#eXtyles20th: A conversation with Irina Golfman

Inera’s founder and president, Irina Golfman, retired from the company earlier this year. As part of our #eXtyles20th series, we sat down with Irina to talk about where Inera started, how things have changed, and what advice she would give her 1992 self!

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So how did this whole thing get started?

Let’s start with a little bit of history! When I first started Inera in 1992, I was fed up with the corporate world and I wanted to do my own thing. Jeff, my older child who is now 35, was 7, and I wanted to spend more time with him. So I thought, all right, I’ll start a consulting business! I’ll manage my own hours! [laughs]

Stationery from JIB Associates, the original name for Inera

Inera started with the vision of being a one-woman consulting business, and its original name was JIB Associates: J for Jeff, I for Irina, and B for Bruce, because everyone had a role to play in this little business.

Bruce actually did all the books and the invoicing until 1996, when we hired Bonnie MacDonald, a part-time bookkeeper who stayed with the company until the Atypon acquisition. Bruce also did a little bit of software development for me on the side while working for another company before he formally joined Inera in 1997.

For the first four years, until 1996, I ran the business out of our house—in fact, out of one of the bedrooms!

three photos of a bedroom set up as a home office in the early 1990s

I really did run it as a one-person workflow consulting business for a couple of years. The goal was to go into various organizations, help them understand what an electronic workflow was and how they could transition from a purely paper-based workflow to something that included an electronic component. This is back in the dark ages when a journal was printed, sent to subscribers and libraries, and if the publisher made an electronic version available, or even archived it a month later, that was a success!

I remember that era!

One of those consulting customers was Capital City Press [now Sheridan, a CJK Group Company], and in the mid-1990s there was a point when they said, “OK, this is really great! We really appreciate this design! So now you need to build it for us.” That project led to more projects for CCP, and ultimately became eXtyles.

Now I had to hire somebody. I started my career as a developer, then transitioned into management, so I continued coding, but less and less. By the time I started Inera, I could still sit down and code, but the level of coding needed for this project was really beyond what I was interested in getting into! So I brought in a developer, and he was a great guy, but after 6 months, having him come and work in my house every day got to be a little old. We rented our first office in Newton in May 1996. Now that I had an employee, I decided that we needed to incorporate, but by that time someone else had taken the name JIB Associates.

And that’s when we became Inera! Where did that name come from?

Handwritten notes and doodles on random scrap paper

Well, it came from four bottles of really good wine, a couple of our friends who knew a bit about marketing, and a long and fun evening of brainstorming. As you may have guessed, the name Inera is basically my name, with some letters rearranged and replaced. We came up with about 10 possible names, and we sent them to a few clients, one to our business attorney, another to the accountant … and Inera was the name that got the most votes. At the time, the Internet was just starting to flourish. We thought the “In” in Inera would imply we were an Internet-savvy, cutting-edge outfit and would help attract customers.

And how about the name eXtyles?

Every good name has to be accompanied by good food and good alcohol! eXtyles … I still remember, it was a very long lunch at Tony Roma’s with Bruce, myself, Igor [Kleshchevich], and Jim Brackett. Jim wrote the eXtyles core parser and still helps Bruce with an occasional question. None of us would normally have been drinking at lunch, but that time we did. We were young then!

We used a bunch of napkins—we hadn’t brought paper with us, but we did have a pen. We wanted to have something about styling in the name, because of course that’s what it’s all about. We just went through many different permutations, and that’s how the name eXtyles was created.

Do you remember any of the other permutations?

No. Are you kidding me? [laughs]

Any good stories from the early days of Inera?

You know, in the early days, I was on call 24/7—the office phone was transferred to the house, and I have a very clear memory of trying to make dinner, with one-year-old Aaron [Irina and Bruce’s younger son] hanging onto my skirt and a customer on the line…

Aaron came on his first business trip when he was 7 weeks old. The client was so excited to see the baby that he decided to stop by the inn where we were staying on his way to work, and he walked into our room while I was sitting in bed nursing. It was both funny and embarrassing at the same time. After that, I didn’t even think twice about nursing the baby at staff meetings. In his early years, Aaron attended lots of meetings and conferences!

By the summer of 1996, we had a few people on staff, and we thought we could take a vacation. We went to France for 2 weeks. Since this was the dark ages before cellphones, we left the phone number of the place we were planning to stay with our intern. One evening, when we got back from a day of sightseeing, we discovered a message and a request to call in. Luckily, Bruce remembered enough French to find a store that sold phone cards and to guide me through using a pay phone the next morning! I don’t remember what the crisis was, but somehow I managed to guide the team from the Paris pay phone so they could solve it.

So, you’re retired now! What do you miss the most?

Inera staff work in a well-lit open-plan office, with Timo the goldendoodle napping in the foregroundWhat do I miss the most? I miss you guys! For me, every person at Inera has become part of my extended family. I enjoyed daily interactions with everyone on the Inera team, and that’s what I miss most.

And what don’t you miss?

Well, I don’t miss being under a lot of pressure—you know, having to get something done today. Or yesterday. Or a week ago!

I don’t miss the constant over-scheduling and extra stress of work. I appreciate having a little bit more time to do things I enjoy, like reading, walking, or listening to music.

Tell us about some milestones or landmark moments for Inera.

There were many milestones. The first employee, moving into a “real office”, growing from one employee to several, becoming an authority in the industry, etc. When I think of truly significant landmarks, three come to mind: transitioning from a one-woman consulting operation to a team that developed custom software, moving from developing custom software to creating and selling products, and the Atypon acquisition.

The decision to develop eXtyles was really significant because of everything that it entailed. When you develop custom software, you’re still a consulting company; we were delivering software, not just design documents or specs, but it’s still a consulting mentality.

Early marketing collateral for eXtyles with the heading "Still editing references by hand?" and an image of a broken pencil lying on a printed bibliography

But when we decided to develop eXtyles, that was a huge shift, from consulting to product development. And honestly, that’s not something I would have predicted we would do when I started Inera! I managed software development teams at Xerox Imaging Systems, so I knew how stressful it was, and I wasn’t really interested in ever doing that again. But then there we were, there was this opportunity that we just couldn’t pass up.

After being a consulting company for a while, it becomes clear that you work very hard but you’re giving away everything you create. We were well paid for our work, but we were giving away the copyright, so there’s no value in the company. And eventually, you know, you want to build up equity. What eventually led to the acquisition by Atypon was that we had equity in the form of our software products. So that was definitely a significant milestone.

Another milestone was in 2000, when Bruce took over running Inera. At that time, Aaron was three and was diagnosed with a ton of food allergies. One day I came home and looked in the fridge and realized that I didn’t know what I could feed my child, that I just needed to take a step back from the business because I couldn’t manage his needs and lead the company. The next day I promoted Bruce from Vice President of Development to CEO and transitioned the “top hat” to him. I kept the title of President, but significantly decreased my involvement in the business for several years.

I actually think this was very fortuitous, because I don’t know that I would have been able to build up Inera and the eXtyles brand the way Bruce has done. Bruce is much better at sales than I am—sales have never been my forte. So because I had to step aside, I think that allowed the company to grow in different ways.

What advice would 2020 Irina give 1992 Irina?

What advice?

I don’t know what advice I would give. I was actually reflecting on that yesterday, and I said to Bruce, “They want to know what advice I would give myself, it’s a great question and I don’t actually know what I would say.” And Bruce said: “Don’t hire your husband!” And I thought, hmm, there’s something to this!

"It takes a lot of discipline not to bring work into every corner of your life." --Irina GolfmanWe have a lot of fun with that one, but seriously: as much as it’s worked out really well in the end, working with your spouse can be a challenge. Maintaining boundaries between work and family was very difficult. Our children know a lot more about our work than we care to admit, because that was often the dinner conversation. It takes a lot of discipline not to bring work into every corner of your life.

It’s not easy to live together and work together, to be together 24/7. Most people, when they have an issue at work, can come home and talk to their spouse about it and have a sounding board. When you work together, you don’t have that, and this can be a serious challenge. Let’s just say, working with your spouse for 23 years is not for everyone. I’m grateful to be retired and still married to Bruce 😄

Running a company is pretty stressful. There have been many moments of strife, many moments of uncertainty, impatience, of being upset at someone or something. If I could, I would advise my 1992 self to learn mindfulness and meditation practices before starting a business. I would paste the slogan “Stay calm and carry on” on every mirror and door in the office and at home. You laugh. I’m serious.

Beyond that, you know, I’m really quite proud of where we ended up.

Thanks, Irina!

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We’re proud, too! We hope you’ve enjoyed this little trip through the history of Inera and eXtyles, and we hope you’ll also enjoy our whirlwind video tour!