Editor’s note: Charlotte Beat is a regular feature on Wednesdays.Keith Luedeman knows that nothing good lasts forever — in fact, he’s banking on it.

With interest rates at historic lows, business at his online lending company, Goodmortgage.com, is skyrocketing. So much, in fact, that the company has stayed in stealth mode for the last year, with little or no time or resources for marketing.

But interest rates probably have no where to go but up, given that they are at or near record lows. When that happens, business — especially refinancing, which has accounted for almost half of Luedeman’s business — will slow down.

“We know that refinancing will go away,” Luedeman says. “And then we’ll hit the gas pedal for marketing.” In preparation, the company has already hired Carbon House to redesign its logo and brand image.

While competitors such as Ditech.com and E-loans.com have advertised heavily, Goodmortgage.com has focused its efforts on customer service. Although it hasn’t expanded beyond eight states for mortgages, it has launched a commercial lending division. Another added feature on its website is its ‘Loan Advisor,’ an AI program that analyzes visitors’ responses to questions and then recommends certain type of loans. And it’s getting ready to move into larger offices for its 26 employees.

“Twenty percent of Americans move each year, and they are our core customers,” says Luedeman, the company’s chief executive officer. “But we’ll also grow our commercial loan division and expand into more states with our mortgage services.”

A growth industry

Goodmortgage.com is a direct lender, different from Lending Tree, a loan referral website, also headquartered in Charlotte. Whichever direction interest rates go, the future is rosy for online lending companies. According to Business Week, online mortgage loan volume reached $160 billion in 2001, growing tenfold from 2000, when 2 percent of all mortgages were started online. That percentage is expected to increase to 51 percent by 2005. Goodmortgage.com’s revenues have increased by about 70 percent annually since going online in fall 1999, Luedeman says, and they have closed on a record number of loans this year.

Goodmortgage.com’s success has not gone unnoticed. This spring, the company received the prestigious Blue Diamond Award for top growth company from the Charlotte Chamber’s Information Technology Charlotte (ITC), while last month, Luedeman, 38, was one of 24 finalists named to the Carolinas’ 2003 Ernst &Young Entrepreneur Awards. In 2002, the Chamber presented Luedeman with one of its ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’ awards, and the company was named a Rising Star on Deloitte & Touche’s Fast 50.

Goodmortgage.com was actually incorporated as Barrons Mortgage Group in 1998. Prior to that, Luedeman had 14 years in the computer business, including stints with IBM, Avnet and InfoSystems, where he began the e-commerce division.

Other News: Words of wisdom

Bill McDermott joined SAP America, Inc. just eight months ago as CEO and president, and in January, Information Week featured him as one of the country’s thought-leaders in IT. For the last 25 years, he’s had family in the area — including a brother who lives on Lake Norman — and so he’s a frequent visitor to Charlotte and the Carolinas.

Among the gems of wisdom he shared with attendees at ITC’s Speaker Series Luncheon last Thursday:

“People want to do business with less people they trust more. They’re looking for single-point accountability — in other words, one throat to choke.”

“In the last two years, 2,100 software firms have gone out of business. A year from now, half of the software companies people know about will be gone. There will be a lot of losers and a few winners.”

“The world is voting no to arrogance, especially in the software business. They want professionals who are mature, who care about their business, and who have values consistent with their own.”

“Be obsessive about customers — nothing else matters.”

McDermott finished his presentation — which included Q&A — by quoting an important icon of the 20th century: “You do not want merely to be considered the best of the best. You want to be considered the only one who does what you do.” The guru? Jerry Garcia.

Coming up:

At the June 10 meeting of the Metrolina Entrepreneurial Council, attendees will learn how to use private equity to get their business into the fast lane. The panel features Stuart Levinson of Venetica, Fred Sturgis of H.I.G. Ventures, Brian Bailey of Carousel Capital, and Justin Adams, formerly of S.G. Cowen Securities Private Equity Group. The meeting starts at 5:30 PM at The Big Chill on East Morehead St. To register or for more details: www.mec.org