Messenger: Angie Hicks, Co-Founder Angie’s List
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8 ) Angie, why does the world need Angie’s List?
“Everyone’s heard, or maybe even told, a story about how hard it is to find good help. In 1995, my co-founder and I decided to do something about that. Back then, we focused on home repair and maintenance companies, but difficulty in finding good help isn’t limited to the home and property niche, and that’s why Angie’s List has been able to grow so dramatically. From a handful of construction trades, we’ve grown to offer consumer reviews in more than 500 categories of service – about 150 of them in health care fields. We were around long before consumers developed their current habit of turning to the Internet to do a search before they hired people or bought something. Over the years, we have remained true to our original roots of providing the most reliable information possible. We’ve never allowed (and won’t) anonymous reports; we hold consumers accountable for truthful reporting; and we encourage service professionals to take part in the process, so you can trust the information you get from Angie’s List. In a nutshell, the world needs Angie’s List to find that elusive good help, and to know which service companies and health care providers to avoid. Even better, Angie’s List offers its members exclusive discounts and great savings, so you get great help at a fair price.”
7) Do you feel that starting and operating an Internet company located in Indianapolis has any inherent advantages or disadvantages?
“To be accurate, we started Angie’s List in suburban Columbus, Ohio, and moved to Indianapolis a few years later, but we’ve been very happy with the decision to launch and grow from our Midwestern base. We have been fortunate to work with dozens of people who are, or will be, leading their own innovative companies in the years to come. We’ve been fortunate to find affordable facilities, honest, smart and hard-working team members, an environment that’s helped us grow from a one-person shop to more than 500 people, and a campus that is helping revitalize a struggling inner-city neighborhood.”
6) There are far too few women entrepreneurs, especially in the tech sector. Do you have any specific advice for women who are considering starting an Internet company?
“I don’t think this is a gender issue. The secret, which isn’t really so much a secret as it is a really hard thing to do, is to not give up. Our first year was really, really difficult, and there were many days when I wanted to pack up, go find a regular job and leave it all behind. But I knew we had a great idea for which there was real and long-lasting demand. I’d say the second most important thing is to have a good support system. My co-founder was a rock. He’d listen to me talk about how it didn’t seem like we were getting anywhere and encourage me to keep at it. He celebrated every success and when it came down to it, that emotional support was more important than the financial backing.”
5) Many people do not realize that you started by selling subscriptions to a magazine door-to-door, which eventually morphed into the Angie’s List site. Were there any lessons from your days of direct selling that helped you create a world-class web property?
“Oh, I tell everyone that door-to-door sales was more an exercise in personal growth and fortitude than it was in a sales lesson. But those were important lessons to learn and part of that “never-give-up” message. When I went door-to-door, I was gathering both subscriptions to our service and consumer reviews on local service companies, so it was real field work. The service originally wasn’t a magazine. The core of it was a call-in service where subscribers would ask for referrals to good plumbers, roofers, dance instructors, etc…, and I would refer to my consumer review research to find them the help they needed. The magazine was a monthly compilation of tips and advice for hiring, trends, and discounts offered by highly rated companies. Both the call-in service and the magazine remain key parts of our overall offerings, though both are greatly expanded from the days it was me, five telephones and a filing cabinet.”
4) With over 1M users, Angie’s List has become one of the leading subscriptions services on the Internet, right up there with Netflix, GoToMyPC and eFax. How does it feel to type “Angie’s List” into Google and see over 4.6M results? Do you feel like you have arrived or that you have just started?
“The differences between Angie’s List 1995 and Angie’s List today are amazing when you think about it. And of course it’s gratifying to see the growth. But there’s always been another challenge and more opportunities to explore. Technological advances will always keep us on our toes. I think we’ll always feel like we’re the little engine that could because we’re always trying to find ways to improve the service.”
3) Although you are best known for your reviews of tradesman, Doctors, Dentists and other healthcare professionals have become one of the most popular referral segments on Angie’s List. What other types of service providers do you anticipate will gain in popularity in the future and are there new service areas you eventually plan to encompass?
“We’re always looking at the next category to add, and we do that primarily by listening to our membership. It was a repeated call from them that led us into health care, and we continue to solicit their feedback. For example, we added classic car categories recently, because some of our members were telling us how hard it was to find good restoration specialists. That industry tends to have specialists all over the country so if you’re in New York, you might have to send your car to Texas, Illinois or several places before it’s over. We designed a service that allows searches nationwide, rather than our traditional service that focuses on local markets.”
2) Your site was “local” before local was cool, ala Groupon, Gowalla, and Yelp. What are your thoughts regarding the convergence of local, social and mobile and how will it impact Angie’s List’s long-term strategy?
“Consumers have always conducted research before they hired service companies or bought products; they just used to do it face-to-face. The Internet has made that research process faster, easier and much wider in scope. Just using Angie’s List alone will vastly expand the references people used to get just by talking with friends and family. Because people rely on this information to make important decisions, we think those who are posting or aggregating consumer insights have a responsibility to offer reliable information, and we hope more organizations take that direction.”
1) What is the best way for a new user to become more familiar with Angie’s List?
“Well to subscribe and fully participate, of course! Actually, we offer a ton of great information to consumers at www.angieslist.com. We’ve posted the usual background and how-it-works information, but you can also see a lot of what we offer our members through our magazine and other outreach. Or give us a call! We love to talk to new members, and our call center is open 6 days a week – 1-888-888-5478.”
Liftoff: Rapid fire answers to various irrelevant questions:
New York or Los Angeles? “I’m an Indiana girl, so neither. But I’m happy to visit LA when it’s cold here, and NY anytime I won’t get grounded at LaGuardia because of ice or snow. ”
Flight or super speed? “Did you miss the part of my bio that talked about me taking a race car class and being a sports car super fan? Super speed, please.”
Favorite childhood movie? “Wizard of Oz”
Soup or salad? “Ugh. Burrito with a side of chips and salsa, please.”
Mac or PC? “I’m old school – so PC – but I am loving my new iPhone, so there may be an evolution on the way.”