That would be Angie Hicks, founder of Angie's List, a publisher of ratings and reviews of service providers. The Indianapolis-based company is a three-time Inc. 500 honoree. It landed at No. 1,100 on the 2009 Inc. 5000, with revenue of more than $34 million and some 750,000 paying customers.
I had a friend who was having trouble finding a roofer. It occurred to me that there had to be a better way for consumers like him to network and share information on service providers. I figured people would pay if I could take the work out of it for them.
I started going door to door in 1995 to sell subscriptions to a magazine and call-in service, in which people would submit reviews of the work someone had done for them. Our website went up in 1999. By 2006, we were operating in 30 markets. Now, we're in 124.
We've always been positioned as a premium product. We need to have a lot of integrity behind our reviews. People pay up to $60 a year because they trust that we will provide reliable information.
We now cover more than 500 categories of services. People go to Angie's List rather than the phone book. We've become part of everyday life.
We grew 35 percent last year -- despite the recession. I think it's because people didn't stop spending as much as they shifted how they spent. People wanted to stretch their dollars, so they invested in more research beforehand.
We are seeing more competitors spring up, like Yelp. But when people ask me who our biggest competitor is, I tell them it's when you go ask your neighbor for a referral, instead of coming to Angie's List.
DARREN DAHL is a contributing editor at Inc. Magazine, which he has written for since 2004. He also works as a collaborative writer and editor and has partnered with several high-profile authors. Dahl lives in Asheville, NC.