Joel Erb founded his company in 1998 at the age of 15. His first big pitch? Calvin Klein and Hugo Boss. He got the gig.
But despite being an early adopter and tech-prodigy, he is known for his ability to disconnect and unplug. We stopped in to talk to Joel at his Richmond-based development company, INM United, about their corporate culture, his team, and life beyond the laptop.
INTERVIEW: JOEL ERB
Tell us about INM United. When did you start and what do you do?
I started in company in 1998 when I was 15 and since then we’ve grown to a team of 12 strategists, designers and developers. Basically, we help teams bring digital products to market faster. Whether that team is a Fortune 100 or a brand new startup. We work mostly with e-commerce, strategy, user interaction improvement, and mobile apps.
When I first started, the business was called Inet Network, then I started Muroe, which was the name of a creative village in 1400’s Europe, finally in 2006 I merged the two names into INM United. I ran the business throughout high school and business school at The University of Richmond.
We’ve also started three successful startups by using our offices as an incubator of sorts: SpotTrot, a music platform that helps bands sell their music, VoiceMirror, a voice analytics software that detects emotion in voice, and Vibeats, which matches the user to restaurants they may like.
Who do you consider to be an ideal client? What space do you feel the most comfortable working in?
We love working with companies who are open to new creative ideas. Our process pushes the boundaries of the problem we want to solve. Ledbury is a great example. This year, we redesigned Ledbury’s website with a focus towards the materials, construction of the shirts, and better position their brand. That project resulted in a 40% conversation rate increase.
We also work well with collaborative clients. If we can, we like to work onsite and collaborate with our clients by staying around their space for a week or two to see how the team works together - it helps us deliver a final product that is more authentic to the company.
We find it refreshing to work with companies who are willing to take a risk. We’ve found that if you don’t take a risk online, you get lost with everyone else. Finally, we love the work hard play hard mentality. We like to hang with our clients outside of work. One of our clients specifically loves tequila, so we go do that. We like to interact on that level and become friends - to bridge the gap.
So you would say you guys are all friends here?
More like family. We have friday lunch together and do potlucks, we see movies and baseball games together, we go camping. We spend a lot of time together outside of working hours.
How does that relationship affect your process?
In order to ensure people are engaged at work, you have to understand the way people tick, what they enjoy doing, their goals, their past. When you get that view of a person, the boundaries drop and people become more transparent - then you’re able to become more effective as a manager and reach goals faster.
Seventeen years later, how do you keep fresh?
This is a factory of ideas. We work with so many industries to solve so many problems, we are constantly keeping fresh through our clients. We also have the unique capability of constantly developing new start ups that help keep the environment exciting.
People hang out here - that’s the weird thing. Almost everyday someone will be here past 7. We put the games up on TV, have a drink. We cook a TON here since we have the full kitchen. If there’s a deadline there is for sure late night working, but most of our after-hours office time is spent hanging out.
Do you guys have a favorite happy hour spot?
I go to The Jefferson quite a bit. As a team we hit the local spots: Isley, Rappahannock - at least once a week.
One word to describe what you’re creating at INM?
Experiences. We create engaging experiences for the users of the products we build, whether it’s a new online store, mobile app or website.
I get up between 6 and 7am, and run 5K about three days a week. After that I meditate for 15-20 minutes, which for me is trying not to think about anything. Then I review my email, have a cup of coffee and a hard boiled egg while listening to jazz.
As a team, we do a morning stand up where we go around and talk about what we did yesterday and what we’ll do today.
How do you spend your commute time? Podcasts, music, something else?
I usually spend my time in the car on the phone - I have a call list. I do listen to The Tim Ferris Podcast, like everyone else. Music will shift based on the weather, rainy calls for jazz, sunny means EDM.
Go back 5 years, give yourself advice:
Enjoy the process; don’t stress out over the journey.
Photography by Alexander Kreher.