Editor's Note: Entrepreneur's "20 Questions" series features both established and up-and-coming entrepreneurs and asks them a number of questions about what makes them tick, their everyday success strategies and advice for aspiring founders.
Twenty-two years ago, Angie Hicks was at a crossroads. Upon graduating college, she could take a gig as a management consultant or give entrepreneurship a try and launch her first company.
After some surprising advice from a historically risk-averse relative, she decided to take the plunge. With her co-founder Bill Oesterle, Hicks started Angie’s List, a home services website that helps users find the right people and businesses to help them do everything from remodel their homes to find a doctor in their town through vetted -- and not anonymous -- crowdsourced reviews.
Today, the Indianapolis-based business has 1,500 employees, more than 5 million members and 10 million reviews for users to refer to. Hicks doesn’t only want to reduce the tension and stress in her users' lives -- she wants to do the same for her colleagues. She says she believes that it’s impossible to do your best work if you don’t take time for yourself.
“I’m a firm believer in you take your vacation,” Hicks says. “I have that conversation with anyone [who] works with me … during our one-on-one time, I’ll say, ‘I haven’t seen your minimum weeklong vacation show up on my calendar -- get it done.’”
We caught up with Hicks to ask her 20 Questions to figure out what makes her tick.
1. How do you start your day?
The first thing I do when I get up is I go walk on the treadmill. Getting exercise keeps me healthy and balances my life a little bit. I try to do it before the rest of the family wakes up, so it’s a little bit of me time. As soon as I’m done with that it’s off to the races. I have three kids who are 10, 11 and 13.
2. How do you end your day?
I watch TV. Even when I was a kid, no matter how late I studied, I always needed a little television time before bed, just to get the thoughts of the day out of my head. There is a no news rule too, it has to be entertainment television. It needs to be relaxing. This started a few years ago: my smartphone remains in the kitchen at night.
I think we can all be obsessed with our smartphones, and [with] this I don’t find myself waking up to the vibration or the ding as things come in. I sleep a lot better now that I do that too.
I started doing it because I was watching myself and in my head I was wondering, why am I so obsessed with the phone? Who cares? There is no emergency here. And if you don't consciously make good habits like that you can easily slip into bad ones. I also think it's important to have time away. Like, if I end up emailing someone from work in the evenings [I don’t want them to think they have to respond]. Just because I have insomnia doesn't mean someone else should. I just think that it's important to kind of protect that time.
3. What’s a book that changed your mind and why?
Quiet by Susan Cain. I'm an introvert and I just really related to it. I think a lot of times introverts -- myself included -- sometimes view it as kind of an impediment. I used to not consider myself an entrepreneur. Even though I started a company, I didn't picture myself like that. I wasn't a big idea person, I'm not really charismatic. You kind of have to learn how to be successful in your own skin. And for me, it was leading by example and making sure that I balance my day in such a way [that works for me].
It was one of those books that affirmed kind of how I live my life and reminded me that there are a lot of people [who] go through this, and it's about making sure that you get what you need. For example, while I do give speeches, I sometimes call it "eating my peas," you got to get out there and do it. I'll psych myself up for it but then on days like that I like to reward myself with quiet time too.
4. What’s a book you always recommend and why?
Quick and Nimble by Adam Bryant. I do office hours here at Angie's List and I picked it up out of his book. I was looking for a way that I could continue to connect with employees. I think every entrepreneur as their company gets larger misses the days when there were like 100 people and you all kind of hung out together and you knew everybody. Inevitably that evolves and changes. I truly miss that interaction, that one-to-one interaction.
And back to me not being a person that wants to be out in a large group, I read about these office hours and I decided to actually set them up. I put aside time every week and I have 15-minute sessions. Anyone in the company can sign up for it to talk about anything they want to. It's super fun. I get as much out of it as they do. It can be anything from "Hey, I just haven't a chance to sit down and meet you" to "I've got a business idea" or "I've got an issue." And it's really allowed me to develop relationships with folks that I may never have gotten the opportunity to.
5. What’s your top strategy to stay focused?
It’s about prioritizing things during the day. I tend to want to get things off my plate first thing in the morning that are just must dos. I tackle them first and go from there. Inevitable, your day gets away from you, so if it’s big thing it gets the first spot in the morning.
6. When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?
I loved math, so I actually wanted to be an actuary. Calculating life insurance and probability and stuff like that. It’s a really exciting career, I know.
7. What did you learn from the worst boss you ever had?
I haven’t had many bosses in my career because I’ve been at Angie’s List for so long. But when I was in business school, we had kind of left it open for me coming back to Angie’s List [when I was done with school], so I was doing some interviewing. It was a great eye opening experience for me and it helped me realize what was important to me in terms of the team of people that I wanted to work with.
I was doing an interview for a marketing position and the interviewer who would be my boss, he would ask me a question, I would give him an answer and without any expression, he would just say thank you. And then he asked the next question and then say thank you. And it was one of those moments where I realized managing people is all about interaction and you really want to be able to work with someone that can inspire you and you can learn from.
8. Who has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work?
My co-founder Bill Oesterle. I always admired his ability to stay calm and assess the situation and manage with the hand you're dealt. I hope that over the years of watching him do that, a little bit of that's rubbed off on me.
9. What’s a trip that changed you?
When I was in business school I went and did a class trip to Israel and Jordan. I was just this Indiana midwestern girl that had only been to Canada prior to that. There were a few of my classmates who were from there who planned the trip. I saw everything from the business [community] there to all the the historical and religious backgrounds of Israel and it was just a really neat opportunity.
10. What inspires you?
My family. My kids. It’s why I do what I do, it's for them. Being their role model and their support is everything to me.
11. What was your first business idea and what did you do with it?
We had a number of ideas before Angie’s List, but the first idea on that list was to create a media guide for the state of Indiana. There was one for Ohio, but Indiana didn’t have one. This was in 1995, it was going to be a list of all the reporters and publications, a directory of who does what, for PR and marketing purposes for businesses. We didn’t even do it, we decided to start Angie’s List instead.
There was a business in Indianapolis that did what Angie’s List did that started in the early '70s that Bill had used to rehab his house. When he moved to Ohio he realized that there was no service like Unified Neighbors anywhere else. When we realized that they were only in Indianapolis, we decided to start our own version in Ohio.
12. What was an early job that taught you something important or useful?
From [ages] 16 through 20, I worked at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo concession stand. It was about being a dependable employee and someone your team could count on. I think whether it's a minimum wage job at the concession stands or whether it's being an executive in a company, I think those are traits that are important no matter what the job.
13. What’s the best advice you ever took?
To accept Bill's offer to start Angie's List. It was from my grandfather. I had a hard time deciding whether taking an entrepreneurial path was a good idea. I had an offer to be a management consultant when I was coming out of college and I talked to my grandfather who was incredibly risk averse. And then he was like, Angie, you should do it. What's the difference between being 22 and looking for a job and being 23 and looking for a job. Really, absolutely nothing.
14. What's the worst piece of advice you ever got?
To be someone I’m not. Early on in my career I was getting advice about how to act and how to be because I was 22 and starting a business. Every time I tried to follow the advice it wasn’t genuine. I had to be me. Who I am had to come across. I don’t have an outside persona that’s different from who I am. What you seen in the brand is who I am as a person. If it’s not genuine it doesn't work. You always have to be true to who you are.
15. What’s a productivity tip you swear by?
At Angie’s List we tend to move around. We have a campus so we move seats as we grow and try to fit teams together. I learned a long time ago I had to not carry around every piece of work that I created. I use those moves to organize and get rid of things. Otherwise your work space takes over. I always joke, new space, new work, what are we going to do now? That’s one of my favorites.
16. Is there an app or tool you use in a surprising way to get things done or stay on track
Obviously the Angie’s List app to get my home stuff done, which is really important to me. I’m a very basic gal. I’m an Outlook gal. It is what it is, all I need is a calendar. Have I got my calendar? Then I’m good.
17. What does work-life balance mean to you?
I don’t believe in work-life balance, I believe in work-life choice, No one is superhuman, you can’t do everything. It’s about making the right choices for you at the right time. I made a commitment a long time ago, I’m at home for dinner with my family. We may not have good food, we might be having carryout, but it’s important that we’re together.
Somebody once told me, no matter how much your boss cares about you, no matter who they are, they are never going to ask you if you are at your kid's orchestra concert. You have to remember to make those choices and make sure those things are a priority for you.
18. How do you prevent burnout?
I’m a firm believer in you take your vacation. I have that conversation with anyone [who] works with me. Sometimes people only take one or two days off, and during our one-on-one time I’ll say I haven’t seen your minimum weeklong vacation show up on my calendar -- get it done, get it scheduled. If you don’t get away for multiple days you don’t get refreshed. I think it takes you a couple of days to unwind and get refreshed. When you’re on that vacation, take time to unplug.
I have rules with my assistant, I’m not going to be on email, they need to come to you. Text me if it’s urgent, but otherwise you can be sucked in and you can be working as much as you were in the office.
19. When you’re faced with a creativity block, what’s your strategy to get innovating?
I’ll make sure that I’m out talking to different people, doing some networking -- or picking up a book. Things that get me out of the day to day and thinking about business from a different perspective is what will do it for me.
20. What are you learning now? Why is that important?
I’m always learning through change and how to manage change. That is one thing I tell people that I’m the anti-change person. But you have to learn how to evolve and work through it and guide teams through that process too. That’s one of the things I’m focusing on right now and something that is a continual thing.