Growing up, Angie Hicks never dreamed she would become an entrepreneur — let alone the co-founder of a multi-million-dollar company bearing her name. Hicks studied economics in college and planned to become an actuary, someone who compiles and analyzes statistics. But shortly after graduating from DePauw University in 1995, Hicks got a call that would expand her idea of what was possible. Bill Oesterle, a venture capitalist whose firm Hicks had interned with in college, wanted to know if she’d like to move to Columbus, Ohio, and start a business. The idea: to connect people with the best home services in their area.
Angie’s List was born later that year, with Hicks as its sole employee — selling subscriptions door-to-door. Over the years, the company has grown astronomically. In 2017, Angie’s List was acquired by HomeAdvisor for more than $500 million. Here, Hicks shares secrets to building and leading a blockbuster business — for shy types and born leaders, alike.
- The best time to start a business is when you have nothing to lose. I was scared to start a business at 22. My grandfather, who was known in the family for being incredibly conservative, was the one who convinced me to do it. I will always remember he said, “Angie, what’s the difference between being 22 and looking for a job and being 23 and looking for a job? There is none. Just try it.”
- You don’t need to be an extrovert to be an entrepreneur—but you do need this quality. I’m a born introvert, which I used to view as kind of an impediment. I always thought entrepreneurs were supposed to be big thinkers, risk takers. That wasn’t me. So, I didn’t consider myself an entrepreneur, even though I’d started Angie’s List! Eventually, I learned that I possessed a key entrepreneurial trait: I had perseverance. Going door-to-door selling subscriptions was my worst nightmare, but I did it. Anyone can have a big idea, but if you can’t get past the falling-in-love phase and ride it through the hard part, you’ll end up giving up.
- Always gut-check career advice. I had to learn to be successful in my own skin. Part of that was learning to ignore career advice that told me to act like someone I’m not. Every time I’ve tried to follow advice that didn’t feel genuine to who I am, it hasn’t worked. What you see in the brand is who I am. If you’re true to who you are, you inspire trust.
- Never stop learning. I didn’t go to business school until Angie’s List was three years old. Those three years could have been my business school, but if I hadn’t taken that time, I probably wouldn’t have stayed for the long haul. I needed perspective. I had learned to be a manager out of necessity, but I didn’t understand everything that I was going through as I was living it. It was invaluable for me to step away and gain that perspective.
- The best leaders make themselves available. I hold office hours at Angie’s List, which is an idea I got from “Quick and Nimble,” a book by Adam Bryant. Every week, I put aside 15-minute time slots, so that anyone in the company can sign up to talk with me, whether it’s about a business idea or a problem or just to get to know each other. I get a lot out of it, and I hope they do too.
- Only you can make your family a priority. I don’t believe in work-life balance. I believe in work-life choice. No matter how great a boss you may have, they’re not going to make those choices for you. They are never going to remind you to be at your kid’s school play. That’s up to you. I made a commitment to be at home for dinner with my family by six every night, and I’ve stuck to it. It doesn’t matter if we eat take-out, it just matters that we’re together.
“I don’t believe in work-life balance. I believe in work-life choice.”