How being pissed off launched 30 years of creative entrepreneurship
“Estipona Group was launched by 23-year-old Edward in his parent’s garage in Stead, Nevada.”
It’s the Estipona Group origin story we know and love. It also happens to be true, or mostly true (it was actually a spare bedroom), but it’s not the whole story. Deciding to launch my own company 30 years ago was certainly the product of youthful overconfidence, but it was also the product of my anger and competitiveness.
As I knocked on doors in the winter of 1992 trying to get a job in marketing as a newly minted college grad, I kept hearing, “No” over and over again. It pissed me off. I had done everything the way I was supposed to. I got great grades. I was the president of the American Marketing Association and had just been named the “Collegiate Member of the Year.” I had relevant work experience. I had references. I had a ridiculously fancy foil-accented resume and cover letter. But no one would give me a chance.
Was it the recession? That’s what some companies told me. Or because I didn't have enough experience? Some said that. Or was it because I didn't look like the other employees? I didn’t know, but the whole experience gave me a chip on my shoulder, and that chip fueled my drive to prove they’d all made a big mistake not hiring me. Estipona Group was launched in 1993 because I needed to prove I belonged in this business and in this town.
30 years later, I think I’ve proven them wrong. We’ve accomplished a lot as an agency during those years and we’ve weathered some serious storms that other agencies haven’t survived. So it’s worth asking, “Why has Estipona Group succeeded this long and this well?” At the risk of sounding cliché, it’s our people.
During the past three decades there has been monumental change in the advertising industry — much of it guided by technology. And as an industry we’ve had to negotiate that interesting dance between technology and humanity. Our persistence as a company through that change (including three recessions) reflects our ability to embrace and, when we’re really good, anticipate, the change. As CEO, I’ve worked to ingrain adaptability into company culture, but my greatest feat has been building the right team for the job.
While technology has often guided how we’ve evolved as an agency, it was the team who believed in the vision, embraced the change and took us forward. We were one of the first agencies in the region to ditch drafting tables and do start-to-finish work on computers (I still have the original Macintosh LCIII). We tackled web UI/UX with curiosity and an open mind in the early days of the internet. As media moved from print to digital, we developed in-house expertise around digital strategy. When social media became the dominant communication tool, we armed our specialists with tools to turn social engagement into marketing ROI. With DEI and accessible design becoming increasingly important for communicators, we’ve taken a leadership role. As we begin exploring the world of AI and quantum computing, I look around at my team, confident in our ability to harness the power and promise of these new tools, too.
Perhaps that will be my most important agency role during the next 30 years: finding and nurturing the next generation of great marketers. Because better tech requires even better people to use it well. These days, I hire based more on a gut feeling than a resume. While skills can be quantified, chemistry, integrity and personal drive aren’t found on a resume. Good humans who embrace our values-driven culture are the special sauce of EG success.
10,950 days and many successes later, sometimes I still feel I’m fighting for legitimacy and for my agency’s place at the table. After earning Reno Ad Person of the Year, Reno Marketer of the Year, Top 20 Business Leaders Under 40 and, most recently, Agency of the Year for the Western US, I still feel I have something to prove and I’m glad. That feeling still drives me to make the agency succeed, to make it a force for good in the world. I may not have the most employees, be the biggest agency, or have the biggest bank account, but I plan to outlast all of them.