Ross Hill made his first PictureBooth out of things he could find at a Tennessee Home Depot.
“I made it out of plywood. … I bought a jigsaw to put the first one together,” Hill said. “It was really rough looking. Someone painted a white circle around the lens so people knew where to look.”
He set up at a sorority party at a bar in Nashville, and people lined up to stand in front of his camera-in-a-box creation, where their images were captured on a memory card that Hill would later edit and post online.
But that night, a serendipitous introduction would change the course of his life and his fledgling business.
Pushed to innovate
“This lady walked up and asked what the [PictureBooth] was,” Hill said. “She told me she was the Red Bull marketing director for the Southeast and wanted to use it at their events. It changed the business immediately. We were busy almost every day after that for a year and half just with Red Bull, and they gave us a lot of ideas.”
Hill said it was that partnership that pushed his company to innovate.
“I started making these out of a storage unit and now we professionally manufacture them,” he said. “It’s gone from camera in a box to a serious piece of technology that analyzes data and creates a ton of content for brands.”
According to the company’s website, “PictureBooth provides interactive photo booths and software to events and organizations all over the world. We are best known for ‘the PictureBooth,’ our portable/shippable photo booth system that is the same size as a carry-on suitcase; however you may know us because of our custom photo booths located throughout the country.”
Hill’s company produces the totally customizable PictureBooth “suitcase” from a small factory in Lexington, Ky., but business and software development takes place at Epicentral Coworking on North Tejon Street.
“This is our business development office,” Hill said. “Here we reach out to brands, form new partnerships and figure out what products to launch. Our [Chief Technology Officer Brian Parks] develops software and manages strategy.”
The company is now three years old, employs 17 in the two states, and revenues have grown 400 percent since its inception, Hill said.
Hill studied entrepreneurship at Belmont University in Nashville prior to starting PictureBooth. He created the camera-in-a-box concept to complement another business he’d been mulling over, a system to carry skis. While pitching his product in Denver at a ski industry trade show, his PictureBooth allowed attendees to document their experience.
“People were more interested in the PictureBooth than my product,” Hill said. “It was a no-brainer. … PictureBooth happened because of another business idea. I used it as a promotional product … but knew instantly it’s what I wanted to do because people were just having fun.”
While the original intent was to provide people a unique way to interact at events, the product has evolved to become a brand-driving machine. Hill said the proprietary software can be used to capture emails and other targeted information and the photos can be branded and posted on social media. And new products are in development that will extend the outreach capabilities of those photographic and social mediums.
So far, the company has worked with names across the pop culture spectrum: from sports franchises like NASCAR and the PGA, to artists including Taylor Swift and Kenny Chesney and products like Dos Equis and Dr Pepper.
“We work with large brands to give their fans and users something to interact with at an event,” he said. “It’s a fun experience that also collects data and creates user-generated content.”
Hill quotes Henry Ford: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
Hill said he wants PictureBooth’s software to be the automobile to his customers’ equine expectations.
“We’re launching products that have nothing to do with a photo booth,” he said. “We go to a lot of events … and see problems others don’t see because we understand how things are working as a whole. Now we’re turning into developing software that solves problems for things [customers] don’t know are problems.”
Within the next month or two, Hill said his company will launch an online customer platform that will completely automate the photo booth side of the business. According to Regional Sales Director Sam Elliot, the automation will simplify the process for smaller clients.
“Right now it’s easier for us to work with larger brands — to have a brand manager who understands the fonts and colors needed to make things easier for our designers. The [new online ordering engine] can guide smaller clients online and show them past examples. They can see what another customer did for their wedding and change the colors and switch the names to match their event. They create it and it’s very easy to go through.”
Hill said another product called Social Wall is in development and will allow users to display Twitter, Facebook and Instagram feeds directly to jumbotrons during events.
“Users put in a certain hashtag and the content goes up on the screen,” he said. “Musician Alan Jackson … [has] been the beta tester of that software. His brand was essentially irrelevant on social media and [fans weren’t promoting it.] [Social Wall] has completely changed his whole social media reach. … Now he’s reaching thousands and thousands every single week.”
Hill added that PictureBooth just this week launched a product called Selfie, which allows users to text a selfie to a certain number. In return, they receive a brand-customized photo that can be posted on social media and they are sent a code that can be used on perks and free products from that brand.
As an example: “A coffee shop would give you a free cup of coffee in exchange for posting your selfie with their logo on a [social media] platform of your choosing,” he said.
“Sometimes a photo booth isn’t the right thing for every event,” Hill said. “You don’t necessarily want a photo booth sitting inside your store.”
Hill said, over the next five years, he sees his company becoming “one of the largest, if not the largest photo booth company in the country.”
PictureBooth is in the beginning stages of affiliating with large-scale event promoters in Denver and Las Vegas and, Hill said, he’d like to affiliate with similar companies in every large city in the country.
The young CEO moved to Colorado Springs in August with his wife, who opened her own women’s fitness business on the city’s Northside. Hill said he was a “lone wolf” for a few months, until he met Elliot, who introduced him to Epicentral Coworking.
“Epicentral has been pivotal to our success,” he said. “We’ve met so many people through here who’ve helped us make this happen.
“I didn’t know about the entrepreneurial scene here when I came from Nashville, which is booming with entrepreneurs,” he added. “But this place, this community — there is a community of entrepreneurs here that allows creativity and really fosters that and … wants to change the city. There’s also opposition. But being an outsider looking in — Colorado Springs has so much potential, it’s mind-boggling. … That’s why I’m staying here and am so excited about the future.”
Address: Epicentral Coworking, 415 N. Tejon St.
Contact: picturebooth.co; 855-927-4686