Angie’s List Co-Founder Talks Diversity and Building Tech Ecosystems

It’s a bit ironic that Angie Hicks, co-founder and chief marketing officer of Indianapolis-based Angie’s List, didn’t originally plan to be an entrepreneur.

Before she helped found the business-listings company 22 years ago, she was an intern at a venture capital firm with plans of becoming a consultant because, she says, that’s what economics majors did in the mid-1990s.

“I would not have said back then that I was destined to be an entrepreneur,” she recalls. “I didn’t consider myself a big risk-taker. But a guy I worked with was interested in starting a business, and it went from there.”

Today, Hicks is considered one of the most successful female tech moguls in the country. Last month, she was honored with the Woman Tech Founder of the Year award at the inaugural Midwest Women in Tech conference; this week, it was announced that Hicks will receive the Trailblazer Award at TechPoint’s gala honoring MIRA winners on April 29 for her contributions to Indiana’s tech ecosystem.

Angie’s List (NASDAQ: ANGI) runs a website offering a list of local service people—plumbers, electricians, dog walkers, and such—along with verified consumer reviews and ratings of each provider. Members can look at reviews for free, but must pay to leave reviews, interact with providers through the platform, and access special discounts as well as help from the company if a job by one of its verified providers goes sideways. Members can also leave reviews about the service people they’ve hired.

Last year, Angie’s List reported revenues of $323.3 million, with earnings down by $7.8 million compared to the previous year. The company has more than 1,500 employees worldwide and a market cap of about $340 million.

Hicks says the best part about running a tech company based in the Midwest is the lack of distractions. “Being in Indiana allows you to focus,” she says. “There’s a lot of competition on the coasts. I think being in the Midwest is the best of both worlds: you can raise money from investors on the coasts, but you can also keep your head down and work.”

The major challenge, she contends, is not having access to the same cream-of-the-crop talent. While Indiana’s universities and tech schools may churn out plenty of graduates, many of the most exceptional students can’t resist the lure of Silicon Valley, she points out.

“It’s about right-sizing supply and demand,” she says. “As we’ve evolved, we’ve needed to reach out to the coasts from time to time to recruit talent. Because we’re not an unknown entity, and a great customer-facing brand is a key asset in successful recruiting, we can usually find people with some tie to the Midwest who want to come back because they’re starting families or want to be closer to aging parents.”

There has been a lot of talk in the tech world about the dismally low number of under-represented minorities—including women, people of color, and members of the LGBT community—working in the industry, even at the biggest and most successful companies like Google and Facebook. Oftentimes, when tech executives are pressed about these numbers, they complain of the difficulty in recruiting a diverse pool of candidates. Hicks says that’s true to a point, but believes companies can do better.

“We need to make sure we’re sharing job opportunities widely,” she says. “The talent is there, they just need to get exposure. It’s making sure you’re seeing those circles and doing the networking.”

She’s noticed that having women in leadership positions seems to attract more and better female applicants to a company. Women also need to make sure their ideas are being shared with male-dominated companies or industries.

“I always tell people that, as a female entrepreneur, making sure I’m a good mentor is one of the biggest responsibilities I have,” Hicks says. “You sometimes get in the bubble and forget. And I always tell women: don’t be afraid of no. Don’t be afraid to put your business plan out there and do things.”

She applauds organizations like Women Tech Founders, which hosted the recent Midwest Women in Tech conference, for being a welcoming entity that brings together … Next Page »

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Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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