When Dave Gooden and Cameron Henkel founded a brokerage for lakeshore properties in Minnesota and Wisconsin more than a dozen years ago, they had only a website they named LakePlace.com. The business grew, expanded and evolved and LakePlace.com now has 18 locations including 12 brick-and-mortar offices (five are franchise-owned) and six satellite offices. With nearly 100 agents, the company is one of the largest independently owned real estate brokerages in the state, and about one-third of its transactions are nonlakeshore residential properties.
Today, Gooden and Henkel, who met in Mrs. Braski's kindergarten class in Eveleth, Minn., in 1976, are going virtual once again. They have launched DaneArthur.com, a stripped down, bare-bones real estate website that includes property listings, including residential, land/farms, commercial and multifamily from every Multiple Listing Service in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Its singular aim is simplicity. So, in a digital jungle of real estate websites built and managed by the most powerful real estate companies in the world, we asked Gooden and Henkel to explain their motives.
Q: What's the idea behind Dane Arthur?
A: When we stepped back and asked ourselves what our favorite websites are and why, our list was filled with utility-type websites that give us what we want quickly, not websites with huge pictures or videos playing on the homepage.
Q: What was the inspiration for the site?
A: It's pretty obvious that Craigslist, with over 49 million monthly users, significantly influenced our design choices. We wanted to build something familiar to the masses. Something where the next step is obvious. Craigslist gives you what you want and gives it to you quickly; it's just simple to use and we love that about Craigslist and how intuitive it is to use. We are trying to do the same thing for real estate with DaneArthur.com.
Q: Who was Dane Arthur?
A: Dane Arthur, which is the combination of our two middle names, sounded more prestigious than CamDave.com.
Q: You say the site is "kind of ugly, but in a nice way." Why break the mold?
A: We literally looked at what everyone else is doing, looked in the opposite direction and ran the other way. The idea is that as technology advances everyone is building pretty, shiny complicated websites and our view is that the majority of real estate websites look great, but are slow, clunky and difficult to use. These real estate websites have huge pics and that take forever to load.
Q: Is there a revenue model behind this? Do you plan to sell advertising? How will you finance it?
A: Our agent listings will be featured on DaneArthur.com and buyers will be contacted by our real estate agents, so that's the model behind it. There will not be advertising.
Q: If your new website isn't pretty, what's the advantage?
A: We think it is [by far] the easiest, fastest way to find properties. In most cases, you can be browsing listings in the town and price range you are interested in before the homepage of many of the most popular real estate websites finish loading. We have split-tested this against all other big state and national sites and on average users can navigate to listings in half the amount of time, sometimes in a quarter of the time.
Q: Most of the dominant real estate websites offer visitors a high level of customer service, meaning the goal is to help buyers and sellers. And of course, to generate sales leads. Are you following a similar model?
A: Basically, we built a lightning fast real estate utility, and when you have questions or are interested in viewing a property, you will get immediate follow up from one of our market experts.
Q: Does the launch of this site mean that you are trying to expand your market beyond lakeshore listings?
A: By launching DaneArthur.com, we now have the ability to serve home buyers and sellers throughout the state, including the metro, and offer them the same advantages that we have been offering our LakePlace.com clients since 2003.