The Pizzo Files

F*** The Dot-Com Deadpool

by Stephen Pizzo

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By the end of March this year, the once hot dot-com IPO market had begun to implode, and by the end of April the NASDAQ looked like Gettysburg the morning after.

Even before the slaughter, Philip Kaplan and his friends had caught the whiff of death and were playing an e-mail game in which they picked dot-com companies they thought were headed for the glue factory. When their predictions turned out to be only too true, Kaplan decided to take his game mainstream, and on Memorial Day he launched a Web site called

Since then, the site has become a hub for dot-com Chicken Littles as well as a place where journalists and stock analysts come to find the insider tips and rumors that could well be harbingers of bad news to come -- or they could be completely false and malicious.

Pizzo: When I took a look at the site the first time, aside from being enormously amused by it, I found it to be refreshing to see the other side of that coin, which has really not been in the public spotlight as the business press gets in heat over these dot-com companies. As a journalist, I started to wonder how accurate is this information, and does a site like this lead to potential malicious conduct. You have to agree that the site could be used for malicious conduct, right?

Kaplan: Well, there are two aspects of the site. One of the aspects is the little blurbs that I write about each event and one aspect is the message board. The message board is no doubt malicious; lots of angry little people in there. I'm probably able to check out about 50 to 75 percent of the news. Fifty to 75 percent of it I can either find out from looking at the site; I can call somebody; maybe it's already news and I can find an article somewhere else. I get a lot of tips sent to me every day that I don't use because they just seem malicious.

On the other hand, to send me a tip through the site, which is called "Submit a new fuck," you have to have a confirmed e-mail address. A lot of rumors that I post to the site about specific companies come from people inside those companies with confirmed e-mail addresses of that particular company. Still, I'll say that it's a rumor and basically that you should use caution and take it for what it's worth. If it says "rumor has it," that means I'm not a hundred percent sure about it. That means I've heard it. A lot of times a CEO or a chief executive will maybe send a mass e-mail out to the company, which might have distressing news in it or something like that. More often people will either forward e-mail to me or I've actually been Bcc'd on e-mail also sent out to companies. So let's say I get an e-mail forwarded from five different people where a boss says, "I'm sorry you're all fired." I will or won't put a copy of the e-mail, but either way, I'll say, "Here's the deal. I heard this from different people. It's a rumor. I have no way of a hundred percent confirming it but it seems real to me," and more often than not it is real.

Pizzo: The financial stakes in the dot-com arena are enormous, and with that kind of money floating money it always attracts lawyers. How many have you heard from?

Kaplan: None.

Pizzo: So you have not had any of these people come back at you and say, "That's inaccurate"?

Kaplan: I actually have never had that. I've never had any negative response. What happens a lot of times, for example, is I'll post something where a company lays off forty people, and let's just say it's a rumor. The next day, I'll get e-mail from seven of those forty people saying, "You know, being laid off is the worst thing in the world, and it's really scary, and it's really sad. I don't know what I'm going to do now, and how am I going to make any money. But you know what? I came to your site and I saw that it happened at twenty other companies on the same day, and it made me feel really good to know that I'm not alone." And then everybody goes to the message boards and they tell horror stories like, "Can you believe that they herded us into a room and gave us the news at the same time." It's sort of become a community for some of the other people in the dot-com area. You don't hear from the production departments, you don't hear from the people who are actually doing the work. You always hear from the VCs or the CEOs. I'm not a voice for the production people at all, but the message boards are, and the site is used by a lot of people who are in the trenches actually doing the work. On the other hand, I try not to put anything personally damaging on the site, first of all. Second of all, if a company is really having a big enough problem that they're mentioned on my site, being mentioned on my site is hardly the least of their worries.

Pizzo: You also put a public notice up in May that asked people to stop fucking their own companies. What did you mean by that?

Kaplan: I was getting people writing nasty e-mails to their co-workers, like "I can't believe our boss hired hookers and got a whole bunch of cocaine and charged it to the business." And I'll be Bcc'd on that or Cc'd on that. Whether it's true or not, I won't post something like that, but we'll give twenty points if they get their company sued and/or picked on our site.

Pizzo: Well, you are running this contest for which at least at this point right now there are no prizes, although I see you're asking for ideas and maybe looking for a sponsor who might want to sponsor some prizes. I'll have to venture it probably wouldn't be a dot-com company, but I would think that this site would be successful even without the contest, at this point. There's really only one-half of the side of the story that's coming out, that people down in the boiler room of these glorious-looking ships have a completely different perspective on this, and it seems like you've given voice to that here. Do you think that even without the contest at this point, this site would continue on?

Kaplan: Yes, there's no question that the contest has definitely become secondary to the news that's on the site. There's hundreds of thousands of people coming to the site everyday, and maybe there's a hundred thousand people signed up to play the game. The game is taking a back seat to the news.

Pizzo: I spent some time on your message board, and I have to say, I was very impressed with the level of conversation going on about issues that I remember talking about with my co-workers. Levels of salaries, for example. There's a big discussion going on now with salaries at dot-coms. I mean, I thought that these discussions are again the kind of thing you don't see in the mainstream business press but that they do go on at these companies all the time.

Kaplan: Actually you have a great point, and that is, even I have been surprised at the level of some of the conversation on the message board. I didn't mean to make it sound like it was all pissed-off malicious workers trying to get even with their companies. That's definitely there and it's interesting to read, but it is, like you said, more interesting to read these intelligent discussions. But there's actually a feature of the message board where you can add a poll. People put polls on everything from "Where do you live?" to "How much do you make?" and "How many options do you have?" and "Which of the following five companies are the best?" There's a lot of interesting information on the message board.

Pizzo: This is not what you do for a living, at least right now. You run PK Interactive, a web development company. What would happen if one of your clients ends up getting one of these.

Kaplan: I'm the only person in the world who can guarantee that you will never end up on I can tell you that none of our clients will. In all honesty, we're a boutique web shop, we've been around for about a year. Probably 60 percent of our clients are brick and mortar, and the other 40 percent are dot-coms, but they're dot-coms that we select very specifically because we believe they have good ideas and they're not like, the portal for breakfast cereal enthusiasts.

Pizzo: So you send your marketing guy, Guido, out and he says, "Oh, PK does your web site, nobody breaks your windows."

Kaplan: Exactly.

Pizzo: I also see, though, that you are starting to consider advertising for the site. Do you see this growing into a for-profit enterprise?

Kaplan: I always said, "No." In fact it still says that I'm not going to make any money on the site. Here's the deal. Since I launched, about a month ago or whatever, I've been getting tons of offers from advertisers and from some companies that just want to sponsor the whole thing and make it theirs. I've always declined the offers, but then I posted something about it on the message boards a while ago. Everyone said, "First of all, it'd be really funny if we made money off this site. It would be totally ironic." Other people have said, "This is a great site; a lot of people are profiting off the site." Like you said, investors and journalists and all types of people are profiting off the site, so why shouldn't I? Then everyone else said, "Hey, you're crazy for not wanting to make money off the site. This is a chance to make some extra dough, and it's ironic in a funny way." It's not at all going to become my main thing. It's still just a hobby for me. But, it would be fun to maybe throw up an ad or two up there and see what happens.

Pizzo: It really is a unique niche and certainly has the same potential that, for example, a Motley Fool type of enterprise had, except you've got one big albatross around your name. It will be very difficult to take a company called "" public, wouldn't it?

Kaplan: There's no point of taking it public. I am coming up with a site called "" Every day a ton of people tell me they want to know what companies people are picking, they want to know what companies are getting the high scores, all the statistics that go along with the site. Essentially, this has become somewhat of the survey of surveys. I've asked a hundred thousand people, industry insiders, what companies do you think are going to fail? And that's valuable information to a lot of people, so I'm going to post that. I've just registered the domain a few days ago, so we'll see.

Pizzo: So what are you hearing from the traditional investment community?

Kaplan: I haven't been hearing -- I've been hearing people who are in touch with the investment community say they know everyone's using it. The most opinionated e-mails and response that I get are from people who are in the boiler room of the beautiful ship saying, "This is so great," and that makes me happy.

Pizzo: One last question. What kind of traffic numbers are you seeing now?

Kaplan: Right now we're in the neighborhood of 300,000 impressions every day.

Pizzo: We're going to certainly stay on top of this one and watch to see where it goes. I have a feeling this is just the beginning for, despite its name. I know I check it every morning now, and I know a lot of my journalist friends who cover this business make it their first stop every morning to see if there's a hot story out there. So, good luck to you, and thanks for the service.

Kaplan: Thank you. Enjoy.

Stephen Pizzo is an award-winning non-fiction author, and newsman for the O'Reilly Network.

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