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by Linda Spinelli Lewis

We’re fascinated with empowered women entrepreneurs online – who isn’t, right?  We surf and share their sites, see their ads on television – they’re part of the fiber of our lives, online and off.

Each issue we’ll feature a Q & A with the female founder(s) of prominent web businesses.  This month we’re thrilled to feature Angie Hicks of Angie’s List, and Lisa Stone, Elisa Camahort Page and Jory Des Jardins of BlogHer.  We hope that the insight into how their businesses began, the challenges and rewards that have come with their success and their words of wise advise to other up-and-coming web-rocking businesswomen.

AngiesList.com


A Membership service that compiles consumer ratings of local service companies and contractors in multiple cities across the United States, Angie’s List was founded by Angie Hicks.  I found this site most helpful in renovating my own home!

See Magazine – Angie, what gave you the business idea?

Angie Hicks – “It all began when Bill Oesterle called asking me to launch the business in suburban Columbus, Ohio.  He had recently moved there and was having trouble finding reliable contractors for his home repair.  He’d used a similar service in Indianapolis, Ind. for a home renovation and found there wasn’t anything like it in Ohio.   He called me because I had interned for him the prior year, when he was still living in Indianapolis, and I had proven to be a hard worker who never backed down from a challenge.”

SM – Did you have all of the knowledge/skills you needed to start when you started?  If not, how did you handle that?

AL – “I was fresh out of college and hadn’t planned on launching the business, so no.  Luckily, I  had Bill as my co-founder and mentor, and we spoke often.  But, I did the majority of the heavy lifting, if you will.  Going door-to-door to sign up members, doing research and putting the business together.”

SM – How has your business journey been for you – more, or less challenging than you expected?  Any examples?

AH – “Challenges are part of what makes the experience worthwhile.  In the early days, my biggest challenge was working up the enthusiasm for keeping at it.  I’m a naturally shy person, and approaching strangers was a real challenge for me.  Also in those early days, I didn’t have professional PR help.  My first newspaper interview resulted from seeing a piece in the local business paper about another woman leading a business.  I called the reporter up, said something about seeing that article, described myself and invited the reporter to write about me.  Today, I’m the star of television commercials that air nationwide, I do hundreds of news interviews every year and appear live on national news shows.

Other challenges involved strategic decisions about how to expand and grow the business.  How to add categories like health care so consumers have even more information about the important hiring decisions before them.
And there’s the challenge of balancing a professional and personal life.  Like other working mothers know, that’s one of the more challenging issues.”

SM – What’s your advice for other women who are toying with the idea of starting their own business?

AH – “My standard answer here is to objectively analyze your idea.  Is it sound?  Does it fill a need? Do the groundwork research necessary to develop a business plan and attract supporters.  Then, if you’re sure your idea is a good one and that you have something valuable to offer, go after it and don’t give up!

The biggest reward is knowing that Angie’s List is filling a real consumer need and helping its members get the best value for their hard-earned dollars.”

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BlogHer.com

Founded by Lisa Stone, Elisa Camahort Page and Jory Des Jardins, BlogHer is an online network of thousands of blogs which collectively reach an audience of nearly 40 million women.   As such it’s an invaluable platform and voice for women as well as a source for information, inspiration and celebration of all things female.

See Magazine – What gave the three of you the business idea?

BlogHer – “We launched the first BlogHer Conference in 2005 to answer a question that needed to die.  Namely “Where are all the women who blog?”  There was this assumption that women weren’t blogging, or would never adopt social media in large numbers.  Of course now everyone knows that was a total fallacy…women are the drivers behind most social media engagement today.  But in 2005, it was still radical to champion women as early adopters of technology.  We like to say that when we started BlogHer we weren’t a for-profit;  we weren’t a non-profit;  we were just “three chicks with credit cards” who had an idea for a conference to bring together, and make visible, women who blog.  After the first sold-out conference, we asked the community where they wanted us to go next.  The feedback was pretty clear:  We want more events;  we want a place to find each other every day online;  we want a business model.  That’s when we decided to form the company with a mission to create opportunities for exactly that.”

SM – Did you have all of the knowledge/skills you needed to start when you stareted?  If not, how did you handle that?

BH – “Luckily we came from very different backgrounds and brought highly complimentary skills to the partnership.  Elisa Camahort Page came from the world of high tech, and had managed large P&Ls and operational processes.  Jory Des Jardins was a writer who came from publishing, with a focus on business development.  Lisa Stone was a journalist and editorial mastermind who had been in on the early days of developing and forming business models around online community for women.  We had each been involved with early stage companies, but that being said, we certainly didn’t know it all.  Seeking mentorship and knowing when to hire outside resources was key.  We worked with lawyers from the time we formed our initial LLC;  hired a part-time contract CFO almost immediately after starting to generate revenues;  and we invested early in sales leaders who had grown revenues far beyond where we were.  When we were ready to raise funding, our buttoned-up processes and practices gave us added credibility and value.”

SM – What’s your advice for other women who are toying with the idea of starting their own business?

BH – “First, DO IT.  Whether you start by doing it on the side, or dedicating yourself to it full-time.  You owe it to yourself to pursue your idea.  Sometimes the biggest risk is not taking a risk.  Starting and running a business delivers the kind of experience that usually enhances your credibility, even if your idea ends up not working!  Second, as a company formed and still managed by three partners, our second piece of advice is always find great partners!

Entrepreneuship can be a lonely business.  It’s invaluable to have partners with whom you can test ideas, share the load and celebrate the victories.”

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