By REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — When Cliff Rohde created his first website in 1996, friends suggested the Internet was a fad that would soon be forgotten.
At the time, he was working in Washington, D.C., at Human Rights Watch, a nonprofit that monitors and reports on international human rights issues. When reports were completed, they were faxed, painstakingly, one at a time.
“I remember sitting at the fax machine for hours and hours,” he said. When the office got a fax machine that could be programmed with multiple numbers his entire workday changed.
Not long before that, he had organized the reports’ hand-delivery throughout the city.
“We would send them around to reporters, using bike messengers,” he recalled.
At the time, he would never have imagined that in 2015 he could design a digital flier, then click a few buttons on the Mailchimp website and be done with PR for the day.
In reality, many small business owners still don’t know how to complete that task — so Rohde has made it his job to help. Now the owner and “chief executive goat” of Niskayuna-based Goat Cloud Communications, LLC, Rohde helps local business owners, nonprofits artists, and writers establish their Web presences.
Rohde moved to Niskayuna 10 years ago with his wife, Allison Schultz, and their three children. He was still working as an attorney then, but in 2011 he lost his job.
“I was working at a law firm in Albany that downsized,” he said. “It ended up presenting me with a fantastic opportunity.”
Though he works primarily out of his home, Rohde has none of the sloppy chic (if it can be called chic) of tech celebrities like Zuckerberg or Jobs. He wears Dolce and Gabbana glasses, a small gold earring and a tailored blazer.
He knows his neat presentation and his people skills don’t fit the stereotype for his current profession.
“I fear that the industry doesn’t have the greatest reputation,” he said.
He may look more like a lawyer than a hacker, but he’s long had the skills to work on the Web. Rohde had always been the go-to impromptu IT guy for friends and coworkers, so he decided his next venture would be a Web consulting business.
“I have perspective that’s a little more seasoned than many, but I don’t think it’s so seasoned that I don’t ‘get’ the Internet,” he said, adding with a laugh: “It vexes my children,” a girl and two boys ages 11, 13, and 17.
The cornerstone of his approach to Web development for local business owners is the idea that a Web presence is an important partner to local brick-and-mortar establishments. It may seem obvious, but to many old-school businesspeople, it takes some explaining before they understand the connection between cyberspace and their own sidewalks.
“We try to look at what their goals are in the real world,” Rohde said.
That mindset has connected him with a lot of fascinating people in the Niskayuna community, and he’s become impressed with the community pride that people share. He’s developed Web sites for the Niskayuna Community Action Program, the Nott Street Offices, Union Cafe, local artists and writers and many more.
“I really try to help people think broadly,” he said.
“I always encourage people who are just starting off to focus on the branding issue, writ large,” Rohde said. “I help people with serious stuff, but there’s a human element to that that I really believe in.”
Take the name of his own company, for example. Before he created the company in 2011, he didn’t have any particular interest in goats.
“I like goats well enough,” he said. “It’s not like I have goats all over my house.”
Instead, he chose the quirky moniker because it was funny and unique.
“It’s two syllables, easy to spell,” he said. And nobody else on the Internet was looking for a domain name or Twitter handle involving goats and clouds.
He’s adopted the identity over time, becoming attached to it as his company grows and his neighbors begin to recognize it on their friends’ Web sites.
“I’ve become more of the goat guy,” he said. He also donates to charities like Heifer International and Oxfam, funding the organizations’ efforts to deliver — what else? — goats to communities that need products like milk and cheese.
Even local business owners who aren’t paying clients of Rohde’s can benefit from his expertise. From time to time, he provides free seminars about different trends and developments.
During his next offering, at 11:30 a.m. Jan. 28 at Berkshire Bank in Niskayuna, Rohde will offer free advice to local business owners on the next wave of tech: cloud-based storage and computing options.
On Feb. 11, he’ll facilitate a webinar on Google services at the Schenectady Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s a chance to network, too, and an opportunity to ask questions,” he said.