Bill Oesterle, Co-Founder of Angie’s List, Dies at 57
Bill Oesterle, a founder and the longtime chief executive of the service review website Angie’s List, who also ran Mitch Daniels’s first campaign for governor of Indiana but later clashed with the state’s Republican establishment, died on Wednesday at his home in Indianapolis. He was 57.
His assistant, Jackie Annan, said the cause was complications of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
The idea behind Angie’s List, which Mr. Oesterle (pronounced OST-er-lee) founded in Columbus, Ohio, in 1995 with Angie Hicks, was to connect people who paid a subscription fee to trustworthy contractors and other home improvement professionals, removing some of the anxiety from hiring a stranger for expensive home repairs.
The business, originally called Columbus Neighbors, was a hyperlocal affair: Ms. Hicks signed up new subscribers by going door to door and provided referrals over the phone, consulting an actual list that had to be updated whenever a company’s rating changed. The service spread the word even further by advertising in newspapers, and the name became Angie’s List in 1996.
In 1999, with the dot-com boom near its apogee, Angie’s List moved online. The site, which still charged a subscription fee and also made money through advertising, rated different businesses from A to F in categories like punctuality and professionalism. It also allowed users to write signed reviews about different businesses in their area, which Angie’s List hoped would make reviews fairer and more accurate. (Users’ entire names did not appear, but they did have to provide them to the company.)
Businesses that received bad reviews could try to settle the issue with customers who complained through Angie’s List; if the business ignored the complaint resolution process or failed to resolve a complaint, it could be placed in the Penalty Box, a kind of online pillory, and temporarily lose its listing on the site. Widely praised businesses earned a Super Service Award, as well as greater attention on the site.
Mr. Oesterle became chief executive in 1999, when Ms. Hicks left to attend Harvard Business School. (She later returned in a different capacity.) In time the company employed more than 2,000 workers, mainly based in Indianapolis during Mr. Oesterle’s tenure, and developed a user base of millions in dozens of cities across the United States.
In 2004 Mr. Oesterle stepped away to run Mr. Daniels’s campaign for governor. He had known Mr. Daniels, who was then director of the Office of Management and Budget, for years. Mr. Oesterle raised millions of dollars for Mr. Daniels’s campaign while having him tour the state in an R.V., ride a motorcycle and stay overnight with constituents to demonstrate that he was a man of the people.
Mr. Daniels won handily, beating the Democratic incumbent, Joseph Kernan, with more than 53 percent of the vote.
Mr. Oesterle turned against the Indiana Republican establishment in 2015, when Mr. Daniels’s successor as governor, Mike Pence, signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a law that critics contended would allow businesses to discriminate against L.G.B.T.Q. people.
The law drew an outcry from politicians in other states as well as business leaders like Tim Cook of Apple and many Hoosiers — thousands protested at the statehouse.
Mr. Oesterle threatened to cancel a $40 million deal to expand Angie’s List’s Indianapolis headquarters, leave his job as chief executive to focus on gay rights in Indiana and support a challenger to Mr. Pence, to whom he had donated $150,000.
He told The Indianapolis Star in 2015 that he thought the bill would damage the state’s economy and the Republican Party.
After the uproar, Indiana lawmakers quickly passed an amendment intended to protect L.G.B.T.Q. people from discrimination. But Angie’s List never built its Indianapolis expansion.
Angie’s List went public in 2011 but struggled financially after a promising initial public offering. Mr. Oesterle stepped down as chief executive in 2015, and in 2017 Angie’s List was acquired for about $500 million by IAC, a digital media group controlled by the entrepreneur Barry Diller, which merged the company with its HomeAdvisor service. Angie’s List is now known as Angi.
William Seelye Oesterle was born on Sept. 26, 1965, in Lafayette, Ind., northwest of Indianapolis. He was the youngest of five children of Eric Oesterle, an agricultural economics professor at Purdue University, and Germaine (Seelye) Oesterle, who studied horticulture at Cornell University before they married.
Mr. Oesterle grew up in West Lafayette, where he graduated from high school in 1983. He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Purdue in 1987 and took a fellowship with Gov. Robert Orr.
After about a year, Mr. Oesterle was hired by the Hudson Institute, a think tank that at the time was led by Mr. Daniels and headquartered in Indianapolis. He was later accepted to Harvard Business School. But before he left, Mr. Daniels had a conversation with him.
“He pointed a finger at my chest and said, ‘You’d better come back here. You owe it to us,’” Mr. Oesterle said in 2021.
He completed his master’s degree at Harvard in the early 1990s, and in 1991 he married Melissa McCain. Their marriage ended in divorce.
Mr. Oesterle went to work for a private equity firm in Columbus, Ohio, where he met Ms. Hicks, a recent graduate of DePauw University.
Inspired by a newsletter service in Indianapolis that helped people find plumbers and other home workers, Mr. Oesterle and Ms. Hicks started working out of his garage. Once the company began to take off, they named it after Ms. Hicks, bought the service that had originally inspired them and eventually moved their headquarters to Indianapolis.
In 2002 Mr. Oesterle helped create the Orr Fellowship, named after Governor Orr, which brings up to 90 new college graduates to Indianapolis to work for major companies for two years.
In 2007, Mr. Oesterle married Kristi English. She survives him, as do four children from his first marriage, Maggie Shipman, Katie Smith, Fischer Oesterle and Emma Oesterle; a stepdaughter, Kayla English; a daughter from his second marriage, Luella Oesterle; two brothers, Eric and Dale; two sisters, Elizabeth and Mary Ellen Oesterle; and three grandchildren.
The Orr Fellowship was the first of many efforts Mr. Oesterle undertook to keep talented, educated workers from leaving Indiana.
Mr. Oesterle started a business to address the problem: MakeMyMove, which works with communities in Indiana and other states to present incentives for remote workers to move to those communities.