What I've Learnt: Darren Ratcliffe, Founder at Digitl

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Darren Ratcliffe, Digitl

Darren Ratcliffe says he's probably worked in digital longer than it's even existed.

After stints across a range of organisations, as well as a period running digital agency RedStar, he founded Digitl in 2015. Digitl is a specialist eCommerce agency focused on growth for British and global retailers.

They work with clients including eBay, Shopify and the Department for International Trade - working collaboratively with partners to tailor solutions that solve problems and accelerate growth.

We sat down with Darren to learn from his 20-plus years of experience in the industry.

Which single daily habit or practice could you not do without?

I’ve worked really hard on my morning routine, it sets me up for the day. This isn’t going to be one of those LinkedIn type monologues about getting up at four o’clock and drinking Elk's milk… it’s just really simple things like making sure the kids are set for the day, the dog is walked and I’m organised!

What's been your luckiest break?

I’ve been so lucky in my career to be surrounded by great people - especially in the 12 years I have worked for myself. However, my luckiest break saw me wing a job (thanks Google) at an agency called Visuality in Salford Quays and I got to work with Paul Maxwell who is now the head of Multichannel over at JD.

He inspired me to constantly want to better myself, to develop my skills and I went on to build a business with a lot of the principles that he taught me. Once I had done that, he was an advocate for my business at JD Fashon and in turn ebay became a fantastic partner for my agency.

What's your best failure?

RedStar is without a doubt the best failure I could ever ask to be involved with. I learned the hard way a lot of lessons about staff, customers and business partners and Digitl has been an agency that has been born out of a lot of those lessons. To the customers, partners and staff that stuck with us and came to Digitl - thank you!

What is the best investment you've ever made, either financial or time?

I did the LEAD programme from Lancaster University and they taught me the power of reflection. Sitting there, doing nothing but think over the success/failure of the recent past and how to grow from it. That module alone has changed me at work and at home.

How would you describe your work/life balance?

Terrible! Any business owner that tells you otherwise is kidding you, or kidding themselves! Over the past couple of years I’ve got better at making more time for me, but I’m still known to put in the odd 18-hour day here or there still!

Which book would you recommend others to read and why?

It has to be two books - 'The E-Myth' by Michael Gerber is the one book I wish I would have read on the first day I set up my agency. I’d have made so many fewer mistakes, and the lessons in the book are still in my mind. 

The second is 'The Go Giver' by Bob Burg - it’s a parable about a guy who is successful by being generous with his time. My friend Chris Marsh recommended it to me and it’s self-affirming in so many ways. I’ve bought both books for other people many times over the years.

What one piece of advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

The fact there are no digital agencies in Newcastle does not mean you have to move back to Manchester. It’s my one true regret that when I saw no jobs in the web development industry I left Newcastle to get a job in Manchester. If I’d had the foresight to set up my own agency in Newcastle, who knows how things would have worked out!

Who or what has had the single biggest influence on your working life?

I’ve already mentioned Paul, so I won’t flatter him anymore. As cheesy as it sounds, my kids have had a massive influence. They’ve made me more ambitious and given me more drive and focus at what I do.  

Tell us something about you that would surprise people.

I’ve just got back from my dream holiday: a week in North Korea… as in Kim Jong-un and missile launches. I’ve been to 37 countries so far and rarely go back to the same country twice. Next year I’m considering Iran.

What does success look like to you?

I’ve been challenged on this a few times, but for me success is a quiet life. I’ve got two kids, a business, run an annual conference and am a director on the board of Oldham Athletic. Having a quiet life is far from easy… I’m not sure I will ever actually get there!

Are you a creative figure interested in completing a What I've Learnt feature? Please directly email charlies@prolificnorth.co.uk to discuss getting involved.