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Company Loves Misery

Philip Kaplan leads a double life. He's the successful, 25-year-old founder of PK Interactive Inc., a New York Web development shop with three employees and big-name clients. But behind the mild-mannered facade lurks Kaplan's alter ego, "Pud," the foul-mouthed proprietor of f***, the notorious Web site dedicated to publicizing the missteps of technology startups and humiliating the managers who commit them. Kaplan makes no apologies. "Ninety percent of the CEOs I list are liars and cheats," he says.

Since launching in May, 2000, the site has become a New Economy phenomenon--loved by those who relish seeing arrogant dot-commers get their comeuppance, loathed by executives whose stumbles provide fodder for the site. Thanks to the depth of the tech downturn, as well as Kaplan's caustic wit, what began as a hobby now gets 3.5 million visitors a month.

So Kaplan has decided to give up the double life. In April, he handed over PK Interactive to his three employees. Now he devotes all his attention to the site. Each day, Kaplan receives about 500 e-mails, mostly from dot-com workers detailing goings-on at their companies. He posts only the juiciest and most plausible. (Some companies have also sent blustery legal letters, but no one has actually sued.) For $75 a month, readers can search Kaplan's entire e-mail database. He has sold about 800 subscriptions, mostly to data junkies like day traders and journalists. The site also sells ads.

Advertising and subscriptions? Isn't that what spelled doom for so many dot-coms? "It hasn't worked for a lot of sites," Kaplan admits. "But if those sites were smart, they'd be multimillionaires." Kaplan, who says that the Web site operation and PKI net him over $1 million last year, is now a sole proprietor with almost no overhead. And what happens when the current wave of business failures ends? Kaplan isn't worried and he's having fun while it lasts, appearing on TV and radio shows and negotiating a book deal. For now, he seems to have discovered an Internet business model that actually works: picking over the carcasses of dead dot-coms. By Kimberly Weisul

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