Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Knock, knock. Who's there?

Many years ago, when my wife was pregnant, we went on a long drive to visit some relatives.  Being pregnant, she had to go to the bathroom constantly, so she jumped out of the car as soon as we arrived and hustled to the front door.  She didn’t even knock, just rushed inside and announced that there was a pregnant woman in need of a bathroom.  They pointed her down the hall and off she went.  I’m not sure who was more surprised:  my wife, when she returned to a living room full of strangers; or my relatives’ next door neighbors who’d just let a pregnant stranger use their restroom.

I still laugh at that memory to this day, and wonder what those people were thinking when my wife came bursting into their home.  This week’s story is about another woman who experienced success on the other side of a closed door.

Angie’s first job was selling popcorn at the zoo, and it represented a significant part of her early work experience.  In other words, she didn’t have much.  The highlights of her young employment life included being selected as employee of the month at a steakhouse in Indiana and a short internship at a venture capital firm during college.  Angie’s strengths were her determination and ability to get any job done.

After college, Angie received a call from her former boss at the venture capital firm.  He was having a hard time finding a reputable contractor to do work on a house he’d bought.  Home repairs and improvement can be very expensive, and one of the most difficult parts of the process is deciding who to hire for a job when you don’t know anything about their work.  His idea was for a business that would collect and organize reliable information about contractors and service professionals… and he thought Angie should start it.

Angie wasn’t so sure.  She wasn’t a homeowner, and had never hired a contractor nor undertaken repairs of any kind in her life.  She liked a challenge, but wasn’t sure about turning her back on the safe path (an almost-certain job with an accounting firm) to risk starting a business.  But her family supported the idea of betting on herself, and the advice of her grandfather was particularly insightful:  “What’s the difference between looking for a job when you’re twenty-two or waiting until you’re twenty three?  Nothing!  So what do you have to lose?”

Angie decided to give the idea a year.  Alone in Columbus, Ohio, she launched Columbus Neighbors, going door to door to sign up members who would use the service and provide reviews of contractors.  As a result, she faced the kind of frustration and rejection commonly experienced when making in-person sales pitches.  She pushed through seven-day workweeks and slammed doors.  She was often demoralized, cried regularly, and considered giving up more than once.  But she was passionate about succeeding, and the demands of the door-to-door process helped toughen her up. 

In that first year, Angie learned what she was made of.  She continued knocking on doors and asking strangers for advice about who they'd hired to do work on their homes.  Eventually, she’d ask whether they’d pay for a trustworthy service that would make their lives as homeowners easier.  The worst result was an unfriendly rejection, but the best was quality information and a new member. Angie was asking people to trust her information when making major spending decisions, and it showed that she took their trust seriously when she put her own name on the company. 

In 1996, Columbus Neighbors became Angie’s List.  Angie Hicks personally signed up fifteen hundred members in that first year without the benefit of the Internet.  Today, Angie’s List is the trusted source of reviews on contractors, doctors, dentists and service professionals in more than 550 categories.  Over 1.5 million households nationwide check Angie's List before they hire, and her pursuit for reliable information has resulted in a resource that includes 40,000 new reviews a month.  It’s no wonder that her estimated net worth is $50 million.

Angie says, “Even more important than the "Great Idea," is the ability to not give up when you hit roadblocks.  You're going to have people hang up on you or turn their backs when you ask for help.  Don’t give up.  Success doesn’t happen overnight.  Perseverance will be your best friend.”

The real sound of opportunity knocking often comes when your own knuckles hit the door.

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams

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