24 May 2017
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Angie Hicks, MBA 2000

2017 Alumni Achievement Award Recipient
by Susan Young

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Cofounder and Chief Marketing Officer, Angie’s List

Angie Hicks is in the kitchen at the call center on the Angie’s List “campus”—a collection of buildings the company bought and renovated in Indianapolis— when an employee asks to take a selfie with her. While she has been the name and the face of the company since she cofounded it 22 years ago, Hicks has yet to adjust to the notoriety.

Hicks politely agrees to the selfie, but she’s clearly not in her element, leaving one to wonder how a shy, 22-year-old established an eponymous company and then built it into a household name. The answer lies in the grit and determination that she possessed from a young age. The daughter of a UPS driver and a bank teller, Hicks grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and was the first in her family to go to college.

At DePauw University, she interviewed for an internship in Indianapolis with venture capitalist Bill Oesterle (MBA 1992). “The highlight of my resumé at that point was Employee of the Month at Ryan’s Steakhouse. He thought I could use a break,” says Hicks with a laugh that punctuates much of her conversation. During that summer, Oesterle “quickly saw that she was extraordinary,” he says.

Hicks graduated intending to work as a consultant in Washington, DC, but Oesterle asked her to consider relocating to Columbus, Ohio, where he had recently moved. Inspired by the difficulty he was having finding workers to renovate his house, he had a business idea that he wanted her to pursue. It was a referral agency for homeowners looking for service providers—similar to Unified Neighbors, a community newsletter he’d used in Indianapolis.

The idea sounded risky, so Hicks consulted her conservative grandfather. “‘What’s the difference between looking for a job when you are 22 and when you are 23?’ he asked,” she recounts. She arrived in Columbus and set about launching the business, spending mornings building a list of vendors and afternoons knocking on doors, selling $19 subscriptions for the referral service. Averaging only 1–2 per day, the rejection was painful and Oesterle provided pep talks and Kleenex. At some point he suggested they call the company “Angie’s List”—after all, that’s what it was—and Hicks agreed. “We only had 500 members,” she recalls. “It didn’t seem like a big deal.”

After a year, they had 1,000 subscribers, a monthly newsletter, and two telephone lines, both answered by Hicks. They also had a proof of concept, enough interest from outside investors to buy Unified Neighbors, and a new platform: the Internet. Hicks began growing the company, expanding into new markets, setting up a call center, and building a Web presence. She came to HBS to round out her education and then returned to Indianapolis as chief marketing officer in 2000. Angie’s List went public in 2011, and today, 5 million members strong, it’s the go-to site for anyone who needs to hire local service providers.

“Perseverance is important. I’m the kind of person who just refuses to give up.”
“Perseverance is important. I’m the kind of person who just refuses to give up.”

While national success is important, Hicks is particularly proud of Angie’s List’s impact on the Indianapolis community. The company is one of the largest employers in town, and its charitable foundation supports educational and environmental efforts. Employees volunteer locally, too, and Hicks is working to establish more apprenticeship opportunities so that tradespeople can share their knowledge with the next generation.

Hicks, the public face of the company, is featured in many of its commercials, but she works hard to draw a line between her work and personal life. The company’s tagline—“Home is where our heart is”—is a fitting description for how the mother of three feels about her family. “Spending time at home is how I recharge,” she says, expressing gratitude for her husband who put his law career on hold to be home with their kids. Timing, she notes, has also played a role in her success. “Ignorance is bliss,” she says, regarding starting a business fresh out of college. “I had nothing to lose.”

Photo by Susan Young

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Class of MBA 2000, Section K
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