Daniel Fine has been in business for 10 years. Daniel Fine is 22. These two facts help explain how he was able to launch a business selling sunglasses out of his dorm room, and barely more than a year later, see them being worn at World Cup matches in Brazil, all while he manages several other ventures and works towards his degree at the Wharton School.
Fine’s company is officially headquartered at the West Windsor home where he grew up, but is run mostly out of his dorm room in Philadelphia. It recently received funding from First Round Capital Dorm Room Fund. Fine, a senior at Wharton, wouldn’t discuss the amount of the investment, or how much money he has made with Glass-U. (It also got a $10,000 investment from the Wharton School itself.)
However, he is happy to discuss the surprising reach of his startup, as well as how he picked up the skills to launch it.
Fine grew up in West Windsor, where his father, Rick, was a physician and his mother, Debi, was a businesswoman. “It’s a type-A family,” he explains. Type-A personalities are driven to find solutions to problems, so it was almost inevitable that when Dan’s younger brother Jake was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at age 7, they would decide to do something about it. In 2004 the brothers started a charity called Team Brotherly Love, that has so far raised $1.9 million for diabetes research. Daniel graduated from the Peddie School, where Jake is currently a senior. The brothers attended public schools through eighth grade.
For his work with Team Brotherly Love, Fine received Time Magazine’s Tomorrow25 Award in 2010. Since then Daniel has turned over the charity entirely to Jake. Running the charity jumpstarted Daniel’s business career.
“That gave me not just the confidence, but the experience and frankly, the ideas for Glass-U,” Fine says. “Everything we do can stem back to Team Brotherly Love.” The charity inspired Dan to develop an app called Dosed, a mobile app for diabetics to keep track of their insulin dosage.
It also gave him valuable experience selling branded merchandise. As part of his fundraising efforts, he figured out the best ways to have Team Brotherly Love shirts, mugs, and other items manufactured overseas. The success of that venture is what gave him the idea to start Glass-U.
His new company is focused exclusively on sunglasses. Specifically, plastic sunglasses made in China that fold all the way, with a hinge between the lenses allowing them to collapse to a very small size. The glasses can be customized to sport the colors and logo of any college, group, sports team, or organization, and can be sold at a profit for $10 to $14. They are made overseas and customized in the United States.
From that simple basis, and working from his dorm room, Fine launched his company at the Rose Bowl last year. He took his sunglasses on a barnstorming tour selling them at other youth-heavy venues like the Bonnaroo Music Festival, South by Southwest, and Lollapalooza. In this way, he caught the attention of the licensing companies that control merchandising rights to many universities. Since then, he has managed to get sunglass-making rights for several hundred schools, every Greek organization in the United States, and the World Cup. Glass-U glasses were available in stadiums sporting FIFA logos for all the different national teams. (Fine declined to share sales figures.)
Although Fine manages the business from his dorm room, it employs 26 people who work remotely. It also has a “guru” program where college students can become Glass-U reps and sell the sunglasses on their campuses.
Oddly, Fine is not the only young sunglasses entrepreneur to emerge from West Windsor. Matthew Sheffield, a 2014 graduate of WW-P High School South, founded a company called “Shady Eyedeas” while he was still in high school. His company sells sunglasses with interchangeable frames, lenses, and arms. Fine says he recently read about Shady Eyedeas in a newspaper, but there is no connection.
Fine won’t be a college student himself for much longer. He is scheduled to graduate in May, 2015. After that, he says, he will devote himself full time to business. In addition to Team Brotherly Love, Dosed, and Glass-U, he also founded a company called Match Tutors, based in Boston, under the umbrella of the Fine Companies LLC. He says his tutoring company is in Boston partly because of the high student population there.
Fine says the company is growing, and looking to recruit new “gurus” to sell its wares. “It’s a great college job,” he says.
Maybe not as great as owning your own company though. “Entrepreneurial stuff is a passion of mine,” he says. “I love doing it, and I have a lot of fun along the way.”
Glass-U, 855-687-7423; Daniel Fine, founder. www.glass-u.com.