John Hill, The Good Contractors List

A heart attack almost killed entrepreneur John Hill and forced him down a new path.

John Hill’s run-toward-the-roar moment wasn’t organic. It was thrust on him by a devastating heart attack that totally changed the trajectory of his life.

Today, Hill is the founder and CEO of The Good Contractors List, a Mansfield-based company that curates contractors in the Fort Worth-Dallas area and guarantees their work up to $10,000. In the last seven years, Hill’s built his company into a $2 million business widely respected in North Texas for its honesty, integrity and drive to remake the relationship between contractor and customer.

The first kernels of Hill’s idea for a website came back in 2005, when he was working for a yellow page company. He noticed contractors were often presenting themselves in dishonest ways in their ads, which birthed an idea that germinated for six years. What if he could create a service that weeded out the bad apples and guaranteed contractor honesty?

And then the heart attack came. In 2011, Hill suffered a catastrophic heart attack that damaged 40 percent of his heart. He had a pacemaker put in, and doctors told him he’d never do anything more than walk on a treadmill. Seven years later, Hill is the picture of health and now competes in bodybuilding competitions.

After Hill’s heart attack, his purpose to chase the idea he’d originally had six years earlier crystallized.

Sometimes the safest place to be is the one that feels the scariest. Lions — with their intimidating teeth and deafening roars — are designed to provoke fear. But the real danger lies with the smaller, quieter lionesses. In the animal kingdom, the lion’s job is to roar and send prey scattering away from the startling noise — right into the path of the waiting lionesses, the true hunters.

Likewise, humans sometimes have an instinctive desire to shy away from pursuits that look and sound scary. But often, running toward those challenges and conflicts is the best (or only) way to grow and meet our goals. In business, those who run from the deafening noise never reach their full potential.

After being faced with a massive health scare, it was time for Hill to run toward the roar.

“I realized I couldn’t be afraid anymore to do what I felt I was supposed to be doing,” Hill said.

So, Hill took a leap of faith. He left his job in direct mail selling and poured himself into his website idea just months after his heart attack. Suddenly he’d quit his job, had no money in the bank and just one more check coming in. That’s how strongly Hill felt about his new venture, even if he readily admits that he had no “entrepreneurial fantasies” at the time. He just wanted to bring the nobility back to the relationship between contractor and customer.

At first, Hill didn’t even have a website to present to contractors as he asked for initial investments. He merely had a drawing on a pad of paper of how the website would look. Nonetheless, Hill’s idea took off in short order, and soon contractors began flocking to his business. He started with just a handful, and today the site has more than 250 certified contractors.

“There’s so much wrong in the industry that homeowners go into every transaction with fear already,” Hill says. “So usually when a contractor messes up or they’re late — simple stuff that can be corrected easily — homeowners jump to conclusions and everything goes south. By being that guy in the middle that cares, they can hear us say, ‘You know, we’ve been working with these guys for quite a while now; they always do what they say they’re going to do; this just is a misunderstanding,’ it’s like the walls come down. Relationships are mended, and they can get jobs done. That’s how we stay in business. The idea is that we’re relationship-builders and show them that all of us in this business care about the end product. I don’t pick a contractor that doesn’t care.”

In the company’s eight years, Hill can only recall one moment when a bad contractor snuck through by giving a false name. The contractor took money from nine families and didn’t finish any of the jobs, which presented Hill with a crisis moment. So, he acted swiftly; he paid out about $18,000 to those families to help cover costs, and he went to the news to out the contractor.

He didn’t do it for publicity. He did it to potentially save others from working with a contractor who wasn’t honoring contracts.

That’s the sort of integrity Hill’s created with The Good Contractors List. And as it continues to grow year over year, Hill’s main aim is to continue that growth while maintaining the sort of integrity that got the company where it is today.

“I’m most proud that 100 percent of the time we’ve fixed the issue and not dodged our responsibility once,” Hill says. “Even when we’ve lost money, we gained a reputation with contractors and with homeowners that used us. Some of our greatest fans are people who had a problem. I’m most proud that I’ve done what I’ve said I’m doing to do, and as we grow, I’m going to continue to do what I say I’m going to do. That will make me proud in the future.”

He’s preparing to turn the reins of the business over to a new managing partner he’s bringing in — he’ll still be the company’s voice in its radio ads — and he wants to devote time to being an inspirational speaker. “I just feel God said, ‘Do you want to stay or do you want to go?’” Hill says. “I stayed.”

by Jason Forrest
Forrest Performance Group

Jason Forrest is the CEO and chief culture officer at Forrest Performance Group in Fort Worth. With a more than a decade of coaching and speaking experience, Jason is a leading authority in culture change and an expert at creating high-performance work cultures through complete training programs. He writes this column for each issue of FW Inc.