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Phil Kaplan has emerged as the newest oracle of the online generation. He’s also an instant legend, although part of his original game plan — he says he wanted to “get chicks” — hasn’t come to pass. When faced with willing female candidates who e-mailed their interest, “I chickened out,” he admits. Kaplan is a 24-year-old Web designer and programmer and a former senior consultant at Booz-Allen, as senior as is possible at age 21. In his spare time and at a cost of $40 a month, he puts out F***ed Company (www.f***edcompany.com). The 2-month-old Web site chronicles the dark side of dot-comism. Each day, F***ed Company lists new tips about Internet companies in various stages of demise. Kaplan dubbed his site the “dot-com dead pool,” and he invites readers to send in candidates, with points awarded based on the severity of the situation. The site is wildly successful, with as many as 300,000 hits a day. It’s also probably the single-best window to what is going wrong in the new economy. Kaplan’s newly found fame and his irreverent offspring speak volumes about the psychology of cyberspace and the state of mind among those in Internet businesses. Irrational exuberance has quickly been replaced by an almost high-spirited ghoulishness. “I don’t think it’s funny, but I do have a lot of fun with it,” says Kaplan, over a large cup of coffee at a Starbucks, just up New York’s Fifth Avenue from where his loft and Web shop are located. Kaplan is beefy. (He’s a heavy-metal drummer.) He sports semi-trendy glasses, black clothes and a shaved head. For a self-styled “total geek,” he comes off pretty much true to form. He also knows a good cosmic joke when he sees one. In May, Kaplan attended a party hosted by the once high-flying e-commerce site Boo.com. At the end of the evening, all the guests got goodie-bags that included a $50-off coupon on any Boo.com merchandise. It was valid until July 1, Kaplan recalls. Two weeks later, the London-based company went bust in spectacular fashion. Kaplan was amused. “Even before everything started to get difficult, I saw excess and largesse, money being thrown at dot-coms. It just didn’t make any sense,” he says. Boo.com proved the point. After the company’s flameout, Kaplan decided to do something about it. He built the site in two days and watched the tips roll in ever since the May 29 launch. F***ed Company — whose logo is a rip-off of the exuberant new-economy magazine Fast Company — now lists companies either dead or with serious ailments. The site is required reading for anyone thinking about a job in a startup, for venture capitalists wondering whether the competition’s portfolio is equally as battered, for investment bankers on the prowl or for journalists looking for story ideas. It’s even spawned imitations. Witness Upside Magazine, in days past one of the head cheerleaders of the new economy. Its Web site now highlights a dot-com graveyard, complete with tombstones. While F***ed Company has gained wide readership, Kaplan sees his core contingency — and the best tipsters — as the programmers, the folks in the new-economy trenches. He likens his site to the old bulletin board days “before the Internet became one big shopping mall.” Go through the F***ed Company list and realize just how crazy the world has become. Here’s one item F***ed Company picked up. The Web site link speaks for itself: “LifeJacketStore.com Inc. has ceased doing business due to a lack of expansion funding.” Expansion into what? Parachutes perhaps? Kaplan’s personal favorite is Flake.com, and he swears he didn’t make this up. Flake.com was a portal for breakfast cereal enthusiasts. It gained VC backing, although not enough to keep it from going bust in June. Kaplan says he’s never been sued, never even been threatened by irate companies. In fact, Kaplan continues, some of those on financial life support have thanked him for getting problems into the open. He cites Working Weekly, a job and workplace oriented Web site. “We brought the company back from the dead.” “I don’t know what to make of it,” says Gail Bentley, Working Weekly’s founder. “It’s a funny world.” After a further $2 million round of angel financing collapsed on the day of closing, Bentley had, indeed, laid off 60 staffers and was shuttering its Charlottesville, Va. office. She wrote a frank and impassioned letter on the site about how miserable she felt about the whole scene and how she was broke. F***ed Company posted the company’s plight in July, with a hyperlink to the Web site, where a “For Sale” sign was posted. “The next thing you know,” Bentley continues, “we had 200,000 hits a day, the most we ever had.” She was inundated by e-mail and at least 20 inquiries about investing in the company. Bentley says she’s deep into negotiations and may get a lifeline as early as this week. “It’s been an absolute whirlwind,” she says. Not many companies are ecstatic about seeing their name in a dead pool, but Kaplan is unmoved by any entreaties for getting management’s perspective. No journalistic balance here. “We’re definitely not out to get the company’s view,” he says. Yet, Kaplan bristles at the suggestion he’s a cyberspace Cassandra. “There’s a misconception that I’m a naysayer, a doomsayer,” he says. “I’m just reporting on the silliness that’s going on.” Copyright �2000 TDD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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