It may seem strange that founders of a startup offering on-site car maintenance are not into cars all that much.
Then again, it makes perfect sense as the purpose behind Wrench – which launched in June in the greater Seattle area and in Phoenix – is to take the inconvenience out of vehicle upkeep for people just like them.
“We really started this thing out of the frustration we all had dealing with the hassle of maintaining a car,” said Wrench CEO Edward Petersen. “You would never find any of us in the driveway on a Saturday with our head buried under the hood rebuilding a 1970 LTD or something.”
The company began with $1.2 million in seed funding with Madrona Venture Group and former Facebook executive Rudy Gadre as lead investors. Petersen, a self-professed “serial entrepreneur guy,” has founded and sold other Seattle-area companies, including Intelius, a public record search firm, and TalentWise, which performs background checks and other screening services.
Since it began bringing mechanics to customers, Wrench has serviced more than 2,000 cars, surpassing its own projections for a summer launch. The company will be in Portland in January and eventually San Diego as well.
“We plan on being in seven or eight cities in the next six or seven months,” Petersen said.
Len Jordan, a Madrona managing director and member of the Wrench board of directors, said he is pleased with the company's growth. "When Ed first told me about the idea, I didn't realize the market was as big as it is. People spend $50 (billion) to $100 billion maintaining their cars."
In looking to invest in companies, Madrona "loves big markets, something that's different about a product or service, and great teams," he said. "Wrench checked all the boxes."
Wrench has five founders, Petersen among them, and employs about 20 people, including full-time and contract mechanics. Mechanics must be Automotive Service Excellence certified and agree to background checks.
Customers can go on to the company’s website or mobile app to schedule their service at their home, office parking lot or a downtown garage – pretty much any place where the mechanic can work safely.
Petersen said Wrench was developed with clients like himself in mind. He didn’t mind taking his car to his dealer in Bellevue until he was no longer making that commute from his home in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood. Then it became a huge time drain.
For Sean Ramer and his wife, who both work full-time, the service has been extremely convenient. He has had the company’s mechanics out to his Seattle home for oil changes and diagnostic checks on his 2006 Chevrolet Impala five times. He pays about $55 for the basic maintenance, which he said is less than a franchise oil and lube business charged him for similar services.
“The first time we had them out was for an oil change,” he said. “The mechanic was a really, really nice guy. He came out the second time too, and swapped out my left-turn indicator with a part he had with him and didn’t even charge me.”
Foundation of trust
Building trust and a reputation for quality are Wrench’s current focus, Petersen said. So far, so good: The 12 Facebook reviews are all five-star, and Petersen said the company has a solid score from Net Promoter, an index that measures customers’ willingness to recommend a company’s product. “That’s really how we measure success.”
Service can be scheduled on an as-needed basis, or through a membership program that costs $14.95 a month for sedans and $19.95 for larger vehicles and includes bi-annual full synthetic oil changes, tire rotations and quarterly diagnostic checks with interiors vacuumed and windows cleaned. Free installation of windshield wipers and bulbs, and 10 percent off all other services, are also part of the membership package.
The majority of automotive work, Petersen said, can be done outside the shop. Beyond oil and filter changes, Wrench mechanics can replace brake pads and rotors, timing belts and catalytic converters, and can correct most ignition, electrical and exhaust issues.
Repairs are backed by a 12-month, 12,000-mile guarantee. Wrench claims that while charges vary depending on vehicle make and part prices, they are on par with independent car repair shops, and are 15 to 30 percent cheaper than typical car dealership service departments.
Eventually, Petersen said, Wrench will roll out an affiliate network for bigger jobs. “They will go through the Wrench platform and we will vet them to make sure they’re up to the standards we expect from our own employees.”
He emphasized that the program is not an emergency road service. Wrench’s goal is to minimize the likelihood of a breakdown. “We really try to decrease the chances that you are at a soccer practice with kids in the back and your car won’t start.”