Cover your assets with Event Helper
Event Helper, Inc.
Office Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (PST), Monday through Friday
While a senior at Nevada Union High School, Will Maddux was eager to get out of the classroom and into the real world. His ticket off campus turned out to be through the Regional Occupational Program, where he landed a job as a file clerk at an insurance office. It was there that he learned something new about himself — he was actually interested in the world of insurance.
“I liked it right away,” he said. “I remember I’d been sitting in class, asking my algebra teacher when I would ever use the stuff I was learning — a year later I was using it for insurance.”
Maddux spent the next 12 years working for two Nevada County insurance companies, learning the ins and outs of the industry. As the years passed, he became well aware of the patterns, trends and drawbacks of processing specific policies, especially when it came to events. The way things were done — and had always been done — were inefficient and needlessly expensive, he felt.
“I realized there was a niche for event insurance policies that could be processed quickly,” said Maddux. “Brokers didn’t like to write the policies because they take a long time – it’s not a normal process. The commission was also lower, so many felt it wasn’t worth their time. It was old school — these policies often took up to two weeks to be approved.”
Yet the market for these short-term, one-time policies was huge, as event insurance has become a requirement today for a broad range of venues. Today, most hotels, cultural centers, ballrooms and other event spaces require their clients to provide their own event insurance, be it a wedding, birthday party, family reunion, festival, concert, photo shoot, athletic event or charity fundraiser.
Because many local venues were already sending a flood of clients his way for event insurance, Maddux was overly familiar with the clumsy, but necessary policies. The way he saw it, event sponsors had been overcharged and under-serviced for years.
Maddux was sure he could streamline the arduous process by offering policies online and letting the computer do the complex calculations. He also realized that if he could expand his services to all 50 states, the sheer volume would give him the leverage to negotiate lower prices.
“I wanted to make the process user-friendly, so our customers would feel an ease in doing business,” he said. “I wanted to offer a very short screening process — just go to the website, click-click-click and buy it. We wouldn’t have to pay an underwriting staff because the computer would do it for us.”
Having found an obvious need and niche within the insurance market, Maddux spent a full two years developing his idea. Competition was not an issue, as he was not vying for bread-and-butter policies, such as auto and home. His biggest challenge as a broker, however, was to find insurance companies that believed in his out-of-the-box idea. Too many were skeptical of selling policies over the internet and didn’t trust Maddux’s unconventional business plan, despite the fact that his policies and screening process would meet the highest industry standards required by venues.
“I approached more than 100 people, who told me no,” he said, with a laugh. “I was hung up on, laughed at, even cussed at.”
Then, it happened. An established insurance company agreed to sign on. It was a company with high ratings by A.M. Best, which issues financial-strength ratings measuring insurance companies’ ability to pay claims. Eventually, a second company signed on — also with high ratings — giving Maddux the ability to run a program determining which of the two could offer the customer the lowest price.
In 2009, Maddux launched The Event Helper.
“Within six months I could tell it was really going to be something,” said Maddux. “I can’t believe it, looking back.”
Today, Event Helper boasts 15 employees, including eight licensed insurance agents working out of its Grass Valley office. The company partners with large hotel chains and municipalities all over the country, all of whom refer their renting clients to Event Helper for event insurance. Despite a user-friendly website, Maddux discovered that some customers simply prefer the “personal service” of talking to a friendly representative. As a result, his staff now gets nearly 400 calls a day.
In addition to their broad geographical reach, Event Helper has many local clients as well, including InConcert Sierra, Nevada City Parks and Recreation and Empire Mine State Historic Park.
The office environment at Event Helper has a certain Google-like feel, boasting bright colors, “mod” furniture and yoga balls. Whimsical photos of the staff adorn the walls. But don’t be fooled by the casual attire of the staff — during peak season, the entire team is working with an extremely high volume of customers nationwide, requiring the highest degree of professionalism, said Maddux.
Maddux’s wife, Lauren, is the director of finance, and the couple has two children, ages 7 and 2. Sawyer, the oldest, has already begun submitting his drawings to be considered for new advertisements. Under his name on his own business card, his title reads “Super Sonic.”
Looking forward, Maddux hopes to expand, but wants to stay close to what he and his team do best — insurance. A recent offspring of the company is InsuranceHelper.com, where outside brokers can quickly get a price quote online, then receive a commission for selling an Event Helper product.
Business is flourishing, said Maddux. But by far the most rewarding aspect of his business venture has been the people.
“Sure, it’s insurance, but it’s really about relationships,” he said. “It’s also very rewarding to know that this company supports 15 local families, and we’re bringing money into the area. In this business, we could be anywhere, but we want to stay right here in Nevada County.”
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com.
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