Perseverance, Support Crucial To Success, Angie’s List Founder Says

By Michael Reschke
Herald-Times, Bloomington, Ind.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) This week, Angie Hicks, founder of “Angie’s List” shared her story of success with about 200 people gathered for the annual Cook Institute for Entrepreneurship luncheon.

Herald-Times, Bloomington, Ind.

Angie Hicks believes perseverance is key to success in business.

“I think when you’re an entrepreneur, there’re many times that you can give up because it’s not the most glamorous life some might think it is,” said the co-founder and chief marketing officer at Angie’s List, an Indianapolis-based company offering millions of online reviews for home improvement services.

Hicks knows the difficulty of launching a new business and then keeping it running. She shared her story with about 200 people gathered in Shreve Hall on Ivy Tech Community College’s Bloomington campus for the annual Cook Institute for Entrepreneurship luncheon Wednesday.

The event highlights the vision of the Gayle and Bill Cook Center for Entrepreneurship, which offers certificates in entrepreneurial studies for Ivy Tech students who want to start a business after graduation.

Hicks told the crowd one of the biggest barriers for young people interested in starting a business is finding someone to encourage them.

For Hicks, that push came from someone she never expected.

When she was 22, Hicks had a job offer from a consulting firm in Washington, D.C.

Then venture capitalist Bill Oesterle, who hired her for an internship when she was a junior at DePauw University, called and asked her to start a business with him. He would supply the startup money, and he asked Hicks to move to Columbus, Ohio, and commit to working with him for a year.

“I literally wrung my hands like this was the biggest decision I was ever going to make,” she said. “I thought it was crazy and he told me my parents would think it was crazy.”

They did. But Hicks kept contemplating the offer, then asked her grandfather — a conservative man who lived during the Great Depression and believed in paying cash. Knowing his careful background, she was shocked when he told her to take a chance.

“He was like, ‘What’s the worst that could happen?'” she said. “‘Right now you’re 22, looking for a job. The worst thing is you’re going to be 23, looking for a job.'”

Hicks graduated on a Sunday, packed up her car for Columbus and started what was originally called Columbus Neighbors on Monday. It was patterned after a Carmel, Indiana-based company called Unified Neighbors, which since the early 1970s had kept track of good plumbers, roofers and other service providers on the north side of Indianapolis.

Oesterle had used that service to renovate a house in the Indianapolis area. When he moved to Ohio, he assumed there would be a similar business in Columbus. There wasn’t, and Oesterle had a rough experience fixing up an old house he bought.

Raising money for the new business was a challenge, and likely would have been impossible if not for Oesterle’s network.

Hicks said her favorite investor meeting was with one of Oesterle’s friends she referred to only as Henry. Hicks made a presentation and Henry handed over a check for $10,000, but admitted he didn’t have much faith in the idea.

“I already wrote it off,” Hicks said, recalling Henry’s words. “Good luck.”

That was 1995. When subscribers wanted information about a service provider, they would call Hicks and she would check the business out with other network members. Back then, Hicks went door to door selling memberships, lucky to get two sales on a good day. After a few months, she and Oesterle wrote and designed their own advertisement using Microsoft Word clip art.

Phones started ringing and sales picked up after the ad ran in some weekly publications. A year later, the pair bought Unified Neighbors.

Their next goal was to expand to the 50 largest cities in the U.S. They were growing at a rate of about one city a year, then bought a nationwide ad on National Public Radio in 2005 for $800,000.

It turned out to be the right move: the business expanded from 30 markets to about 100 in 18 months.

Angie’s List became a publicly traded company in 2011. At the end of the first day of trading, the company’s value was about $900 million.

After her speech, someone in the audience asked Hicks if Henry got his money back. “Henry did get his $10,000 back when we went public,” she said. “And a little more.”

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