An Interview with Joe Herbert of the Herbert Brothers

I first met the Herbert Brothers (Joe, Dave, Matt, Pete and Josh) when they won the Doritos Crash the Super Bowl 2009 contest (one million dollars) and invented the game Triviathon. You won’t find a more talented group of siblings with such varied interests and success pursuing them. I’ve toasted glasses of milk with most of the brothers at our Connolly’s Get-Together in NY and some participate in our Chicago events. The talent doesn’t fall from the tree, either, as Dave’s son Adrik won our Young Inventor Challenge in 2010 and Joe’s children’s interests are as varied and successful as their father’s. Between the five of them, they have brought incredible entertainment into the world. Interviewing all five would have been tough, so I’m starting with Joe. In the years to come, I hope to post interviews with each brother. 


Why and how did you get into the Toy and Game industry?

Growing up, my parents didn’t allow us to watch a lot of television. When it was warm outside we had to go outside and play – and that’s when my four brothers and I really began to challenge our imaginations. When it got dark, or when the weather was bad and we had to play indoors we played a lot of games. The five Herbert brothers are and have always been extremely competitive, and that drove us in our game play, in sports, and in life. A lot of games that we played growing up were limited to 6 people, so when we played games as a family we often found ourselves modifying the rules of games to accommodate all seven of us (five boys and our parents).

I graduated Purdue University with a Visual Communications Design degree, and while in college began to design my own board games. A game that I grew up playing often was Trivial Pursuit. Even though my favorite category is movies / entertainment, I remember as kids in the version we played all of the movies and entertainment questions were from before my time, which was frustrating. I’m a child of the 80s, and it seemed like all of the questions were from the 50s and 60s. Only mom could answer this category with ease, but she would always get stuck on sports questions – that was dad’s department. In college I decided to invent a trivia game that Richard Gottlieb (USA Toy Experts) so accurately describes as one that “allowed everyone to play… No matter the age, the IQ or the sobriety.” We called it: Triviathon.

We spent ten years off and on building upon the idea of Triviathon and researching and collecting the thousands of questions needed to play it. In 2008, Dave and I decided to go to NY to see what the Toy Fair was like. We spent a lot of time walking the floor and meeting people. It was also around this time that we met Mary Couzin of DiscoverGames (part of the Chicago Toy & Game Group). Mary was, and continues to be, a valuable resource and friend in this industry. Meeting people like Mary and others gave us the determination and courage to launch our own game and see what happens. So, like many inventors before us, we borrowed money from family and friends to manufacture our first game, Triviathon. In 2009, we purchased a booth at Toy Fair and were all set to be two little minnows in the ocean that is the toy and game industry. But, as it turned out, fortune favored us.

Two weeks before leaving to New York for the 2009 Toy Fair our commercial for Doritos won the Doritos Crash the Super Bowl contest, aired during the Super Bowl, and broke Anheuser-Busch’s ten year reign as the number 1 Super Bowl commercial (according to the USA Today Ad Meter). The feat gave us a lot of publicity, including an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. The media followed us to New York for the Toy Fair, our first game won a lot of awards, and officially started our careers as game inventors.

What trends do you see in toys or games that excite or worry you?

One of the driving forces in the game industry is technology. And, video games capture a huge segment of the audience for board games and card games. We Herberts love and embrace technology, and we can attribute a big part of our success to technology, and social media AS A TOOL. Our fear for our kids and the younger generations is the move from using technology as a tool to relying on and become dependent on technology, and that scares us. However, a lot of parents feel this way, and history seems to always be an ever moving pendulum and we’re excited for the trend to get unplugged and play. You can teach technology, but you can’t teach creativity. And while convenient (which is great), technology can’t replace the personal connection you get with other people. I feel like the Herbert Brothers are good at innovating somewhere in the middle – using technology to sell it, but creativity to play it.

What was your favorite toy or game as a child?

One of my all-time favorite games is Clue. Not so much because of the game itself, but how I play it, and the enjoyment of completely dominating everyone else who plays it. When I met my wife, she told me that her family and friends love to play Clue, and that she’s really good at it. When she played her first game of Clue with the Herbert boys she said something like, “OK, you guys are on a whole new level with Clue!” One of the biggest differences between how I play Clue and most other people that I’ve met play it is that I learn far more information on what other people ask, and or show each other, than I do from what I see people show me. So much so, in fact, that I’ve played on won Clue by never entering a room and never asking a question the entire game… just listening to other people ask and solving it. I’ve played where no cards are dealt to me so that I begin the game with no clues. It doesn’t seem to matter, because the real information is what people are asking and as long as I can do that, I’m likely to figure it out fairly quickly.

What does your typical day look like?

Working for Herbert Brothers Entertainment basically ensures that there is no such thing as a typical day. We do so many different things that none of us even know what to use as a job title. When we encounter forms that ask us for a job description we’re never sure what to put! When we’re not inventing games, the main thing we’re doing is video production. Whether it’s for a commercial, a TV show, or a movie, we love the art of storytelling and bringing our imaginations to life.

A typical day in the office might be completely different each day, but my free time does remain fairly consistently spent. I work a lot of hours, and weekends and evenings when I need to, but one of the perks of being your own boss is setting your own hours. One of my favorite parts of the day is my two hour lunch break to play full court basketball games at the local YMCA. I love to play basketball. In the evening it’s all about my kids. I love to spend time with my wife and kids. We play a lot of games as a family.

I’m very active in spending time to work with my kids on developing skills – whatever they choose. At the moment my son wants to be better at tennis so I’m practicing and teaching him tennis, racquetball, ping pong, etc. to develop his hand eye coordination. Last year I took my daughter to a professional roller derby game in Cincinnati. She was immediately hooked, so we bought some skates and began rollerskating training. And, in the fall of 2015 she tried out for and made the Cincinnati Junior Roller Girls. The age range for the team is 8-17, and she made the team as an 8 year old (and has sense turned 9).

When the kids go to bed, I get some quiet time with my wife, Jayme. We love to settle down and watch a favorite movie, or one of our favorite TV shows together. Movies are favorite thing to relax to. Sometimes we enjoy a two person board game or card game. She’s very smart, and gives me a challenge in most games. I love that.

What inspires you?

I guess I’ve always been inspired by my competitive spirit. I hate losing more than I love winning. Growing up my brothers and I were always trying to out-perform one another in just about everything we did. It made us all work hard and long to be better at anything and everything we wanted to do. When anyone ever does anything awesome and amazing it inspires me to do the same.

Where were you born?

I was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. Moved to southeast Indiana when I was two and have lived in Indiana since. I’m currently in Batesville, Indiana which is about 45 minutes from Cincinnati, Ohio and an hour from Indianapolis, Indiana.

Where did you grow up and how did that influence who you are today?

I love being a Hoosier from Indiana. I have a strong sense of pride here. I think one of the biggest influences on me growing up in a small rural town, in a close loving family, has made me a very down to earth person. I appreciate what I have, and I’m polite to others in way that has made others notice so much as to comment on it to me. I definitely take it as a compliment.

What do you read every day, and why?

I love books, and I love writing, but I hate to read. Strange, I know. My passion for writing goes with my overall desire to create, which takes up a lot of my time and energy. Reading to me is more like work, than relaxation. When it’s time to take my mind off of my own creative projects I play sports or watch movies.

How do you jumpstart your creativity when you find yourself stalled on a project?

I write everything down. I have for a long time, before it was easy to do on my phone. When I need to jumpstart creativity I look at things I wrote down in the past, and usually find something that answers my problem.

Favorite movie of all time?

My favorite movie of all time is Top Gun. But, it’s my second favorite movie of all time that I get made fun of the most. My second favorite movie of all time is Dirty Dancing. My friends have a field day with that. Nobody puts Joey in a corner.

Do you have any special talents?

I don’t know if you qualify this as a special talent, but something nobody would know about me just by looking is that I competed in gymnastics for 8 years growing up, and by age 9 competed in the AAU/USA Junior Olympics. I’m 6’4” these days, but growing up even into my early years of high school I was one of the smallest and youngest in my class. I was also on the high school diving team, largely due to my gymnastics training. I’m 40 years old today, but I can still do a back flip. And recently at the local pool I did a double flip off the high dive.

What’s next?

Last year we filmed our first movie! We’re currently in the final stages of post production, and the movie will be released in the spring.

The movie is titled “In Between Days”. (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4265500/?ref_=fn_al_tt_2 ) It's a coming of age story of a 40 year old man, a best selling author, having a midlife crisis, who decides to go back home where he grew up in search finding the first car he owned (a 1966 mustang). Through that journey he reunites with old high school friends, and an old high school sweetheart. The movie stars Faust Checho, Andy Ahrens, Ben Cain, Amy Jo Johnson, and William Russ. Amy Jo Johnson is very well known for her role as the pink Power Ranger. She’s been in a lot of movies, including the leading role in “Susie Q.” and in a number of TV shows including “Felicity,” and “Flash Point.” William Russ is very well known as Alan Mathews, the dad on Disney’s “Boy Meet’s World.”

It’s an independent movie, and will be playing in film festivals throughout 2016, and then who knows! Hopefully we get a distribution deal, and start work on our second movie.

In addition to getting our first movie released, my brother Matt Herbert (who is an animator for The Simpsons) has recently started publishing a comic strip called The Jungle (http://www.thejunglecomic.com ) which debuted on February 1st, 2016. The Jungle is about everyday life at the office - for animals.


Thanks, Joe, for a great interview!