Before the Deluge

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From western wildfires to Superstorm Sandy to the super soaking the Seattle area received in November, weather swept the headlines in 2012.

For Washington state residents, perched on fault lines with wilderness at their doorsteps, disaster preparedness is second nature. Earthquake insurance is common and most homeowner policies cover fire.

Yet flood insurance remains a mystery for many. It is not included in most standard policies, but it is federally mandated for residential structures in designated flood zones. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has overseen flood insurance nationwide since 1968. Through its National Flood Insurance Program, local insurance brokers can become licensed to sell flood insurance to their clients.

“Anybody can become a national flood insurance agent, through national wholesale brokers,” explains Joe Snapp, principal of Snapp & Son, a Seattle insurance company founded in 1937 and originally specializing in maritime shipping insurance. But, he estimates, the majority of agents licensed to sell flood insurance do so only a few times a year because the process is so convoluted. While FEMA makes and distributes flood zone maps to consumers, piecing together an accurate insurance estimate requires understanding of structural engineering reports, maps, policies and databases.

Snapp & Son’s answer to this situation, FloodBuddy, turns buying flood insurance into one-stop shopping. Users can access FloodBuddy online or through an iPhone app, and need only type in an address to see a “visual quote” in which rates and flood zone maps are presented together and colorized. The quote is a live offer from which a user can immediately purchase flood coverage. Sometimes, FloodBuddy needs more data and asks for a phone consultation.

Stephen Schramke, head of marketing for FloodBuddy, says, “Joe is doing for flood insurance what Zillow has done for home appraisals.” FloodBuddy consolidates what Snapp describes as a minimum of 10 phone calls and faxes among banks, surveyors, insurance agents and customers into one or two exchanges before generating quotes for customers.

Beta-launched in 2011, FloodBuddy now accounts for about 25 percent of the firm’s phone call activity, says Snapp, with customer interest growing markedly after Hurricane Sandy’s devastation. Climate change and coastal development also make flood risk a moving target, so FloodBuddy is constantly updating its databases to alert policyholders and potential customers.

Bright Idea: Mechanics Making House Calls

Bright Idea: Mechanics Making House Calls

Wrench wants to take the hassle out of car repair.
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Need a quick oil change? Maybe a complete tune-up? A year-old startup called Wrench dispatches a certified mechanic to your home or workplace and eliminates the hassle and cost of having to drop off your car at the car dealer or repair shop.
 
“We’re 30 percent cheaper than a dealership and on par with an independent shop,” says Wrench cofounder and CEO Ed Petersen. “But we’re more convenient.”
 
Petersen adds that the pitch to consumers is simple: “Our goal is to make owning your car completely hassle free.”
 
To request service, customers can visit Wrench’s website — getwrench.com — or they can use a smartphone app. Its most popular service is an oil change, which starts at $68. Wrench also offers memberships, which include quarterly visits for oil changes, tire rotations, safety inspections and fluid top-offs; memberships cost $14.95 a month for cars and $19.95 for trucks.
 
 
Last June, the Madrona Venture Group contributed half of a $1.2 million seed round. Managing Director Len Jordan says the big market potential, clear pain point and compelling solution sold Madrona on Wrench’s concept.
 
“We like the market opportunity,” Jordan says. “There are more than 120 million cars on the road that are more than three years old.”
 
So far, Wrench has serviced more than a thousand vehicles. Jordan says the startup is still in its infancy, so the focus is less on making a profit and more on establishing a presence. Demand, however, is apparent. Wrench expanded to car-happy Phoenix in November and is studiously eyeing other markets.
 
Wrench has a contract to service vehicles for Lyft, the ride-hiring service. And it hopes to expand its services to office and industrial parks; it already has deals with Bellefield Office Park in Bellevue and North Creek Business Park in Bothell.