If you're shopping for a loan on the Internet, there's a good chance you'll land on one of the hundreds of Web sites Randy Mitchelson's team has developed.
Mitchelson's Estero-based firm, National Web Leads, builds Web sites to help consumer-finance companies find new customers for home mortgages, auto loans and cash advances. The sites ask users to fill out loan applications and National Web Leads sells that data to various financial firms depending on underwriting criteria and other factors.
Surprisingly, many of his customers are subprime-loan lenders that have remained in business despite the economic downturn.
While consumer finance accounts for the majority of National Web Leads' business today, the Web sites could be used to generate leads for other industries. For example, for-profit schools might use Web leads to find students to fill their classrooms. “Our technology is industry agnostic,” Mitchelson says.
Besides selling customer leads, the firm also creates back-office software for financial institutions. It can develop customized loan-origination and underwriting software as well as design Web sites that help a lender's customers get pre-approved for loans. “We like to be the man behind the curtain,” says Mitchelson, 38.
National Web Leads has so much experience building Web sites that its team of developers can create a Web site in just one day. And if there are any changes to be made later, they're all linked so that one fix can update any of the hundreds of Web sites the firm designed.
That kind of efficiency has allowed the firm to be profitable as it adds new clients. Mitchelson, who launched the company in August 2005, expects revenues this year will hit $1.5 million, double last year's sales.
Mitchelson's engineers are scattered all over the country, from Arizona to New York, and all work from home. Three times a week, Mitchelson and seven employees get together on a conference call to brainstorm, sharing documents using Google Docs. “We hold each other accountable,” he says. “What brings us together are trade shows.”
Like Mitchelson, most of the company's engineers are college buddies from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in upstate New York who formed their own company called Applied Cognetics.
Mitchelson started his banking career with Key Bank in Albany, where he rose up the corporate ranks managing portfolios and branches. With his computer expertise, he crunched data and managed portfolios of municipal bonds, among other tasks. He eventually moved to Florida and in 2003 became one of three market managers for Bank of America in Lee and Collier counties, overseeing 600 employees.
Mitchelson left Bank of America in 2005 to start National Web Leads because rising up the corporate ladder would have meant moving to another location. “My wife and I decided not to move,” he says, a fortuitous decision considering the near-collapse of the banking industry in 2008. “I'm grateful for the decision I made,” Mitchelson says.
Designing Web sites isn't Mitchelson's only goal.
He plans to broaden the company's mission by becoming a publisher of consumer-finance information. In March 2009, he launched The Daily Dollar, a Web-based newsletter about loans, banking and insurance that's targeted to loan applicants. Using an email service provider in Montreal called Cypra Media that helps get past spam filters, The Daily Dollar now has 250,000 subscribers.
The idea of publishing a newsletter is to try to cross-sell different products. For example, if a consumer fills out a mortgage application, he might be enticed to seek a quote for car insurance.
More broadly, Mitchelson says his vision for National Web Leads is to partner with a traditional advertising firm that doesn't have the Web savvy that his firm does. That would be preferable to selling the company outright.
“There's an apprehension to give up control,” Mitchelson says.