Powerful Women Let's Talk - 022: Angie Hicks

Nov 16, 2020

Angie Hicks
Credit Angie Hicks

It’s a household name that many will recognize, you may have even used them for your home repairs, it’s “Angie’s List” the popular home services company that took the honey-do list to another level.  We’re talking with Angie Hicks. The co-founder of Angie’s List on Powerful Women: Let’s Talk!

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Full Transcript:

Produced by women about women, powerful women, let's talk is a series of interviews with women who are trailblazers and have helped shape our world transforming who we are and how we live powerful women, let's talk is made possible in part by Family Fare, keeping it real.

Hello and greetings to everyone listening, I'm Jennifer Moss and I'm excited today because it's time for another edition of powerful women, let's talk. And I'll tell you why I'm super excited for this edition and that's because front and center we have what in many places is like a household name and that is none other than Angie's List and we have with us today, the Angie's list co-founder and the person who it is named after Angie Hicks. She’s today's powerful woman- Angie thanks so much for joining us today.

Thanks for having me on the podcast.

Yeah, we're excited -so you are now the chief customer officer of Angie’s List and home services and prior to this role in September of 2017, you co-founded Angie's list back in 1995, serving as its chief marketing officer for some time.  We want to welcome you again, we're glad to have you here, let’s get the conversation started about how it all began. Now most of us all know about Angie's list I mentioned it's a household name, but I know it didn't just appear out of thin air. Tell us how that started, one of the things I want to know too is you know, I don't know how it's viewed but sometimes people think home services, they think that's a man's game, how did Angie's list come to be.

Oh for sure so I actually started Angie's list right out of college. My co-founder was somebody who I interned with in college actually and he and his wife had renovated a house in Indianapolis using a service called unified neighbors that have been around since the early 70's. And it was the kind of service where you can find out which contractors were good and which ones weren’t, quite honestly. And Bill and his wife, bought a fixer-upper over there and we're trying to hire contractors and realized there's not a unified neighbor, everywhere. And they start looking around and it really wasn't. And so he thought how do you get that done around your house and they needed a lot of work on the house. So he reached out to me, I was a senior in college then and he was like hey I have a crazy idea, your parents are going to hate it, totally irresponsible. Why don’t you come to Ohio and see if we can start our own version of unified neighbor over here. He was always one to kind of undersell things which I appreciated. I was incredibly risk adverse I had never thought of being an entrepreneur or starting a business. So I had to think about it for a long time and I asked my Grandfather who was super conservative and you know he looked at me, and asked what’s the difference between being 22 and looking for a job and being 23 looking for a job. If you’re going to take this risk take it now, there’s nothing different. And so the day after I graduated college, I packed up all my worldly possessions in my Ford escort and I moved to Columbus, Ohio to start what would become Angie's list. It actually started as Columbus neighbors and you're right, ah, you know, I was a 22 year-old woman that was selling ads to contractors, resolving problems customers had with contractors, it was quite intimidating.

Absolutely I bet that it was and that's the thing you know it's funny you left in your Ford escort, that was kind of my first car when I left home too! It's like keep moving and keep going you don't look back now. Look at this year, your business savvy, you know that I know you have it now- you may have been green at 23, but that no doubt probably started back in business school where I'm seeing that you've got your master of business administration from Harvard Business School. And you've won numerous awards along the way for your entrepreneurial achievements as well as your leadership in both the community and the technology field. You were named the woman Tech founder of the year in 2016, also received the tech point trailblazer award and the Harvard, going back home, their business school's alumni achievement award in 2017. You've got that list of accomplishments, but as you just mentioned and many people know -many women who have, a you know, desire to be an entrepreneur to do some other things, I'm sure it was not an easy task- so what are some of the barriers, I mean you're young, you're female and you're starting on this big- what now is a tremendously huge business- so what are some of the barriers that you may have had along the way.

Sure- I mean if you think about what I was actually trying to sell back then and I had zero sales skills. I was telling people like you know, hey, you can join Columbus neighbors for $20 a year and you can call me whenever you need a plumber and I'm going to give you the name of a good plumber. It wasn't it was not a straightforward sale and on top of that I was doing it door to door- we didn't have a sales model. So I was going door to door, this very shy, young woman going door to door trying to sell something and you know, and honestly, you know, I felt incredibly successful if I filled one or two memberships a day. I think sometimes people think about starting a business they think about like the big jump, you know they start at kind of lightning speed they forget what your first year would be like and I think that's where people sometimes lose their faith in kind of starting their business. It’s super hard if you're not celebrating the little wins along the way it's a very defeating so. I think that is the one thing that I learned was just like you need to celebrate that one sell before going to bed that night.

But that's true because that keeps your hope alive, you know you celebrate that one victory may be two and a day early and then you’re probably rolling that in.

Absolutely I mean it's all about you know, where your perspective is, I mean we knew when we started the business I was working alone. You know, knowing how the business will actually operate we had the luxury of being what the unified neighbors in Indianapolis is actually going to do. What I think was a huge leg-up that we, you know, we understood kind  how it could evolve, which did help kind of shine a light out there and you know having that really good network of people that support you is great because it can be lonely.

Actually and that's key to have that that group base right.

Right having a good base and making sure that their reach you know you reach high for who you want to surround you during that time, you know whether people you've met in business whether it’s family because you're in need of all the support you can get to have people cheering you on.

Absolutely so talk to me Angie what has it taken for you to find your own voice. Now all these years behind you- having started out so young, doing that and going door to door, what has it taken I should say to find your own voice to own it, you know be comfortable basically in your own skin.

Yeah, I think you learn from your experiences, I mean that in I know that sounds kind of you know not glamorous, but I think it's just more and more experience I find that that's what makes you be better at business. I’ve seen this problem before and kind of seeing them, solving them, learning how to solve them better the next time and that just gives you confidence. And confidence doesn’t happen overnight but think that -over time, you know makes you more successful in kind of running and leading because things don’t shake you because you’ve seen them before. The first time you see it your like wow that’s a big deal but by the fifth time you see it, your like oh I know what to do here.

That kind of just like rolls right off your back at that point. So clearly by our podcast name we're talking about powerful women and you no doubt have had to lead and in varying positions that you've held so tell us what are some of the leadership traits that you like to see perhaps even as you help others learn about things that you're doing and in home repairs. And you're not doing the repairs but setting up that business model, what are some of the leadership traits do you like to see and in those that you work with or perhaps those that you mentor.

Yeah, I mean I think you know that for me, you know, I'm a pretty could have been a pretty shy person. I'm an introvert you know I wasn't that big charismatic leader that kind of you know kind of rallies the crowd, you know I would or of a percent is like hey, let me lead by example, let me work with you there because in many rights I’m a doer coach right. Which has worked for me well you know because I can teach people how to kind of go and I often find that you work with younger people kind of going from being the doer to the leader it's hard that transitioning the kind of how you help these people learn how to delegate. And I mean I have a pretty simple rule that for my team, I'm like I'd rather you make the decision then ask for permission. But if it goes wrong to make sure you tell me first, not because it's a problem it’s just the sooner we know, the sooner we can fix it.

Absolutely, don’t let it slide and stay out there too long.

You're trying to cover you're trying to fix that which was covered a bit. And then I got a big mess, I don’t want a big mess I want a little mess. And don’t be afraid to take those jumps.

And you say you're shy or an introvert I know that I've seen a commercial with you on it, did you hate doing those commercials being out in the front- like as the person, you know because at that point everybody knows is like that’s Angie there she is.

I mean you know for me, you know the marketing team came to me probably I don’t know what it was 10 years in the business and they were like look the biggest question we get is there an actual Angie and you know would you consider being in the commercial. And I was like while you know sometimes life has decisions that seem very inconsequential at the time. We weren’t really spending that much on marketing it wasn't a big deal so fine it will be good for the business other than that. Yeah, but it took off and you know commercial work and all that but you're right, I mean it put me in a position of being on air I was a public figure which you know for me you know. I am kind of I am you know I think that kind of like by the time we're like on- my private life became a private that I became more protective, I think I had young kids at the time and wanted to make sure they were out of the limelight. So that was important. But I honestly by having that connection I actually got to interact with our customers and it in a totally different way than most businesses.

So it became a fun thing in a minute and it was something that you embrace vs. ignore.

Yeah people like you know- kind of know the business helped people -I could think about the home that’s your largest investment that’s where your family is and you know that you know you think about taking care of it it's something that it's really meaningful to you and to be able to help people do that. It is me and those were the kind of stories that I would hear over the years.

Yeah.

And that’s sweet and as we were kind of figuring out what that campaign looked like you know what I think that was important is this has to be 100% of who I am, they know everything that I am. Because who I represent- who I appear to be on TV -has to be inherently who I am.

You want to be genuine.

Exactly you want it to be genuine, I’m not going to be a different person when you see me at the grocery store on Saturday.

Right has to coincide, come together and then you're comfortable with it.

That comfortable that’s exactly what I was going to say it’s comfortable. You know you're very much kind of like yeah, I'm on TV but what you see is who I am.

So and I also should mention I should have a said this earlier, but you are under Angie's list and the grouping that you now have because you come a long way since you first began in 1995- Home Advisor is also under your umbrella is that correct.

That's right so home advisor and Angie’s list came together in 2017- right now so we have several brands here, that really tackle this home services challenge of trying to find that great pro we also have a company called Handy in New York and then we also have Extra Pair down in Texas that they've been operating to try and connect home owners with pros.

Okay, wonderful and so again another important question-one that we always like to inquire of others and it gives us help and ideas how do you do it all I mean, because you've got kids, 3 children, teenagers, we know that's a busy time for all our moms. So how do you mix it up- how do you handle and balance your work life, your family life, and all the other things in between?

Yeah, I mean I think you know the first thing is I get I don't believe in work-life balance because I think that is an aspiration that is unachievable. I believe in work life choices. And I think it's important to make them you know -I’ll give you an example, you know it's early but you know when my kids were young I was traveling a lot but I would always make my trip as short as possible. So I would be out on the 6 am flight and be back the same day. Because being with the kids was super important to me. And if I wasn't traveling, you know, I was at home at 6 o'clock for dinner absolutely there are no exceptions. What was dinner ehhh…. [laughter]

Have to give up something somewhere right.

It wasn't about what we're eating it was the time we spent together. And I try to remind folk um you know that I found you know , working moms that I hired over the years, there is an inherent tug that happens the guilt. And I had a conversation with one woman and she was just reentering the work field and she had a young daughter and she was like I want to be able to volunteer at her kindergarten class. And I was like okay that sounds great because I knew giving her that flexibility during the day was just going to make perform better.

Right so when people have to get a line in their world of things that they need to do and we all know that draw to our children. If you have that opportunity it makes everything else better you work harder, you know, because you want all the pieces to fit.

Exactly and I think right now I think you know with the pandemic I think a lot of people kind of maybe lost a little control on that work life balance or work life choices and I think it's important that we make sure we make time for ourselves and you know because we're being asked to do a lot now, right.

Absolutely.  

We're still working from home which means that we think -should I do the laundry while I work and the kids are also doing school from home so I should help them with their homework. So now you have more things colliding.

It’s actually double the work you know when you're at home working and then the kids are home with school it’s a lot, it’s a lot.

And don't forget about during that time period because you know I think at first when it seems like a that might be a short period of time. Well we’re months in now and I think people need to make sure that they’re kind of running at a sustainable pace.

That's good advice. That's a good word there so with that and putting the family first and coordinate. Do you guys have time for fun, you know, what is it that to what you guys do for fun.

I mean, you know we are a pet family we have multiple dogs and a few horses so there obviously a lot of time spent with our pets. We like to go boating and we have a good mix of things. And I think about it now I have teenagers that at this time it was probably that you're more quality time together in the last six months when they might have otherwise -they’re still teenagers who may have wanted to run off in their own path

That’s right and then makes it all come together so it is a lot of fun and then the kind of the follow-up to that particular question as we are looking, you know powerful women, it's like we don't walk around with stern faces- what is it that makes you laugh, they say laughter is good for the soul.

Oh yeah, they could probably make me laugh every day with their stories. For sure for sure. I think the other thing, I think I have this on my twitter, take your work seriously but don't take yourself too seriously. And I also have a saying I like to say around the office, like remember we’re not running the ER. I like to keep these challenges in perspective, I'm you know I get a ton of enjoyment and I think one of the things that I love the most is the people I work with and  spending time with them so you know even I became more externally focused for the business. I mean you're spending time walking the floor I like to walk around, you know I hear things, like that I try to figure out ways to do that- like I hand out anniversary gifts to our employees.

That’s wonderful.

Yeah, for certain anniversaries. And because I can’t do it in person, I popped into one of the zoom meetings to give one of our employees a gift for their 10th anniversary.  how are you kind of interacting with people that are on your team and making sure that you're connecting in a way that you know that’s meaningful because I think in the end that's what really matters.

You're absolutely right and so I think you just answered my last question –it was going to be- do you have a favorite saying or model that you use to encourage, you said one that was your twitter handle what was it again, or do you have a different one you use.

Take your work seriously but not your self too seriously.

I love it. I love it, is there another one that you have that you may pass along as you know.

Think that our uh huh I don't know that I have another one like that. Yeah, I think the other things that I've done over the years it was you know as the company was getting bigger, there were more employees and there came a day I realized I didn’t know everybody’s name.

Ah, yes

And it made me sad. And knowing everyone was super important to me. So I introduced office hours where anyone in the company can request a 15-minute slot with me and I dedicate an hour a week to it.

Oh good for you.

And we talk about whatever.

With all your employees who ever registered got a chance to talk with you.

Yeah whoever signed up. If they had a business idea they wanted to talk about, if they needed career advice, if they had a gripe. I don’t care, come talk to me I’ll fix it.

Wow how cool is that. You know Angie this has been so much fun talking to you. Talking to Angie Hicks of course co-founder of Angie's list, we surely wish you all the best and hope you stay safe and healthy and thanks so much for taking time to talk with us today,

Thanks for having me on the show

We've really enjoyed our conversation, of course a big thank you to all our listeners out there joining us for this edition of powerful women let’s talk I'm Jennifer Moss.

Produced by women about women these powerful podcast focus on powerful women and how their strength transforms who we are and how we live. Want to hear more powerful women, let's talk get additional interviews at WGVU dot org or wherever you get your podcast please rate and subscribe. Powerful women, let's talk is made possible in part by Family Fare, keeping it real it is produced by WGVU at the Meijer Public Broadcast Center at Grand Valley State University, the views and opinions expressed in this program do not necessarily reflect those of WGVU its underwriters or Grand Valley State University.