Andrew Rose is at it again.
The former chairman and chief executive of Glen Allen-based Elephant Auto Insurance is busy building another company from the ground up in Innsbrook.
Backed by the deep pockets of Admiral Group – the same Welsh parent company that tapped him to launch Elephant in 2009 – Rose is quickly growing Comparenow.com, a price comparison site for car insurance.
“The Kayak.com for auto insurance” is how Rose describes his new venture.
The company’s site is in beta mode as it tweaks its system and gets insurance carriers to sign on, but its staff has doubled this year to 22 people. It will look to potentially triple that number by the end of the year and has a dozen open positions.
Headquartered in a 6,000-square-foot office on Concourse Boulevard, Comparenow is the American incarnation of a model Admiral found success with in the United Kingdom.
Rose cut ties with Elephant to start quietly building the new company in early 2012. He said he spent the first six months pitching the idea to equity investors with influence in the insurance game.
Those investors now own 21 percent of Comparenow, Rose said. Admiral owns the remaining 79 percent. The result is a backing beyond eight figures, Rose said, without getting into specific amounts.
“This is a meaningful investment. You have to be able to spend to the levels of the GEICOs or Progressives,” he said. “This is not a game that can be played with a couple million dollars.”
About 400 auto insurance carriers compete for U.S. customers. GEICO, State Farm, Allstate and Progressive collectively spend about $2 billion a year on marketing and advertising, and they dominate the market, Rose said.
Comparenow will be a “marketing intermediary” that will go after the 396 or so smaller companies – those that don’t have big budgets for enticing geckos or celebrity spokespeople – to help them reach a wider market.
“Our business allows everybody else to be part of the consideration set,” Rose said of smaller insurers. “All of a sudden, you are part of a user’s shopping experience.”
Insurance carriers don’t pay to be on the site, for now, but they do compensate Comparenow for sales that come through the site.
Among the new company’s challenges are bringing its concept to life online, making it easy to use for both customers and insurers, and persuading potentially hundreds of insurance carriers to sign on.
Then there’s regulation. Every U.S. state has its own insurance regulator and its own set of regulations governing the industry.
“This is really hard,” Rose said.
Another potential hurdle is finding the manpower to build the company.
Shooting for a larger-scale push by the end of the year or in early 2014, Rose said the company needs employees in IT and marketing and from the insurance industry.
“There are people in Richmond we think would like to work here,” he said. “We’d like to find them.”
The size of the market that the new site is entering is difficult to gauge. But Rose sees an even bigger picture.
He said the Comparenow brand could become a marketplace for pricing homeowners insurance, health insurance, life insurance – even funeral services or television options.
“Why should we stop at auto insurance?” he asked.