Broker Turned Web Entrepreneur: Laurence Putnam
NEW YORK—Laurence Putnam started out as a real estate broker in Vancouver, Canada, but his career took a unique turn in 2012. Inspired by an idea to create a socially enabled real estate encyclopedia, he created Condopedia.com, a site which drew over 100,000 visitors in June and continues to grow.
Putnam was born in Toronto and his family moved to Vancouver when he was 8. In his youth, Putnam spent a lot of time outdoors, camping, kayaking, and hiking. He attended high school in Vancouver, but dropped out of college halfway.
“I got too bored,” Putnam said. “I needed to do something. I don’t sit very long. What I like about real estate sales is if I was getting bored in front of a computer I could get up and go do an open house or something else.”
Putnam began his real estate career in 2006 at Macdonald Realty, Vancouver’s oldest and longest-running real estate agency.
He got the idea for Condopedia around Christmastime 2012 while he was working to improve his website.
“In real estate everyone claims to be an expert on everything, the truth is nobody is, you can’t be,” said Putnam. “I thought what if you had a website where … if you knew something about the building, maybe you lived there, you could add that, like on Wikipedia, and make the site more informative.”
Before the inspiration dissipated, Putnam called up James Clendenan, his friend, schoolmate, former real estate client, and IT professional. Clendenan ran the Olympic broadcasts in 2010 and 2012, and worked at Pixar.
“We spoke, sketched ideas, and it kept going after that,” Putnam said.
Condopedia is based on the Wikipedia engine. Articles on buildings are full features and include sections on the background of the structure, the specifics of the location, the history of the construction, layouts and floor plans, amenities, bylaws, and sustainability information. Similar to Wikipedia, registered users can edit any section in any of the articles.
Today Condopedia employs 15 writers, some full- and some part-time, who generate the bulk of the content as the site grows. The site carries articles on nearly 500 buildings in New York, 200 in Vancouver, 75 in Chicago, and 50 in Los Angeles. An average visitor to the website reads six articles, an indicator of high quality content.
Looking ahead, Putnam is planning to add a mapping feature to the website, build a mobile app, and make editing articles easier for users.
On the City
Putnam is focusing most of the content On Condopedia on New York City.
Putnam’s own connection to the city is a long running one. He first visited New York when he was 6 and was struck by how busy the city was.
On a recent trip Putnam witnessed the resilience of the city. He was stranded here during Hurricane Sandy. When he walked by Times Square that night, he saw it with almost no one around.
“A few nights later I was watching Obama there giving his acceptance speech and it was fully loaded there,” he said. “You couldn’t move.”