This week we talk to Vindicta Digital MD about passion, why music is only for the weekend, and how your business’ survival depends on going digital.

James Blake has achieved a lot in his 27 years on Earth. As the proud Managing Director of Vindicta Digital, his success to date belies his youth. In 2020 he has reached 5 million people so he’s kind of a big deal.

But while his success is indeed enviable, there’s no secret ingredient. It boils down to undivided passion, drive and hard work. Oh, and no music in the car Monday to Friday! (Read on to find out why.)

Sorry to disappoint anyone who thought the digital era came with an algorithm for overnight success. On the flipside, those of you who fear digital transformation can take comfort in that fact that anyone can succeed if they work hard enough.

We sat down with Northern Irish digital entrepreneur James to find out what he thinks makes a good leader in the digital sphere, how he switches off, whether digital is just a young person’s game, and why your business’ entire future depends on Digital Transformation.

James, you’re enjoying great success at a very young age, so what would you say is your one killer attribute, what’s your secret ingredient outside of the technical know-how?

I believe it’s just pure persistence and grit basically. With anything entrepreneurial, or even in life, there has to be some level of persistence and it’s all about consistency. It doesn’t matter if your stuff is shit hot, if you aren’t consistent with it then it’s not going to go anywhere. So it’s just complete persistence, and I think sometimes people think I’m a little too crazy or a bit of a robot because I just do not let anything get in my way. If I want to do something, I’ll do it. I don’t care if it takes me a year or two years, it will happen and I think that’s the most important thing; a strong belief in what you’re doing and also being passionate about it; loving what you’re doing is so important.

What would be your best advice to other leaders reading this?

So we have quite a large team of about 16 in total; developers, designers, SEO guys, Google Ads guys, graphics guys, branding guys, that whole spectrum that we can offer to our clients. But with every single one of those guys, I approach them with the opinion that they don’t work directly for me, they work with me. I don’t care if somebody grows out of working for only Vindicta because they find they have a passion in something else and they’re going to explore that. I would actually help them because I just love entrepreneurship so much. I feel this actually increases productivity whereas if I was to say ‘get this done. I’m your boss, do this, do that’, eventually they’re going to be like, ‘I’m not here to be told what to do’. It’s not a dictatorship, everybody’s working together collectively for the same goal and I think if you can get your team on that level where everybody is passionate about your brand, your client projects. It’s just about developing that team morale.

This illustrates how strong a communicator you are, a key component in any successful Digital Transformation. But what can hamper and even derail success?

I’ve worked in the digital space since I was 17 and I have been within different organizations, and I’ve seen how different things work. Then obviously from starting Vindicta four years ago and seeing the whole journey that we’ve had, I’ve kind of experienced all of it in a short period of time and I suppose one of the biggest pitfalls I’ve seen is a lack of transparency. So like I’m the boss, I’m going to close off my door, don’t come into my office, just do your job, and I just feel like that’s so soul-destroying for everyone.

You obviously have a very clear vision on what makes leaders and teams successful. What’s the one thing you look for in a prospective employee?

Passion, 100 % passion. There is absolutely nobody involved with Vindicta in any way, shape or form who isn’t passionate. Because if they weren’t, I simply would not want to have that energy around me. Anyone who we will work with, regardless of if it’s somebody coming in to clean the office, we want to see passionate people and I think it’s so important to have that energy constantly around you because one negative person can come in and rub off on five and all of a sudden, you have a miniature pandemic of negativity within your business. So passion is so important, and positivity as part of that.

Negativity can creep in with Digital Transformations because people are suspicious of change and afraid to fail. So does a lot of this boil down to courage and resilience?

There’s no such thing as failure really. I mean, what’s the worst thing that can happen? You’ll get your wins, you get the lessons within that, but if you just keep pushing consistently you’ll get better and you’ll start to get the results. Right now, we are getting quite a lot of inquiries because of Covid and the way the world is going in digital but a lot of businesses, especially start-ups, maybe don’t have budgets available. So we’re just simply advising them to try it themselves, don’t be scared because if you do make a mistake, you learn from it. Try it out, have a go.

Clearly there’s a lot of learning and fresh thinking required for successful Digital Transformations. Is self-development important to you?

I would be a massive fan of self-development through reading and audio books and things like that. From the start of this year I devised a new rule that I’ll no longer listen to music in the car, only on weekends. During the week it is literally just books that are benefiting me spiritually, wealth books about success, whether that be financial or health. There’s books that I’ve listened to maybe seven or eight times, but I need that because every time I listen, I pick up something new. So it’s constant learning and all of our team is the exact same. Even Gosia who is actively my PA but at the same time she’s moving slowly into more of a marketing role and she’s been doing Google Garage qualifications, different digital marketing certifications. So I’m a big advocate for everybody just always taking the initiative to do a bit of self-development.

All this talk of audiobooks and Google Garage and transparency can be intimidating for certain generations. Maybe digital is just a young person’s game?

I would say that’s bullshit to be honest. Maybe 10 years ago it was sort of all the teenyboppers on Instagram and it was the same with TikTok at the start. But now you have 40 and 50-year-olds dancing about and getting stuck in! My point is, it doesn’t matter what age you are. It’s not about you, it’s about the market, so it doesn’t matter if you’re 12, 20 or 70.

What’s very clear is how driven you are, but how important to you is downtime? Is the key to success in the digital economy relentless work?

Not necessarily. That’s just the way I’m tuned. When I’m really passionate about something, I will give it my all. But that’s not to say that’s the right thing to do because there are times when you do feel a bit burned out and before Covid it was just a matter of getting on a plane for the weekend and going somewhere and unwinding a bit. I do think downtime is very important but we’re working on some really exciting projects right now so me going down the office isn’t like going to work. It’s quite fun and enjoyable. I suppose it just depends on the individual.

Last but not least, what would be your best advice for people who fear digital transformation?

I just feel that as things progress, everything’s becoming naturally easier to do. There is a kind of stigma attached to it whereby people are scared because they don’t know a lot about it and they don’t know where to begin. But it’s actually fairly straightforward once you start to research it and you understand it. So I think removing the Fear Factor is important because in my mind – not even a little bit biased – digital is absolutely essential and the businesses that didn’t embrace digital five years ago now because of Covid are seeing the effects of not being online. That’s why I feel like it’s so essential, so I would just remove the fear factor completely and think of it as your business life depends on it.

By Alana Fearon

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