Rodney Rice – An Entrepreneurial Spirit Takes The World Wide Web By Storm

Rodney Rice knows business. He’s what you might  call a mogul, a revolutionary,  a self-made man. He’s a dreamer, a guy who has that  “special  something” most people  spend their  lives pursuing, but never achieve. Everything Rodney sets out to accomplish is ignited  by a spark of creativity and followed by good old fashioned hard work and determination. While Rodney’s dynamic personality and sharp intellect have proven to benefit him in all matters relating to business, it is perhaps his down-to-earth attitude, sincere expression of humility and willingness to serve others that set him a cut above the rest.

When Rodney goes after something, he pursues it with a vengeance and gives it everything he’s got.  A University of Texas grad, (hook ‘em horns!) Rodney double majored in finance and international business, an education he says has served him well. A founding member of Einstein Bros. Bagels, a much-loved, nationally franchised bagel company, Rodney is also the co-founder of ServiceMagic.com. In the midst of the first dot com bubble bursting, in 1999, ServiceMagic introduced a completely new approach to marketing by connecting consumers with qualified, reputable contractors who ServiceMagic screens across ten criteria, including verification of licenses and insurance coverage, and their customers’ reviews. All of this with just a few clicks of a mouse.

Essentially, the ServiceMagic web site acts as a marketplace connecting the right service provider with the right homeowner.  It was a ground-breaking approach to buying local services. Before the Internet, Yellow Pages was one of the most popular way people sought plumbers, roofers and commercial painters. This meant businesses would advertise, then sit and wait for potential customers to call. Rodney and his partner, Michael Beaudoin, came up with a way to generate and send sales leads to registered contractors, who could then call the client directly. The contractor would then be charged a “lead fee” by ServiceMagic.

“Admittedly, contractors were skeptical early on as the Yellow Pages and door hangers were all they knew. However, homeowners quickly became big fans of the site even though we freaked a few out early on,” Rodney joked. “People would go online and look for roofers, we would match them immediately and then a roofer would often call them before they had left our site.  It was unlike anything homeowners had ever experienced. But truly, we changed a communication paradigm, and that really became the magic of ServiceMagic.”

It didn’t take long, however, for the idea to take off and quickly gain momentum. For 12 years, Rodney and Mike built the company into an incredible success. They sold it to InterActive Corp, a large public Internet conglomerate, in 2004 but have stayed on and continued to build the business. Today, ServiceMagic has 85,000 businesses listed with more than one million customer ratings. Rodney served as Co-CEO through 2008 and as Co-Chairman since. In recent years, he has started to pursue other passions –including helping young entrepreneurs get their start and raising a family with wife, Ann. The Rice’s three kids, 13-year-old Ryan, 11-year-old Alexa and Georgia, 10, are all enrolled in Boerne schools and are very active in their respective grades.

“One of the main reasons we moved here from Colorado when I decided to sell ServiceMagic was because we wanted to be close to family and we wanted our kids to go to good public schools,” Rodney said. He and Ann, both native Texans, always knew they wanted to get back to the Hill Country one day. “I am a big proponent of the public school system. I believe you learn a lot of valuable life lessons and develop useful skills outside the text books in public school. I have great admiration for those who teach. I’ve often dreamt of teaching one day.”

Rodney explains that he and Ann, married 14 years, first looked at relocating to Austin, but soon realized they wanted to live somewhere that moved at a slower pace. “We didn’t want to raise our kids in a rat-race type of atmosphere. We wanted them to experience a small town environment and have close, lasting relationships.”

The Rice’s moved from Denver to Coridillera Ranch six years ago and have loved every minute of their time here. “Although my dad is passed on now, he used to live two-and-a-half hours away and we would visit him often. We got to spend some amazing time with him. I wanted my kids growing up knowing him and hunting and fishing with him like we did when I was a kid. If we wouldn’t have moved from Colorado, we never would have had that opportunity.” Rodney’s father, Dr. Jack S. Rice, was a celebrated medical doctor who worked in the field of urology and, according to Rodney, was a great dad to him and his two older brothers.

Rodney credits his dad for teaching him to be both a go-getter, and a good person. He also says he believes his dad had the right idea about life. “To him, a full day was golfing, fishing and hunting –all in the same day. He never let the grass grow under his feet and he taught me to be the same way. I don’t like to sit still for long and I love being outside.”

Rodney, Ann and the kids, are what you would consider an outdoorsy family. Fly-fishing, tennis, golfing, quail hunting, sporting clays, snow skiing and wake boarding are just a few of the activities that the Rice’s enjoy. “The concept of Cordillera Ranch as a lifestyle is very fitting. All the great trails and sporting activities just make life so much fun here

We feel truly blessed to be able to live where we do and we have no intention of leaving anytime soon.” Rodney, a world traveler, says he has been to some beautiful places in the world, but few compare to the Lone Star State. “There’s just something special about the Texas Hill Country.”

While Rodney is to be applauded for his many impressive professional accomplishments, his dedication to making sure others get their slice of the American pie is also inspiring, to say the least. As an angel investor, Rodney finances small businesses and increases the chances of success for young entrepreneurs fighting their way to the top like he once did. He also volunteers to mentor small, start- up companies, providing them with free business advice and invaluable guidance.

“America is unique in that it thrives because anyone with talent and ambition can get access to capital,” Rodney says. “This ensures the best and brightest are starting and building our future businesses, not just those from the right family or lineage as is the case in most of the world. As someone who knows what it’s like to start a business, I understand how challenging it can be. There was so much involved to just to get our feet off the ground. Honestly, I think if most entrepreneurs could see a year into the future, most would turn around and run. If I can make it easier for someone else by sharing what I already know, I am happy to do it.”

When asked why he feels that the small business owner is such an integral part of the American story, Rodney answered, “Given the current job environment, if we are going to stand a chance in years to come, we have to invest in our small businesses. They are job creators and they drive the economy. My friend Mike and I started our business in the proverbial garage. We were two guys who got together, brainstormed, came up with an idea and went about making it a reality. Today, the company employs over 1,100 people and generates more than $200 million a year in revenue. I believe anybody with the right idea can do what we did if given the opportunity and a little bit of support.”

As he looks to the future, at the young age of 42, Rodney sees great things ahead. A supporter of many local and national charities, including Wounded Warriors and Hill Country Daily Bread Ministries, Rodney has dreams of one day starting his own charity. “I want to do something that will have a meaningful impact on the lives of our children. I have a passion for sharing the outdoors with our own kids and I want to bring that opportunity to less fortunate kids.  I feel really fortunate and as I look to the second half of  my life, I plan to spend most of it giving back.”

Keep an eye out for Rodney Rice. Whatever he decides to do next, it’s going to be worth waiting for and it’s going to be big. After all, he’s in the business of making magic.

By Bethany Heinesh

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