Case study: Putting your house in order


25 Apr 2005

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Watching their sister go through the process of finding a flat in Dublin in 1997, brothers Brian and Eamonn Fallon came up with the idea for an online service that would eventually grow into the country’s largest property site.

It was Brian who launched the service in February of that year using his free web space allocation that came with his Indigo email account. “Back in 1997 the service was aimed solely at the rental market,” he recalls. “It was aimed mostly at students looking for lettings and house shares.” However, in September of that year, the site won a Golden Spider Award — the first of many. Because some of the glory rubbed off on Indigo, the internet service provider acquired the Daft.ie domain name and offered to host the site for free.

During the first few months the site averaged a few new adverts per day. Now, says Eamonn, it would take 100 pages of tabloid size to print all of the ads on the site. “Our busiest day, which was last Monday, we counted 550,000 page impressions that equates to 35,000 visits by individual people,” he says. “We register 14 million valid page impressions per month, that’s after you allow for robots and software agents.”

“The trend that has happened over the past eight years is that every September, the traffic is double that of the previous September,” says Brian. “That has been our benchmark and our goal. We have had to completely redesign the site twice.”

By 2001, it became obvious that what had been started simply as a project had commercial legs and so the brothers formed a limited company, and began developing it further. Graphic designers were brought in and the site was given its first revamp to handle the expected increase in traffic. By then the site was already attracting so much traffic that Indigo could no longer handle the load. At the end of 2000, it had relocated the hosting to New York — Irish hosting rates being still quite high at the time — to a company adjacent to the World Trade Centre.

Following September 11 Daft.ie moved to hosts in Ireland and the site is now shared between Data Electronics and Hosting365. The site is mirrored between the two with load balancing technology ensuring that traffic is routed to the less busy of the two. “We pride ourselves on the speed of the site,” says Brian. “We have invested a lot in infrastructure and speed. We have three servers at each site and we can add more if the traffic demands it.”

The current version of Daft.ie is markedly different from the original version and not just in terms of graphic design. The advert submission process, for instance, is much more efficient. In the beginning, advertisers filled in an online form that was emailed in. Brian or Eamonn then cut and pasted the data into Frontpage and the site was updated once a day. Now, advertisers can see their adverts appear in less than 30 minutes during office hours. A human being still monitors adverts to ensure they are genuine, but otherwise the system is fully automated.

Adverts cost €3.95 and can be paid for online using a credit card or a system they developed themselves called Daft Textpay. “A lot of people who would be using our site such as students and young professionals might not have a credit card or they might not be comfortable using their credit card online. So we developed a system whereby you can charge the ad to your mobile phone. You type in your number, click Next and after verification, it’s charged to your phone.”

The site’s content has also expanded. After the success of rental properties, the brothers moved into house sales with a focus on first-time buyers, reckoning, correctly, that yesterday’s renters are today’s homeowners. The brothers also realised that the landlords who advertised rental properties would also be a fertile market and so they added an investment property section. Commercial property and overseas and holiday homes followed. One of the more recent additions is a mortgage supermarket. This brings together six of Ireland’s largest mortgage brokers that compete with one another to offer finance on properties. Since the launch in November 2004, more than €120m worth of applications have been submitted through the site and according to Brian, one provider does more business through Daft.ie than through his network of six offices.

The latest innovation is Daft Mobile which is available through O2 MMS or MeteorWap. Potential renters or buyers can view adverts on their mobile phone. But the brothers are not resting on their laurels. A moving service is planned for the near future.

Pictured were Eamonn and Brian Fallon, co-founders of Daft.ie

By David Stewart