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CEO booted as Backflip bellyflops

Power struggles are no strangers to the Rumor Mill. It's a miracle I can write the column at all, what with the endless scheming and conniving that goes on here.

Power struggles are no strangers to the Rumor Mill. It's a miracle I can write the column at all, what with the endless scheming and conniving that goes on here.

The only thing I can remember that didn't become the subject of a dispute in the DuBaud household was the division of the Venture Frogs leftovers, which remain untouched in our refrigerator. My 12-year-old son Vermel has threatened to notify OSHA.

Power struggles have also consumed Backflip, one of yesterday's dot-com darlings currently making swift rounds down the dot-com drain. Skinside information has it that the start-up's founder and CEO, Netscape alum Tim Hickman, was ousted last week after a protracted struggle with 21st Century Venture Partners partner Neil Weintraut.

Contacted by the Rumor Mill, Weintraut said Hickman had "elected to step down." Weintraut deflected rumors that he had taken the helm of the troubled start-up and maintained that Backflip co-founder and vice president of business development Chris Misner, also a Netscape veteran, is carrying out day-to-day operations.

Skinformants close to Backflip said Hickman had proved too green for Weintraut's taste. They also described morale at the start-up as subterranean as staffers fled in droves and earned the start-up two citations on the dot-com wall of shame.

Backflip was in the business of souped-up Web-based bookmarks, so perhaps now that the New Economy acid has worn off it's not such a surprise it didn't become a wildly profitable business. When the start-up launched, however, the media were all agog at the engineering and executive talent the site had assembled. Not only were Hickman and Misner touted as Netscape whizzes, but in the middle of the tightest engineering shortage since Pharaoh ran out of slaves to build his pyramids, the young company bragged of being inundated by geek resumes.

What a difference a new New Economy makes! Anonymous skinformants tell us one reason Hickman finally was shown the door was a massive exodus of engineers to stealth start-up Viralon, brainchild of Microsoft, Netscape and Inktomi veteran Alex Edelstein.

"We definitely have some good ex-Backflip people," Edelstein told the Rumor Mill. But he and Weintraut both declined to address the rumor that Weintraut had placed an irate phone call to Viralon and Backflip investor Ron Conway to complain about the newer company's poaching practices.

Meanwhile, those dear and departed engineers left behind enough intellectual property in the wireless arena that Backflip is plotting a back-from-the-dead strategy around it. Intanda is the name of the new Backflip cousin, or successor--Weintraut wouldn't say exactly what it was, but he called it "a big initiative," a "mobile publishing system," and said it would launch in February.

One Skinformant described the power struggle as a victory for Weintraut's vision for Intanda over Hickman's dedication to the doomed Backflip.

The search is on for Hickman's permanent successor.

Speaking of executive searches, reader Greg Dildine noticed that CNN.com put video of Dubya's comments on his 1976 DUI arrest on a page partly sponsored by Miller beer. Now if that isn't the high life, I don't know what is. And thus begins the search for your rumors.