Adrian Dayton and I were in law school together at the same time--smack in the middle of the Great Recession. Not the most ideal time to be in law school. He was actually a year ahead of me and because of that saw the brunt of the fallout in the legal market at the time. As I think back I can painfully recall law students having their offers pulled, struggling to find jobs, and looking at any and all employment opportunities. Adrian and I knew of each other but admittedly we weren't close at the time. Over the course of the next decade that would all change.
In 2009 I just happened to end up sailing with Adrian on a mutual friend’s boat. I say friend now, but the reality is at the time that "friend" was general counsel of a local tech company and I was hoping to network my way into a sweet in-house job after graduating. That didn't quite pan out, but it did result in a decade of competitively racing J22 sailboats around North America so I can't exactly complain.
Stepping onto that sailboat was the first time I had actually met Adrian. At the time he was working as an associate for a large corporate law firm here in Buffalo--the kind of job a rising law student coveted during the throes of the Great Recession. "Perfect", I thought to myself "perhaps Adrian can get me in as an associate!"
Little did I know that Adrian was about to be laid off. As we sailed out onto the middle of Lake Erie, Adrian shared with us that he had no work to do and spent most of his days sitting on his computer learning how to use social media. He began telling us that social media would revolutionize how attorneys generated businesses through platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn. Keep in mind this was around 2009 and the dominate social platform was Facebook, and the idea of leveraging social media for law firms was still a rather radical idea that challenged conceptual norms around the rules of ethics. The legal industry is, after all, a notoriously late adopter of most technology.
Amid the racing Adrian shared with us that he thought he was going to lose his job and was thinking of starting a social media company for lawyers. Without hesitation I looked at Adrian and told him he was nuts; that it would never work—that I couldn’t possibly see lawyers paying someone to help them use social media platforms.
Boy would I live to eat those words.
Adrian went on to found Clearview Social as part of Z80 labs. He received the support of local investors like the Buffalo Angels and Rand Capital, and rapidly grew the company to over 50,000 users. In 2016 I had the ironic pleasure of working with Clearview Social as the first law firm in Buffalo to adopt the social media software for lawyers. We both got a good laugh at my initial reaction back on that sailboat nearly a decade earlier as I handed him a check.
Life has a weird way of working out--a winding road that makes it difficult to predict where and when opportunities arise. I didn't get the cushy in-house tech job or the associate job at that corporate firm, but over a decade later I found myself helping Adrian sell his company for a successful exit--a success for Buffalo, investors in WNY, and the whole team at Clearview Social.
“The deal would not have happened without the support of the Buffalo startup ecosystem,” Dayton said. “I could not have had this success without local investors and mentors that believed in me.”