Taylor Robinette has always had an a 21st century entrepreneurial spirit, so when his mother, Elizabeth, saw that her son had "Liked" the FireBigBird.com Facebook page, she knew he would have an appreciation for the folks behind it.
"She texted me one night and said, 'I saw the Fire Big Bird shirts, whoever came up with that is really clever,' " Taylor Robinette, a Westminster resident and 2012 graduate of McDonogh School in Owings Mills, said.
But he had more than an appreciation. "I called her and said 'That's our thing … I'm Fire Big Bird.' "
Robinette, a freshman at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, and classmate Andy Bauer, of Neptune, N.J., have been riding the social media wave on their new website ever since Mitt Romney remarked in last week's presidential debate that, as president, he would cut funding to public broadcasting, despite his love for Sesame Street's Big Bird.
Shortly after those remarks, Bauer called Robinette to tell him he had quickly purchased the domain name FireBigBird.com. The pair had discussed the process of buying domain names earlier in the semester. Now, with such a hot commodity in hand, Bauer went to Robinette's dorm room and the two discussed the business possibilities.
Robinette had some experience culled at the Chapel Hill campus. Early in one of his business classes, he was assigned with starting a business and making as much money as he could in four days. He quickly made a set of Carolina basketball T-shirts, and sold 100 in the four-day period around campus.
With that success in mind, the pair decided T-shirts would be the best way to capitalize on the domain. At $20 each, three shirt designs are currently on sale; two printed with blue-and-red pictures of Big Bird — somewhat reminiscent of 2008 Barack Obama campaign posters — and the other with an image of Big Bird holding a "Romney fired my (butt)" sign.
Since the site went live, the response has been immense, Robinette said. Orders have come from New Zealand and the Netherlands, and the national and local media in North Carolina latched onto their story, in no small part because of the pair's charitable aspirations.
"Once it started taking off, we decided maybe we can sell a few shirts if we were doing it for a profit," Robinette said. "In the long run, this is going to be something pretty small. Why don't we use this as a social entrepreneurship venture and give back to the community?
Currently, the plan is to donate the money to the Make A Wish Foundation, but Robinette said, "it's not as easy as it sounds just to give somebody money."
The foundation does not accept political donations or money from organizations with political affiliations, he said. But he hopes that won't be a problem — the two have tried to distance themselves from party politics to help the cause.
And though the original joke stemmed from Romney's comment, both parties have responded positively.
"A lot of conservatives are buying the shirt," Robinette said. People on one side buy it to make fun, he said, while the other side wears firing Big Bird as something of a badge of honor.
That lack of partisanship is good for business. As of Wednesday evening, Oct. 10, the http://www.firebigbird.com site had more than 40,000 views from about 15,000 unique visitors, and 378 orders totaling 450 shirts.
"Hopefully, that will be about four or five thousand dollars that we'll be able to donate to charity," Robinette said.