Although similar plays have already burned to the ground, last week corporate and institutional investors gave the online commercial mortgage space one more chance - pouring more than $50 million into Charlotte, N.C.'s MortgageRamp.com.
"For origination sites, right now there are four types of business models: business-to consumer versus business-to business versus clicks-only versus clicks-plus-bricks," said Davis Zhai, vice president and senior analyst with Moody's Investors Service.
"The viability of the four types is best on the b-to-b and the b-plus-c." Not only will Moody's be taking an equity stake in the company, but it also will be reviewing loans that are in the process of being made, so that a lender has a preliminary notion of how a loan would fare in a securitization to price the loan most efficiently.
Mortgageramp is a mix of five businesses - offering outsourced underwriting technology, underwriting templates, appraisal and due diligence services, a technology platform for institutional partners to originate loans over the Internet as well as the loan origination site, Mortgageramp.com. The combined offerings may have drawn investors to the table that had been scared off by the rise and fall of similar ventures.
"In general, whether it's e-commerce or consumer goods, there's a lot of enterprises experimenting with different strategies or platforms," said Sally Gordon, vice president and senior analyst with Moody's Investors Service. "The one that looks good at first is not necessarily the best. It's almost too soon to tell."
In April CapitalThinking Inc. completed a $15 million private equity deal led by Bessemer Venture Partners and RRE Ventures. Starwood Financial Inc. and ABP Investments also committed funds to the commercial real estate mortgage origination site. At the time, the company claimed to have more than $270 million worth of deals in the pipeline.
Another commercial mortgage origination site, Redbricks.com, quickly followed suit, shifting its focus away from online loan matching services to an outsourced technology platform. The company is now offline, telling visitors that the site is temporarily unavailable during a system relocation that should have been completed by mid-November.
With the shadows of CapitalThinking.com and Redbricks.com looming in its path, MortgageRamp seems conscious that it cannot place too much emphasis on its loan platform to sustain a viable business model.
"[In terms of revenue distribution], each of the five businesses is roughly equal, with less emphasis on MortgageRamp.com because the others are more traditional and there's a tremendous driver of business in the 15 or so investors we have," Greco said.
Bank of America Mortgage Capital Corp., Deutsche Bank, Allied Capital Corp., Bank United, Compaq Computer Corp., Fannie Mae, Standard and Poors Rating Services and VerticalNet invested alongside GMAC and Moody's in the latest round of financing.
"We wanted to align economic interests with the investors' as much as possible. It's the best way to build an ownership structure - to have people who could drive their own business through the site," Greco said.
In fact, GMAC's equity stake in the company - a virtual stamp of approval - may have drawn hesitant investors into the round.
"GMAC gives them some credibility as well as capital and expertise," said Grodon.