She’s Got Your Back
Angie Hicks / Angie’s List
Talk about a pain point. Shoddy roofing leads to leaking, causing your ceiling to fall in and damage the kitchen. Now what? How do you (quickly!) find the best people to deliver you from homeowner hell, and at a fair price? “These are not things we embrace,” says Angie Hicks (MBA 2000), cofounder and chief marketing officer of Angie’s List, an online service that collects verified consumer reviews of service providers. “For most of us, our house is our biggest investment. We want things to be done right, but we don’t want to invest a lot of thought and process in finding a solution.”
Online reviews are nothing new, of course. But Angie’s List was early to the game and operates under an almost unthinkable business model in the age of free Internet content, charging members a fee to access reviews by fellow users. “It’s not the world of Internet graffiti,” says Hicks. “We take a very journalistic stance toward our reviews, which are never anonymous. Members do pay for the expense of maintaining quality information, but in the grand scheme of things it’s pretty small—almost like an insurance policy.”
Angie’s List has deep HBS roots. Cofounder and venture capitalist Bill Oesterle (MBA 1992) struggled to find service providers in Indianapolis to fix up his historic home, finally turning to Unified Neighbors, a community publication with call-in reviews started by Bill Corbin (MBA 1968). After relocating to Columbus, Ohio, Oesterle bought another old house and ran into the same problem. In 1995 he convinced Hicks (who had worked for him as a college intern) to move to Columbus to start their own version of Unified Neighbors. In 1996, Angie’s List purchased Corbin’s business and relocated its headquarters to Indianapolis.
“Our first member in Columbus was a woman named Patty Bowman,” Hicks recalls. “She gave us the entire list of contractors she’d ever used.” From there, Hicks built the list by going door-to-door. “We didn’t have a website until 1999,” she says. “The web drives the vast majority of our business today, but it doesn’t define us; we still operate a call center. It’s a nice differentiator. When there’s an emergency, you don’t want to go online. You want someone to solve it for you.”
Now in 175 markets and growing, Angie’s List has more than 2 million members who post some 40,000 reviews each month. The service expanded to include reviews of health-care professionals in 2008 and also offers a special subscriber list for buying and selling classic cars. An IPO in November 2011 raised $114 million.
Hicks admits to some surprise at being the name and face behind a nationwide brand. But she enjoys the connection it creates: “I love what we do for consumers,” she says. “I love being an advocate for the right, fair way to do things.”