By Chris Swingle Farnum
Many people wish their parents' stories and wisdom could be captured and preserved for future generations. Todd Parker of Fairport has started a business to do just that.
ROC Shots Video Services creates custom videos for families and small organizations to capture their legacies. A customer can choose a video autobiography with the option of adding family pictures, slides and video clips, or ROC Shots can create a video scrapbook from digital photos and scanned prints, with the option of narration. ROC Shots can repair and color-balance photos and add music and narration. The result: a DVD in a case with personalized artwork that can be used at a memorial service, given as a gift and treasured as a family keepsake.
Some people could tackle such projects themselves, but many don't have the time or the technical ability.
Parker launched the business in June 2013 and has no competitors locally that he knows of. He began with the benefit of a background in business development, but he still had a lot to learn as a new entrepreneur.
He began his career as an engineer. After earning a mechanical engineering degree in 1980 at University of Rochester, Parker worked as an engineer in Massachusetts at the Honeywell aerospace defense firm, which became BAE Systems. The company creates thermal infrared products, such as equipment that allows military personnel to see in the dark, as well as less-expensive versions that help firefighters see through the smoke and find someone hiding in a closet.
In 1987, "after I got my MBA, I joined the business development side - which is the dark side, according to the engineers," Parker says with a smile.
His work included creating videos for trade shows and traveling the world to videotape product demonstrations. "I had a ball doing it," says Parker. To create videos, he'd write the scripts, compile a list of video shots needed, write the captions and sit with a video editor to finish the project.
Parker married a Brighton school teacher whom he met in Boston and planned to settle with her in the Rochester area in 1996, but then he was asked to stay in the Boston area to lead the business development effort for a revolutionary technology at Lockheed Martin. He ended up commuting from Rochester to Boston each week for five years. In 2001, he became a product manager and then the engineering manager at CVI Melles Griot in Rochester, which creates lenses and complex optical systems for the semiconductor market. He worked there for 10 years, until new owners reorganized the senior staff in 2011.
The transition became a chance for Parker to choose what he wanted to do next. He welcomed the idea of getting out of the office. The video idea came up when a friend's father said he was scared of having his life stories die with him. Parker created a video for him and says, "He was just taken to tears."
Parker initially thought his customers would be senior citizens, but he has found many of them reticent. He is now focused on their children - mostly women ages 40 to 55 - who want to sit down and talk to their parents on camera, but can't or won't do it on their own.
To learn from and meet other entrepreneurs, Parker attended networking meetings of organizations such as the August Group and New Horizons, where he heard about the Rochester Professional Consultants Network (RPCN) and SCORE. SCORE mentors provided him with third-party feedback on his business plan. One of them was reduced to tears, wishing he'd been able to create a legacy video of his own mom before she died.
Parker joined RPCN in early 2012 and has picked up useful tips at the group's business forums and technical forums, such as the pros and cons of incorporating or forming a limited liability company, getting business insurance, deciding between information systems such as Google documents and Dropbox, and code compatibility issues between Mac and PC computers.
"RPCN has helped me fill in a lot of the blanks - how to create a business, how to manage a business and the day-to-day decisions," says Parker. "The questions other people ask are as valuable to me as the questions I come up with." He tries to frame his questions broadly so the answers help others as well, rather than being specific only to his business.
Through RPCN, he learned of a helpful attorney - who advised him to form an LLC - and a great small-business accountant, who said it's fine to track income and expenses in Excel rather than buying a more-expensive software program.
Parker recently began supporting the organization by volunteering to film promotional videos featuring upcoming RPCN presenters. Members and the public can see the promo videos at the RPCN website (rochesterconsultants.org), in the monthly e-newsletter and on YouTube.com. That work, in turn, could help Parker's business. "I'm meeting people who are likely in my target market. It can't hurt to have Tracey Aiello (a November presenter) know what I'm trying to do with my little company."
Parker suggests that a valuable next step for RPCN could be to offer smaller focus groups to talk more in-depth about certain topics, such as marketing. Members could share what works for them and get ideas from colleagues. Such a group would ideally include people with marketing expertise, he adds.
"RPCN has been a great way to bounce my ideas off of others and fill in the blanks," says Parker. "I really appreciate that."
Here is a video in which Todd describes his business and how RPCN helped him.
Chris Swingle Farnum is a freelance writer in Rochester.