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Flee Market

A Spy in the House of Work

You had to have seen it coming. A mere 18 months ago, you had nothing but a vague idea and a snappy domain name. You were drowning in dough. You had your pick of VC firms. You walked into meetings unprepared, having had no sleep, wearing clothes that could have stood up on their own, and you blew everyone away. You mentioned that you could use $100 million, and VCs said, “Sure, and we’ll pick up lunch too! Oh, and here’s a sports car. Just promise us that DiscountTattooRemoval.com will be the next Amazon.com.” No problemo!

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Six months later, the VCs are in a different mood entirely. They’re like a high-school girl with a loose reputation who suddenly expects you to take her on a real date: “Enough with the necking! Where’s my steak dinner?” You’ve seen your valuation go from $1 billion to $1 million to a hundred bucks — and that’s if you throw in your life-size cardboard cutout of Austin Powers. My friend, did you ever imagine that those would be the good old days?

Well, we at e-conjob.com did — which is why our business model never assumed that people would continue to invest in companies that never, ever stood to make a nickel.

Inspired by Rudy — our neighborhood Dumpster diver — and depressed by the story of a colleague who tried to sell his domain name back to the cybersquatter from whom he had bought it (for 10 grand! sucker!), we’ve created fleemarket.com.

For the record, fleemarket.com is not about saving your startup. There is no way to save your startup. Your startup has become a “stop-now.” If you don’t believe us — indeed, if you don’t believe NASDAQ — just try getting a meeting with your favorite VC. The reception that you get will make a telemarketer’s call during Thanksgiving dinner feel like a visit from a cherished family pet. Listen to us, please. Get out now!

Do you feel as if your dotcom has become the digital equivalent of that crappy sofa that not even Goodwill will take off your hands? Well, guess what? It has. But, unlike the sofa, your failing company isn’t something that you’ll have to leave sitting on your porch for the next five years. You can dump your startup — and dump it without guilt, knowing that someone, somewhere, might still get some use out of it, somehow, some way.

One grateful ex-CEO has dubbed fleemarket.com “the Humane Society of Cyberspace.” (Thank you for your kind words, Jim. We hope that you like working in the mailroom).

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The service works like this: You drop off your company at our doorstep, and, if no one has claimed it after seven days, we put it to sleep.

One concern that you may have is that your dotcom will be snapped up by someone like Timothy Koogle, of Yahoo!, who will then turn the property into a license to print money. This has never happened — although John Chambers, of Cisco Systems, did visit one of our dotcoms with an eye to adopting it. In the end, he decided that it would be too disruptive to bring another abused startup into the house.

Most of fleemarket.com’s dotcoms are, in fact, placed with brick-and-mortar types who have been kicking themselves for failing to get on the bandwidth bandwagon. Granted, many of these people don’t have much business sense, but they are generally more loyal than the average digi-genius, and they will faithfully ride your company straight into the ground, just like in “Dr. Strangelove.”

Finally, if there are no takers for your dotcom (and you need to brace yourself for that very real possibility), fleemarket.com will issue you a Death of Dotcom certificate, suitable for framing. And we will return your prospectus to you in a handsome, decorative urn.

This is the latest episode in the Spy’s continuing saga, “Working Behind Enemy Lines.” You can find the entire Spy Chronicles on the Web (www.askthespy.com).