Being myself has what has rewarded me the most success. Your passion, your goals and your beliefs are what’s going to move the meter for yourself and your business. For me, I know I’m a bossy Realtor and that I only take on projects that I believe in. This has shaped my business strategy over the years. I don’t make compromises for what I know is right. The hardest thing for me to accept is knowing my worth and staying strong when a client doesn’t like my initial design ideas. At the end of the day, I am the expert and I know I’m going to get my clients the best deals and results within their home. If they’re a believer, I’m a believer.
As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing James Judge.
With a passion for turning houses into homes one judgment at a time, James Judge is a Phoenix-based designer, Realtor, flipper, deal fanatic and all-around house-a-holic. Over the past year, he has quickly become the face of impressive house transformations across the Phoenix-metro area thanks to his regular TV appearances and growing 114K Instagram following.
Judge specializes in design solutions that breathe new life into tired, outdated spaces by using the home’s existing features to maximize the innate design aesthetic that, he believes, it was always meant to have. His creative vision, keen eye for innovative concepts and buy-to-design approach have resulted in more than 100 house renovations in recent years ranging from 100,000 dollars dilapidated fixer-uppers to 1.4 million dollars palatial estates. Through each project, his fans and followers are along for the ride as he shares DIY tips, design-on-a-dime methods and overall inspiration for their own home-renovation goals.
Thank you so much for doing this with us James! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
My love for transformations was sparked as a child as I worked hand-in-hand with my parents to renovate my childhood home. We were constantly having conversations about how I could make the design better and would sketch new additions on cocktail napkins on how to make the home more functional. It was in this home while watching HGTV with my mom, where I decided to make my passion my career.
Wisconsin born and raised, I attended the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities where I pursued degrees in interior architecture and communication studies. While in school, I worked with HGTV’s “Decorating Cents,” assisting the designers and producers on the final two episodes of the series. Following that, I worked for Jonathan Adler in New York City designing interiors for high-end residential clients. In addition to my design business, I’m also a successful Realtor and in 2019 was recognized with the international “Rookie of the Year” award from HomeSmart and continue to top the list of highest-performing Realtors for the company.
Fast forward to today, I’m a designer, Realtor, flipper, deal fanatic and all-around house-a-holic who has quickly become the face of impressive house transformations across the Phoenix-metro area thanks to my regular TV appearances and growing 114K Instagram following. Through each project, my fans and followers are along for the ride as I share DIY tips, design-on-a-dime methods and overall inspiration for their own home-renovation goals.
Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?
As most designers find success by mastering one style than stamping their “signature look” on each project, my unique experience from an early age has allowed me to think outside of the box and instead, focus on using the home’s existing features to maximize the innate design aesthetic that it was always meant to have. This is what makes me an authority and why people continue to follow me on Instagram. This platform allows me to share my experiences and help people understand that renovating their home is not only attainable but also affordable.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I think the most interesting thing that has happened to me in my career is how I got my start. After going to school for interior architecture, I went backpacking around Europe rather than going a traditional route and entering the workforce right away. During my trip, I met a random man in a bar in Berlin who eventually became my business partner. It was a combination of chance, being at the right place at the right time and opening myself up to making new connections that launched me into my design and real estate career.
The two of us eventually co-founded a company that produced a profitable portfolio of more than 60 residential rental properties in Arizona and California where we were responsible for the sourcing, acquisition, low-cost redesigns, renting and management of each property. This is where I was able to hone in on my ability to flip houses and refined my design sensibility.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Usually, mistakes in my industry aren’t funny because they most likely result in a loss of money. However, funny or not, mistakes create opportunities and there is one that comes to mind that helped shape my philosophy on how I choose the homes and projects that I take on.
It was in the beginning of my career and my business partner and I had the opportunity to work on a multimillion-dollar house, but with that came a lot of limitations and restrictions for creativity. As a result, I found myself in a position where I was playing by someone else’s rules, and I wasn’t able to work within my wheelhouse. I tried to accept that they knew best and follow the rules, but the end result wasn’t successful.
I learned so much through this design process and it has redefined everything I do today. Bigger isn’t always better, but for a renovation or flip to be successful, I need to believe in what can be changed and be trusted that I’m doing what’s best for the home. It’s a two-way street and you need to have support on both sides for a project to be successful.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is. How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?
I think a thought leader is someone who is really trying to change the way people think about things. This is what I strive to do on a daily basis through my Instagram platform. So many people think they need to gut their entire home in order to have a successful transformation and that’s just not true. For me, it’s about challenging my followers to take a step back and realizing what can be done from a cost standpoint to minimize the work while maximizing the design. Being a thought leader is helping people make better choices and giving them the proper tools to do so.
Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader. Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?
For me, being a thought leader in the DIY and design space has given me credibility as an expert. I’m so proud to have created a movement of people that now have a deeper appreciation for their homes from following my design projects. It’s been so gratifying to have helped so many people realize that they can attain better results by shifting their focus to cost-effective, DIY ideas within the home. This is why I invest the time and energy into my Instagram accounts. It’s grueling work, but well worth the reward.
Let’s talk about business opportunities specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?
Since I’ve created my platform, I’ve had numerous opportunities that have helped me sustain a lucrative business. On the design side, I’ve worked with a number of production companies that have helped me refocus my strategy in getting my own show on a major network one day. I’ve also have had the opportunity to work with various nationally recognized brands that have shared their product with me in order to maximize a project I’m working on and show my followers how to use it within their homes.
Likewise, with real estate, the whole concept that I apply to design and flipping homes has sparked from being a thought leader. I’m an accidental realtor because I discovered the need for listing homes using the buy-to-design, design-to-sell method. Over the years, this has offered a fully successful and lucrative real estate business as a result.
Ok. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry. Please tell us a story or example (ideally from your own experience) for each.
- Talk about It: Share what you do so that people understand your worth and what makes you unique. When you talk about it, you meet people that can launch your career like the guy I met in a bar in Berlin who became my first business partner. The more people you meet that you can share your interests with, the better chance you have of developing a stronger and more meaningful relationship with them.
- Share Your Goals: If you don’t talk about your goals, how are you supposed to obtain them? You need to make it known that this is what I want, this is something I need to achieve and identifying the steps that will allow you to actually get there. The more you share, the more you’ll open yourself to opportunities and possibilities to reach something greater. For me, a goal of mine is to have my own television show. If I didn’t talk about it, these opportunities wouldn’t exist.
- Share Your Skill With Others: Once you start to develop your skills and establish yourself as an expert, you can find a way to share this skill with other people. Maybe that’s a smaller or bigger level. For me, it’s all about Instagram. Sharing the project I do and the ideas that have turned into successful projects is how I’ve launched my career. It does take a lot of time and energy, but allowing people to understand your skill will be beneficial in the long run.
- Learn From Your Mistakes: In the very beginning, I was in over my head and made mistakes that I will never make again. Turn your mistakes into opportunity. If you allow yourself to be swallowed up, the loss is going to hurt so much more. Instead, shake it off and understand what you need to do differently and why. It’s all about forgiving yourself.
- Be Yourself: Being myself has what has rewarded me the most success. Your passion, your goals and your beliefs are what’s going to move the meter for yourself and your business. For me, I know I’m a bossy Realtor and that I only take on projects that I believe in. This has shaped my business strategy over the years. I don’t make compromises for what I know is right. The hardest thing for me to accept is knowing my worth and staying strong when a client doesn’t like my initial design ideas. At the end of the day, I am the expert and I know I’m going to get my clients the best deals and results within their home. If they’re a believer, I’m a believer.
In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has that has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach.
In the home design space, I think Brian Patrick Flynn does an amazing job as the HGTV Dream Home designer. I’m always so impressed with how he delivers each project and home. He’s really honest about what he’s doing and I find him to be so clever. If you don’t follow him on Instagram, you totally should. Let’s be friends, Brian!
I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?
I think thoughts are important and leadership is important and pairing them together is appropriate when it’s being received by an audience who understands the content.
What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
In order to avoid burnout, you absolutely have to love what you do. In my years of experience, I’ve never experienced burnout. I may be working 10 hour days, seven days a week and am absolutely exhausted but I love the feeling of being accomplished and finishing a project. It’s what drives me every day.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
If I could inspire any movement, it would be to be for people to be kind to one other in addition to being kind to animals. People are often able to control their own failures and success, but animals don’t have the same opportunity. My wish would be for people think about others and understand that animals are living creatures and not just here for our entertainment. They have feelings and fear just as we do and by putting yourselves in their situation, I hope it will allow you to have a deeper respect for what they are going through.
I’d like to encourage everyone to follow the Animal Health and Wellness Instagram (@animalhealthandwellness) — It’s sometimes tough to see, but it brings awareness to the cruelty animals face around the world. By opening your heart more to people and animals, you can make a huge difference and if everyone did this — We would live in a better world.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Sing like no one is listening. Love like you’ve never been hurt. Dance like nobody’s watching,
and live like it’s heaven on earth.” — Mark Twain. I’m not a huge quote person, but this is one that I feel amplifies my message of staying true to myself in all aspects of my life. I give everything my all, regardless if you like it or not.
We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
If I could sit down with anyone, it would be Joanna Gains. I think she’s an incredible business woman and it’s amazing what she has done with her platform in order to expand her business into so many different facets. She inspires me to continue my growth and development and to broaden my horizons in the design and real estate space. So whenever you’re free, Joanna — I’ll be ready!
How can our readers follow you online?
Instagram — @thehousejudge