Back to the Future

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So I says to Mark I says, “Mark, I’ll go but I don’t want to pull in before you. You see, at the risk to confirming stereotypes, I’m a bit of a wallflower when it comes to these things. I could regale an auditorium filled with strangers, but put me in a small reception where I must talk to people face-to-face and I sort of stay to myself, speaking not, unless first spoken to.”

998276_97728952_business_time_royalty_free_stock_xchng_300“When it comes to groups,” I fully confessed, “I have a tough time feeling I really belong.”

Mark reassured me I could arrive after 6:30pm and find him already on hand.

Such was the set-up for attending my first meeting of the Rochester Social Media Club at Label 7 in Pittsford, NY. Funny thing. I discovered something there. Something really surprising.

The first thing I discovered didn’t surprise me. I circled into the Schoen Place complex (don’t let the “State Street” address throw you, Label 7 resides in Schoen Place) only to find a dearth of parking spots. Personally, I get really turned off when a place doesn’t have adequate convenient parking. It’s why, for the most part, I tend to avoid city venues. For someone who doesn’t like to mingle amongst a crowd of unknowns, the lack of room to stow my car gave me ample reason to simply return home. I nearly did.

But, alas, logic got the better of me. I had to buck up and brave the unfamiliar. I snagged a distant spot and, with a faux casualness (obviously betraying an aversion for this particular destiny), sauntered through the black night. My feet crinkled the tiny moist stones on the wet pavement until I came to the well lit door. Upon entering, a very nice looking restaurant greeted me. The proper patrons seated at the elegant tables certainly didn’t appear as daring as typical members of the Rochester Social Media Club. I was sure of one thing, though. None of them was Mark. Of course, God gave us five (or was it six?) senses for good reason, and what the eyes didn’t see, the ears certainly heard. “A room up the stairs,” came Mark’s words back to me, the only clue he shared in our earlier conversation.

And so I followed the sound to a wooden staircase. Looking up, I saw my fears – a close-knit crowd cozily cackling with chummy familiarity. I didn’t see Mark, but knew this small horde represented my ultimate destination. As I reluctantly ascended the staircase, I hoped my dark pullover would provide a cloak of invisibility lest the party-goers discover an alien had invaded their territory. Reaching the top landing, I quickly slipped into the mass before anyone asked me to explain my awkward presence. Still I couldn’t see Mark.

But I did see Lee sitting by himself. Sanctuary! I felt, and made a beeline for him before someone caught his ear. I knew Lee from business events. We both shared an affinity for computers as well as an Ivy League sheepskin. We had a great conversation ranging from my daughter’s interest in Cornell to the entrepreneurial environment in Western New York to posting job offers on Facebook.

As I spoke with Lee, Nick brushed by and we exchanged polite pleasantries. I’ve known Nick since my computerAccess days in the early 80’s (I think he had something to do with PC-Cubed). He’s famous. He probably doesn’t remember me or those ancient days of The New Beginning – a revolution of the individual best (ironically, it turns out) exemplified by the sixty second one-and-done Apple advertisement shown during the 1984 Superbowl.

Then Dan popped in, asking, “Aren’t you a finance guy? What are you doing here?” Ouch! I’ve been exposed! cringed my silent brain. But Dan instantly withdrew his tease and we talked of his working for Lance, today a successful entrepreneur that I once hired as a programmer (and he was a good one, too). By this time, I had spied Mark but chose to defer joining him until I had finished this particular jaunt down memory lane.

No sooner did I return from the past then I immediately plunged into the future with Mike. I met Mike this year by accident at the Rochester Business Journal’s Best of the Web presentation in February. Mike’s an amazing guy and perfectly oriented to the world as it will become. We happily began sharing ideas at that winter breakfast and continue to do so. It was Mike who understood what I sought and thoughtfully introduced me to Mark.

When I did eventually free up, Emily materialized. I simply had to talk to Emily about the next book review I wanted to present to her FreeNet group.

Finally, my attention solely on the reason for my attendance, I asked Mark how long the Rochester Social Media Club had been around. “Well, we had our first meeting at the German House,” he started before I abruptly interrupted.

“The German House?” I spit out incredulously, “You won’t believe this, but my entrée into the world of computers began there more than a quarter century ago…”

But that’s a story best left for another time.

Turns out, this group did not represent some wholly different tribe as I originally suspected. No, these folks more than embodied the revolutionary band I first hung out with as a raw college graduate and budding young professional in the early 1980’s. These folks were that group, in spirit and, in quite a few instances, in body. And I was there at the beginning, The New Beginning. After I told Mark my yarn, he paused, unblinking, as if I had put him to sleep. Then, the metaphorical light bulb flashing deep within his neurons, he perked up and blurted, “Man, you’ve got to blog that.”

Rather than epitomizing the outsider, I stood the ultimate insider.


  1. Dude, I never knew you were so shy 🙂 Seriously it was great to see you at the event and catch up. I too enjoy SMC – even if during the Robotics season I’m typically mentoring on Thursday evenings – if one frees up like it did that night – I go.

    It’s a great crowd. There are a few old faces that I know are still around Rochester (like Tom Myers) who don’t participate actively in SMC – but everyone’s lives and priorities change over time and I’m sure at some point we’ll circle back and intersect.

    The thing that truly is inspiring about SMC is that these are all people (at all ages) that really GET IT about how important entrepreneurialism is to our recovery and our future. They get it and they live it – either as entrepreneurs themselves or as people who work with entrepreneurs day in and day out. They are the forward thinkers, the science fiction readers, the early adopters, the gadget freaks and the active mentors that shape the social and web world in which we live. From the folks in that room have come many unique and worthwhile applications, ideas and implementations. Techrigy/Alterian, AuctionDirect, the many educational programs that Susan Beebe’s company creates and supports – all in one room. It’s a true powerhouse and the discussions are intense and intelligent. It’s what I loved about Cornell, and what I continue to love about the active Rochester entrepreneurial and social media community.

    Lee Drake


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