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Dot-com exec gadfly Philip Kaplan cedes own CEO spot

Creator of F***edCompany has more empathy for managers after his own CEO experience. But don't expect apologies. Dot-com champ takes on ad world

Philip Kaplan, who ran the controversial Web site F***edCompany during the dot-com bust, has stepped aside as CEO of a small, profitless start-up he founded in 2004.

Kaplan, 30, told CNET News.com on Wednesday that he made the decision to turn AdBrite, which sells online advertising, over to "professional management." While he said he wasn't forced out, he acknowledged that his board of directors didn't try to dissuade him from stepping down.

"I suggested it, and there was no push back," Kaplan said with a smile. "I really wanted an expert to come in and help run AdBrite."

Philip Kaplan

AdBrite is expected to announce Thursday that Ignacio Fanlo, a former executive at an e-commerce site that was lambasted on F***edCompany.com, is AdBrite's new CEO. Kaplan said he will stay on to oversee AdBrite's products.

Kaplan's critics, whom he acknowledges are numerous, are likely to cheer the news. He said he knows that many executives ridiculed by their employees on his combustible message board will say Kaplan fared no better at running a company than they did.

Six years ago this month, Kaplan emerged as an unlikely player in Silicon Valley with F***edCompany. But last year, the one-time executive tormentor jumped sides and became an executive. In a photo that accompanied a story in The Wall Street Journal about his new company, he no longer looked liked "Pud," his user name on F***edCompany. He had given up his bleached hair, cowboy boots and concert T-shirts for sport coats and Ralph Lauren dress shirts.

AdBrite bills itself as a marketplace where advertisers can choose to place ads on thousands of Internet publishers. The company is after a slice of the booming online advertising market, which grew to $12.5 billion last year from $1 billion in 1997. In the first quarter of 2006, Web advertising grew 38 percent to $3.9 billion, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau.

Kaplan defended his 18-month tenure as AdBrite's chief executive. The company is profitless, but it just received $8 million in a second round of funding, he said. In the past six months, AdBrite has seen the number of publishers offering space to advertisers grow to 16,000. In the same span of time, the company has almost doubled its staff size from 25 to 43.

Kaplan had run other companies before AdBrite, including a Web design firm. But he never before had answered to a board of directors or found himself managing a staff of 40. He said his experience as a CEO has altered his view of what it takes to successfully steer a company. He even had to fire an employee although he refuses to discuss it.

"I guess back then I never thought it through from management's perspective," Kaplan said of his days writing at F***edCompany. "I wrote purely from the perspective of the employees who were getting lied to and ripped off. It came from the employees. Now, I see how hard it is. I understand how a company works from management's perspective."

Asked when AdBrite might become profitable, Fanlo said the company will unlikely need any more venture capital. Fanlo, the former president of Shopping.com and an executive at e-commerce site DealTime, said it gave him pause before taking the job to learn that Kaplan was the founder. But Kaplan won him over.

"He's very passionate and creative," said Fanlo, 44. "Technology is all about new ideas. You need smart engineers, smart marketing types, but you have to have creative people and let them flourish."

"Pud" said he has no regrets, however.

"No, I'm not sorry about anything I wrote," Kaplan says of his days as Pud. "Much of what executives at dot-coms did back then was wrong. I'll always think it's wrong to lie to employees. We've never done that here."