For the January 2014 issue, IM sat down with Angie’s List cofounder and pitchperson-in-chief Angie Hicks—and with the consumer-review company releasing its annual “Best & Worst” lineup in early 2014, we made sure to stay on her good side. Here, the choicest outtakes from the interview.
I imagine contractors are on their very best behavior when they work at Angie Hicks’s house, huh.
Generally my service is good, because I’m getting the names off of Angie’s List. My husband’s usually the one who manages when we hire and is the one at home. What I actually find is, [working for me] unnecessarily makes some companies nervous. So I’ve found if I’m not there, it is probably better for everybody.
No one’s perfect. I always remind people, like with companies, that where you really get to differentiate yourself is how you handle a situation that doesn’t go well.
It’s admirable that you’re not abusing your power.
My husband has told me before—he had people in fixing the computer one time, and the guy started looking around and saw pictures of the family, and all of a sudden you could just tell, he was like, “Uhhh …” My husband reminds them, like I do: A review is a review. We just need our computer fixed.
I’m sure it’s getting harder and harder not to be recognized, what with all the TV commercials.
There’s lots of people who look, and you can kind of tell that they’re talking about me. But a lot of people come up, too. A guy stopped me in Target the other day, and he was like, “Hey, I’m a member!” And they tell me what they’re working on. It’s neat to hear about people using the service and how it’s helping them.
Being a media personality seems to come pretty naturally for you.
There were lots and lots of bumps along the way. I was the most shy, reserved person. Put me at a party today, and I probably don’t make small talk.
Yep, sad as it is. I’m focused on work. I get things done. I’m analytical. Being in front of a camera was very, very foreign to me. At one point I wanted to be an actuary. That’s how, like, math-oriented I am. I kind of realized that public relations would become an important thing for us. Early on, I remember reading an article in the Columbus Dispatch that a reporter wrote about a woman entrepreneur. And I was like, hmm, I wonder how you get articles placed in the newspaper? So not knowing any better, I called her up, and I was like, “Hey, I read your article, and I liked it—would you like to write an article about me?” And lo and behold, she said yes.
Have you ever met Jared or Flo?
I have not. We decided to put me in the commercials two or three years ago, because the most common question we got around here was, “Is there an Angie?” It wasn’t like we were thinking, Oh, if we could create our own Jared, if we could create our own Flo … But it worked. It’s been fun.
Is it true that you “borrowed” the Angie’s List concept from another company?
Unified Neighbors was a little business—it actually just operated in Carmel, Fishers, and a little bit of Zionsville. It was started in the early ’70s, by a guy named Bill Corbin, who still lives here in town today. It was a little neighborhood newsletter that kept track of which companies were good—it effectively did exactly what we do.
And the rest, of course, is history.
When Bill [Oesterle, Angie’s List cofounder and CEO] lived in Indianapolis in the early ’90s, one of his neighbors suggested that he join [Unified Neighbors], because he had bought and rehabbed a house here in Indianapolis. So when he moved to Ohio, he thought there were Unified Neighbors–type products everywhere, but when he started looking around, there weren’t, and he had a bad experience. And all of a sudden he was like, wow, that was really filling a void. So he convinced me when I graduated from college to move to Ohio and start the business. We acquired Unified Neighbors a year later, in ’96. I run into [Angie’s List] members who to this day remember when Bill Corbin came door to door in 1974 or whenever it was. That’s how loyal the members are.
Angie’s List had its first profitable quarter last year. How did you celebrate?
We were business as usual.
You used to work at a Ryan’s steakhouse. Did you learn anything there that you’ve applied in your present gig?
It comes down to work ethic and customer service. I was a server. It’s busy and you’re on your feet the whole time, so it’s a tough job in that regard. But you’ve still got to make people happy.
Read the “Ask Me Anything” Angie Hicks Q&A in IM‘s January issue.
Photo by Tony Valainis