This is The Story… of a woman who turned down a dream job to become a door-to-door saleswoman. She couldn’t figure out what to do, so she made a list.
And now… onto The Story
As a young girl, she was a math geek. That passion for learning led her to become the first person in her family to graduate from college. As she approached graduation, she got two job offers:
One was a position as an accountant at a well-known company. Her friends and family had all heard of the company and they were impressed.
The second offer was from a young businessman she’d interned with over the summer. He wanted her to do door-to-door sales and collect business owner’s personal information. It was a hundred percent commission.
Her friends and family weren’t impressed with the second offer.
They all told her to stick with the first — the accounting job for the well-known company was a dream job.
But the young woman’s grandfather wanted to hear more about the second option… the door-to-door sales job.
He said it sounded more interesting and kept asking questions. He told her that any job like that that would force her to think on her feet would be good. Besides, he reasoned that she was 22 now, and worst case, she’d be 23 soon and looking for another job. Her grandfather’s final question to her was, “What do you have to lose by taking it?”
Everything, she thought. But when she thought deeper, she realized the only thing at stake was what other people might think. That’d she’d gone to college, only to end up in door-to-door sales.
The accounting job did sound boring. The second job offer was more interesting. And so was the guy making the offer. He’d hired her to work as an intern at his business before. She liked the challenge, and helping him get this company off the ground seemed like a good opportunity.
The young woman thanked her grandfather for the advice and accepted the second offer.
Soon, she was in Columbus, working for Bill. When Bill tried to find a good heating and cooling company to remodel his home, it was nearly impossible. He couldn’t seem to find any professionals to take care of what he needed. If he was having that problem, he knew that so were millions of other people around the world.
The idea made sense to the young woman, and back in Indianapolis, there was already a business like it called Unified Neighbors. It was a newsletter and a call-in service that recommended you to a trusted professional who could help.
There wasn’t anything like it in Columbus, and she and Bill had an opportunity to start a new small business. Bill had $50,000 that he was ready to invest in starting his own version of Unified Neighbors. He called it, “Columbus Neighbors”. The young woman was eager to help him get it off the ground.
Getting a new business off the ground is the hardest part. The young woman was soon out on the streets, knocking on doors, and asking business owners to sign up. In the evenings, she would pick up the phone and cold call businesses. She thought it would be easy, but she hadn’t yet learned the art of hearing “no”.
Soon she heard it hundreds of times. Then thousands. Many of the “no’s” were accompanied by slammed doors, yelling, and outright anger.
As the “no’s” wore on, it was clear that getting Columbus Neighbors off the ground would be impossible.
In a wake of frustration, she called her boss and asked to meet up.
They met up at a coffee shop, and she broke down crying. She tried to talk, but for an hour, all she could manage to do was cry. Her head pounded, and her eyes grew puffy. She never expected the “no’s” to hurt so much.
This wasn’t working. Why had she agreed to take this ridiculous job? She should be sitting in a comfy office in Indianapolis, and instead, she was crying at a coffee shop.
Bill listened and then told her that Columbus Neighbors would eventually work.
If Unified Neighbors was working in Indianapolis, they could make it work here. She was getting the “no’s” because she wasn’t good at sales yet.
The words stung, but he was right. She agreed, she needed to get better at her job.
She got back to work, but the months wore on, and so did the “no’s”.
More meetings with Bill followed, but something was changing. The young woman was starting to devour all the information and books she could about sales. Now, when she felt herself becoming negative, she would stop. She chose new words and phrases, and when she didn’t know what else to tell her boss, she found a new five-word favorite:
“I’m not going to quit.”
Then, it was back to the phones and back to knocking on doors.
Doors kept slamming. Companies and families were joining the membership list, but the progress was painfully slow.
After her first year, she got 1,500 people to sign up.
When the woman asked for advice from people other than Bill and her grandfather, they told her to quit.
Her mother even got ahold of Bill’s phone number and called him. She told him that he was ruining her daughter’s life and he should stop trying whatever it was that they were doing. Bill listened, but he knew her mother was wrong. He knew that her daughter could pull it off.
Instead of listening to the negative advice, the woman doubled down and started running ads for Columbus Neighbors in local newspapers. Then she started attending home shows and events where homeowners went to search for advice. If she could find an opportunity to pitch the company without traveling door-to-door, she took it. By now, all her practice with selling the idea door-to-door was paying off. Behind the scenes, Bill was helping her make the business work. Now their members were talking, they loved the service, and they weren’t shy about sharing it… with everyone.
New memberships started to roll in.
It wasn’t enough to take the business industry by storm, but it was plenty to restore her faith in Columbus Neighbors. Bill had already invested money, but now new investors asked to join. She and Bill said yes, and then they could hire a much bigger team. They were finally able to take a breath, hire some help, and start to have fun with it.
She and Bill couldn’t believe it. The business had felt horrible for the first year and a half, but now... They were loving life.
The only thing about the business that wasn’t working… was the name.
“Columbus Neighbors” wasn’t connecting with people.
They brainstormed and considered naming it after one of their investor’s mothers named Jackie. And it wasn’t exactly a “neighbor” service; it was really a list of the businesses that could help you do whatever you needed.
They tried the new name… “Jackie’s List”.
It didn’t sound quite right. Besides, Jackie wasn’t really involved in the business.
In the beginning, it had just been Bill and the young woman. She had built the list through weekdays and weekends of hard work. She’d gone through thousands of “no’s” until she found out how to reach those who wanted to say “yes”.
She and Bill agreed, it was her list.
They rebranded and relaunched Columbus Neighbors.
Angie’s List was a hit.
Over 20 years later, Angie’s List is a top online resource for homeowners across the US. It’s used religiously by millions of individuals and small business owners. Members pay an annual fee that gives them access to the list experts both online and via phone.
Angie Hicks isn’t a fan of the spotlight. But she is a fan of doing the things necessary to make the business a success. As the business grew, she took 18 months away from the company to attend Harvard Business School. When she returned, she helped lead the company as they made their first investments into their web and mobile presence.
Angie’s story is a testament to the power of steady progress, and not being afraid to push yourself to the point of tears.
Later, she would look back and say that:
“The secret, which isn’t really so much a secret as it is a really hard thing to do, is to not give up. Our first year was really, really difficult, and there were many days when I wanted to pack up, go find a regular job and leave it all behind. But I knew we had a great idea for which there was real and long-lasting demand. I’d say the second most important thing is to have a good support system. My co-founder (Bill) was a rock. He’d listen to me talk about how it didn’t seem like we were getting anywhere and encourage me to keep at it. He celebrated every success and when it came down to it, that emotional support was more important than the financial backing.”
How many “no’s” can you stand? Can you push yourself to the point of tears, recover, and then get back at it?
If you can do that, then the world is yours. And besides… what do you have to lose?
That’s her story. What’s yours going to be?
Thank you for reading this episode of The Story! We have an exclusive giveaway to celebrate Season 2 of The Story podcast — 2 free tickets to Salesforce Connections in Chicago on June 12–14th. Salesforce Connections is the digital marketing, commerce, and customer service event of the year. You’ll learn how to create personalized experiences at every touchpoint and deliver service that drives growth and exceeds consumer expectations. Head to contest.themission.co and enter to win today. Thank you again to our presenting sponsor Salesforce for helping share these stories of business trailblazers who changed the world.