Blog Post

eshots Celebrates its 20th Anniversary

May 8, 2018

Our founder and CEO, Craig Steensma, took a moment to reflect on the last 20 years. Please enjoy!

When we launched eshots in the kitchen of a coach house apartment in May of 1998, I never imagined there would come a time for me to craft a letter thanking all the amazing people who helped shape the company over a 20 year period.

I’m humbled and downright grateful to have the opportunity today to reflect on all the amazing people I call colleagues (current and those who’ve gone onward), thank the clients who share in our mission, and express appreciation for all the professional and personal connections that challenged and supported me throughout the years to grow a company, serve as a mentor to our team, and focus my time on balancing my role as husband/father.

Like a lot of businesses, it all started with a good idea and a ton of passion. But in 1998, it also started with a lot of tater tots from unending visits to the Salt & Pepper Diner where we’d spend hours sketching out how to make it all work (the original data model was literally sketched on a napkin). Since then, we’ve always retained the diner theme in our various offices as a nod to our roots and a reminder of what a small team can do with some passion (and plates of fried potatoes).

Back then photo marketing was revolutionary: replace Polaroid photos and paper business reply cards (BRCs) with digital cameras and computer technologies. When we launched the final product at the Daytona 500, thousands of people lined up waiting 45 minutes to “see yourself on the web” (no really, that’s what the signage said!). 20 years later, photo marketing remains a staple of events with dozens of similar businesses based on a concept we pioneered. 

You might be thinking, “okay, so you took cool event photos and uploaded them?” You’re right. But 20 years ago we saw something more—an opportunity to create a business that generates insights from connecting consumers to products or services they’re passionate about. Today our mix of data capture software and applications collects more than 3 million unique consumers annually from live events, or roughly the population of our “sweet” home base city, Chicago.

Ignorance is bliss. I still remember all the people who said we were crazy…that the technology would never work, that consumers wouldn’t embrace it, etc. Those doubters only made us work harder until we got a small group of marketing executives at GM to give us one chance to present our idea. That’s right…we landed General Motors as our pilot client. How’s that for crazy? 

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and take a look around once in a while, you could miss it.

-       Ferris Bueler’s Day Off

A rapidly changing technology base might suggest we are an entirely different business today and in many ways that’s true. But since day one, the culture has been one of continual improvement, challenge, curiosity, and care. It’s this frame of mind that has allowed us to build a platform that takes data, churns it, and does something meaningful for our clients so they can better spend their experiential marketing dollars. I often share an original agreement from 1998 where the closing paragraph describes how our services will “help deliver measurable ROI like never before.”  So while life has moved pretty fast, our mission remains the same: to Use Technology and Insights to Advance Experiential Marketing ROI. 

Building a business is HARD. We had to persevere through the crash, auto manufacturer bankruptcies in 2009, departures of key team players, and the occasional mistake (everybody makes them). They were important lessons for us and we came out of each one stronger than before by doubling down on our best assets—our customers and our people.

Thinking about life in 1998 can be fun. There was no iPhone (“flip phones” were not very smart at all). Texting was not mainstream. People were infatuated with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in Titanic. You navigated around cities by printing Mapquest directions on paper or stood in the rain trying to hail a cab along with half of New York City—wow!  

Life in 2018 is fun, too. Just last week, I met with the Director of all media for one of the largest companies in the world. Think about that for a second—this woman manages media, social and CRM for one of the largest companies in the world (no it’s not GM). This time I had little to do with this meeting. The team made it possible, and I thanked them all personally during our monthly standup for blessing me with that opportunity—they are rock stars.

Even more rewarding in my role as a father, I was able to share details of this same meeting at dinner with my 3 daughters. I emphasized how this same executive challenged me 10 years ago to scale our platform into what it is today, and how neat it was to thank her ahead of our 20 year anniversary. My middle daughter was excited to know it was a woman in this role and asked what made her and the other managers at eshots successful. The answer came easy to me for a change. I responded, “they are passionate about their work but even more passionate about building an atmosphere of collaboration and respect.” We talked about how that same dedication for service could take her farther in life than she can imagine. 

These are exciting times. Data is everywhere, it’s getting easier to capture and manipulate, and it can transform the way decisions are made. Even though 20 years is substantial, I feel like we are just getting started! One of our core values is, “what gets measured gets managed.”  In this case, though, I don’t think it’s possible to measure the gratitude I have for our staff (past and present) or our amazing clients who entrust us as their partner. Thank you friends.



Craig Steensma

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