FilterYourWorld
Hey London, we're open! We'd love you to visit our first retail store, open until July 30th 📍10 Earlham St WC2H 9LN ☀️
For the first time, try our full collection and find your perfect frame ✨ Open until 6pm today at 10 Earlham St. (by Soho / Covent Garden) 📍 tens.co ~ #FilterYourWorld
You'll find me by the pool 💦 ☀️ #FilterYourWorld ~ 📷@paulgwilliams
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It was this sunny outlook that hooked Branson, who finalized undisclosed investment terms with Tens this spring.On Thursday, when he announced the investment, he tweeted:

The founding team--which also includes London-based Tom Welsh--grew up in Scotland where, as they say, when it's not raining it's probably cloudy. "We were always trying to edit our photos to make it look like summer," Bell says. It was on a road trip to a music festival when a joke between the three friends turned into a business idea: "Let's Photoshop real life."

Over the next two years, the trio spent many long nights together in the Scottish Highlands, dreaming up ways to make the product work. Side hustling in addition to full-time jobs, they sent before and after images to factories all over the world, looking for someone who could recreate the perfect filter on sunglass lenses. Finally in 2014, prototype in hand, the company launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. They raised 370,000 (almost $600,000 at the time) and attracted customers in more than 100 countries.

Tens marketing is meant to draw in customers looking for vacation sunglasses, Bell says, but the hope is that they'll want to wear them all the time. And with the novelty factor, the company relies largely on word-of-mouth. "If one person in a friend group buys them," says Reid, "they go what we call 'in-person viral.' Everyone else wants a pair, too."

One such fan ended up on Branson's private island, Necker Island, where his Tens were passed around among guests. When Branson tried them on, he was impressed. "I love the product," he said in a statement announcing his investment. "No matter where I am in the world I can stick on a pair of Tens and feel like I'm right back on Necker Island."

Branson's first move was to give a pair of Tens, which cost between $90 and $110, to every staffer on the island.Following his investment, the team hopes to expand their reach, as they're now kicking around ideas of selling on Virgin Atlantic flights and in hotels. "The year 2017 is about getting Tens in as many hands as possible," says Reid.

Already, Tens have hit shelves in the Necker Island gift shop, all Soho House locations in North America, and a pop-up shop in London's Covent Garden district. Only open for the month of July, the pop-up shop is a dry run for what the team hopes to replicate over the next few years.

As photographers and videographers, the founders take a lot of pride in their social-media content, and want the retail business to be a carefully designed extension of the brand. They envision small, quirky stores in 10 to 20 sunny locations around the world. "To us, that's more exciting than going into wholesale in someone else's store," Bell says. "We want to have control over our own story."

More from Inc.com:
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The Conundrum of Introversion and Leadership
What Soldiers Have to Teach Entrepreneurs

RELATED: See photos of Richard Branson through the years:

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Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, center, Virgin Cruises CEO Tom McAlpin, left, and Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, right, pose for photos, Tuesday, June 23, 2015, at Perez Art Museum in Miami. Branson and McAlpin announced that Virgin Cruises will set sail from PortMiami in 2020. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, arrives, Tuesday, June 23, 2015, at Perez Art Museum in Miami. Branson and McAlpin announced that Virgin Cruises will set sail from PortMiami in 2020. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, right, and Virgin Cruises CEO Tom McAlpin, left, place the Virgin Cruises flag at their arrival, Tuesday, June 23, 2015, at Perez Art Museum in Miami. Branson and McAlpin announced that Virgin Cruises will set sail from PortMiami in 2020. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, arrives, Tuesday, June 23, 2015, at Perez Art Museum in Miami. Branson and McAlpin announced that Virgin Cruises will set sail from PortMiami in 2020. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
Virgin Racing Team owner Sir Richard Branson talks to reporters during a news conference at the Formula E Miami ePrix auto race in Miami, Saturday, March 14, 2015. The race features a of 10 teams of two drivers racing electric powered open-wheel Formula cars. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
Richard Branson speaks on stage during We Day UK at Wembley Arena, in west London, Thursday, March 5, 2015. With 12,000 students and teachers in attendance from more than 550 schools, We Day celebrates the potential of young people to implement local and global changes. (Photo by Joel Ryan/Invision/AP)
Sir Richard Branson arrives for We Day at Wembley Arena in west London, Friday, March 7, 2014. Organized by international charity and educational partner, Free The Children, We Day is now a global event. Over 160,000 youths will come together in stadium gatherings to take part in an unprecedented educational initiative which inspires students to get involved in positive social change. (Photo by Joel Ryan/Invision/AP Images)
In this video grabbed image, billionaire Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson, pauses before a news conference in which he saluted the bravery of test pilots, and vowed to find out what caused the crash of his prototype space tourism rocket that killed one crew member and injured another in Mojave, Calif., Saturday, Nov. 1, 2014. Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo blew apart about 20 miles (32 kilometers) from the Mojave airfield after being released from a carrier aircraft Friday. (AP Photo/Scott Fain)
British entrepreneur Richard Branson, right, watches the match between Serena Williams, of the United States, and Maria Sharapova, of Russia, at the Sony Open Tennis tournament in Key Biscayne, Fla., Thursday, March 27, 2014. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
British entrepreneur Richard Branson speaks to some 300 would-be space tourists, who have paid some or all of the $250,000 fare up front, at a gathering in a Virgin Galactic hangar at Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, Calif., Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013. Potential space tourists gathered in California's Mojave Desert to see the latest progress from Branson's space tourism enterprise. The company has been testing SpaceShipTwo designed to take paying passengers into space. Commercial flights will begin once testing is complete. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
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