At 6-foot-9, Dan Friedman, a first-year student at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, is tall.
His twin brother, Mike, has him beat by two inches. Their height has always been a key part of their personas and helped facilitate certain activities – Mike was a walk-on basketball player at Syracuse. However, the brothers’ height was not without its negatives; including an inability to find fun, funky, fashionable socks that could comfortably accommodate their plus-sized feet.
The personal fashion need was one driving force behind TallOrder.com, the designer sock company for men’s sizes 12 to 20 that Dan Friedman launched with his brother and mother on Sept. 18.
There is another, more somber impetus behind the launch: the desire to commemorate the legacy of their father, Andrew, who was working at the World Trade Center and killed in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. With every TallOrder sale, 10 percent of the profits go to benefit Tuesday’s Children, a charity founded in the wake of the attacks that helped the Friedman family and others like them and now works with communities impacted by loss.
“The response from our community was incredible,” Dan Friedman said of efforts made by friends and neighbors in the wake of the attacks 16 years ago. “People showed us so much love and generosity, and we always said it would be a tall order to pay it back.”
While the sock company won’t truly pay back the immense gratitude the family feels, it will make an effort to pay things forward.
They already have some big – and tall – fans, including Shaquille O’Neal.
Dan Friedman and his family are now busy learning what it means to launch and run a fashion business, a background shared by none of the family members.
He studied business in college and worked at Bloomberg immediately after graduation, but as TallOrder began to look more and more like a viable business, he sought an MBA program that could provide the foundation for future growth.
Applying to the Darden School on a whim after hearing good things about the school’s entrepreneurship program, Friedman said he fell in love with the community after visiting, and a scholarship from the Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation ultimately made the decision an easy one.
Leaving the day-to-day operations in the hands of his mother and brother, Dan Friedman is now immersing himself in the first-year core curriculum that he hopes will help him develop a holistic view of the company, its capabilities and its opportunities.
“My family allowed me to come down here and really focus on the bigger picture behind the company,” he said. “If we do as well in our initial run as we think we are going to do, and we want to scale up and raise additional capital, there’s so much more we need to learn. We need to understand how to pitch the company to venture capitalists, how to strategically position in our niche market, and how to decide what other products to create in the future.”
Diving into scores of cases within the first few weeks of Darden, Friedman said he doesn’t always see the direct link between the case lessons and his family’s startup, but he trusts that the connections will come, and can already feel the auxiliary benefits of working in a learning-team environment.
“If nothing else, the whole experience has made me a better collaborator,” Friedman said. “It’s also helping me take the longer view. Yes, it’s going to be important to know how to calculate contribution margin in accounting, but it’s more about the strategic decisions that go behind it.”
Friedman has also already tapped the Darden network, and recently met with Kristina Loftus, a 2017 Darden graduate whose Rhoback casual wear company has made impressive headway in its short life as a company.
“She gave me great advice about balancing the company and study,” Friedman said. “I’m learning to make good coffee and function on less sleep. But at the end of day, when you’re super-passionate about something and you believe in its potential, you’ll take those sleepless nights because you want to see the company succeed.”
The startup has also received strong support from the Darden community, with Friedman’s fellow first-year students, many of whom were already wearing TallOrder socks, organizing a special First Coffee event – a daily tradition at the school – in honor of the venture on launch day and surprising Friedman by inviting his brother Mike to Grounds.
“After getting to know Dan over the past few weeks, we all felt inspired to support him, his family and their new business,” said first-year Darden student Ben MacGlashin. “Dan’s constant enthusiasm and optimism has inspired all of us, and keeping with the Darden spirit, the entire class wanted to surprise him and make the launch even more memorable.”
Speaking just before TallOrder’s formal launch, in which it will offer eight different socks of two colors each, Friedman was anxiously awaiting the culmination of what began as a lunch table conversation years ago.
“We feel really good about the product and its mission and we’re so excited to see it get off the ground,” Friedman said.