Scott Durchslag | Crain's Philadelphia

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Scott Durchslag


Indianapolis-based Angie’s List provides consumer reviews of local service providers in more than 720 categories in 253 cities.

The Mistake:

I was involved in the turnarounds of Motorola, Expedia, Skype and Best Buy before coming to Angie’s List. The most important lesson I’ve learned was related to a mistake I saw made at Motorola. Then I made something of a similar mistake when I was at Expedia.

You have to be focused on the fundamentals and you need to know who to listen to – it’s not always the loudest voices or the many voices. When I became president of Expedia Worldwide I was faced with a situation where this was a company that was born within Microsoft—and I was responsible for turning it around. I was basically hired to get the business growing again and we had to do a big platform migration, basically transporting the heart of the technology in the company. It had become obsolete.

It was a situation where there’s enormous complexity in those systems because not only do you have the technology to run the user experience for the front-end customers but you also have a lot of back-end systems that need to integrate into the airlines, with hotels, with other technology. The engineers had an excellent solution, but you have to be careful not to let the perfect become the enemy of the good.

It took a long time to develop a new platform. The problem in these situations is investors are not very patient. Turnaround leaders are different from growth leaders in that they must execute the vital few changes that will transform the company and they must prevent the distractions of the urgent.

You really have to be mindful of balancing the different kinds of forces that are within the company. We took longer in the platform migration than what I would have liked. The problem is that put a lot of strain on customers. It put pressure on costs. It creates a lot of complexity.

You need to know who to listen to — it’s not always the loudest voices or the many voices.

The Lesson:

The lesson I took away from these experiences and brought to Angie’s List is, in turnarounds, speed saves. You need to be focused on the fundamentals, and if it’s the choice of doing it the easy way or the hard way, you want to pick the hard way.

But you want to do it fast. The benefit of that is that it kind of rips the Band-Aid off and it gets you to a good, sustainable long-term solution a whole lot faster. And at the same time, it also drives change and innovation because you need to develop muscles to do that, and necessity really is the mother of invention.

So in the case of Angie’s List I saw a similar situation where we needed to really become a technology company. And the best way to become a technology company was to migrate to a new, services-oriented architecture that’s state of the art. They had been working on that for quite a while before I arrived. One of the first decisions that I made when I joined in September was that we were going to execute the migration to that platform.

We began it very quickly. But instead of trying to do it in big blocks as some enormous project, we did it in layers. We were able to complete it within six months, which is close to a record time for doing a platform migration. That then set us up to be able to bring down the reviews paywall earlier than had been planned. It will now allow us to improve the user experience 10 times faster than the old platform, which will hugely benefit both our service providers and members.

The advantage of that was we could organically see what the demand was from consumers. It was a question: “How much would consumers care?” That also led us more gradually to scale-up the new platform, which meant that its performance was better. And then we were able to do the big launch in July.

We saw that consumers cared enormously. There was huge demand to be able to see the 10 million verified reviews on Angie’s List. It allowed us to also demonstrate not just an explosion in new members, because we recorded almost five times as many new members as the same period a year prior, but also that they were engaged. They were doing searches. They were looking at profiles. It was an important milestone in the turnaround of Angie’s List.

Follow Scott Durchslag on Twitter at @Durchslag.


Photo courtesy of Angie’s List.

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