SEATTLE — In just three years, Seattle-based Wrench has expanded into all 50 states, swallowed two similar startups and raised more than $30 million.
The company’s app allows vehicle owners to book house calls for such problems as battery and radiator replacements, oil changes and brake jobs. Wrench announced this week it has raised $20 million in its most recent round of funding, led by Vulcan Capital. Longtime investor Madrona Venture Group, along with Tenaya Capital and Marubeni Corp., participated as well.
“There’s a ton of really cool technological advancements going on in the auto industry, especially in the way people buy cars,” said Ed Peterson, CEO and co-founder of Wrench. And yet, he added, “How people take care of their cars really hasn’t changed.”
The funding will drive growth for a company that has been expanding at rapid pace. Since it was founded in Seattle in 2015, Wrench has crept into big cities from Phoenix to Miami, and plans to expand into Canada after it acquired Fiix and its 80,000 customers last month.
“Wrench’s technology-enabled mobile mechanic service saves customers time and money, resulting in high customer satisfaction and lifetime value,” said Stuart Nagae, director of venture capital at Vulcan Capital, in a statement.
A 2017 study by Cox Automotive Group found 60 percent of car buyers’ shopping happened online, and 56 percent of online car-shopping happened via smartphone. Companies are taking note. Joydrive, another Seattle-based startup that allows customers to buy, lease and sell used cars online, has expanded to 14 cities. Bellevue-based 321 Ignition helps dealerships get a piece of the action by building comprehensive, mobile-friendly websites for customers to browse models and finance options before they approach dealerships to test drive. Carvana, Shift and Vroom operate in similar marketplaces.
But Wrench is one of a few car-repair services that are taking advantage of online models.
Nick Gorton, vice president of product innovation at Edmunds, an online automotive retailer and industry resource, said digital retailing in the automotive industry “has kicked off in earnest over the last 24 months.” Customers, he says, “want to build a deal online. They don’t want the old experience of negotiating.”
That’s why startups dealing with cars, including Wrench, offer quotes online instead of requiring customers to pick up the phone or drive to a dealership or auto body shop. And most deliver their products or services straight to the door.
“You see a growing culture of convenience,” Peterson said. “Uber at a push of a button. Movies on demand.”
Wrench says its service saves customers up to 30 percent on maintenance compared to dealer services, and an average of three hours of traveling and wait time by making the diagnostic process easier. Instead of asking customers to use their car’s on-board diagnostic system to troubleshoot the myriad of subsystems within the car, or to drive to a dealership or repair shop, Wrench uses conversational artificial intelligence to ask users questions about their cars long before a mechanic arrives, with help from a master list of on-board diagnostic system information.
“One of our goals was to diagnose a car without ever seeing it,” Peterson said. “How do you use technology to be able to narrow down those answers to questions to troubleshoot?”
Of Wrench’s 270 employees, about 100 are mechanics certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, scattered across the country, who have worked on around 10,000 vehicles collectively. About 60 employees and 15 mechanics operate in Seattle. Peterson said the company made a choice not to contract with mechanics, believing full-time employees would improve its service.
“I can walk your dog or drive a car. I can’t fix your car,” Peterson said. “Mechanics are skilled technicians … you have to support them correctly.”