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In new net economy, everyone gets to be stupid

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Entrepreneurs tend to pitch their startups with plucky certitude about their projects' usefulness and chances for success. Listen, though, to how entrepreneurism expert Guy Kawasaki describes Truemors.com, his startup Web site opening for business Wednesday.

"It's true that it could have no purpose," he says. "I don't want to be known as a Web 2.0 company, but we're a Web 2.0 company."

Such candor! Kawasaki says it's the result of changing Internet economics. Could such openness be the tech world's Next Big Thing?

Kawasaki is 52 years old and has been a Silicon Valley celebrity since the 1980s, when he worked as an evangelist for the Macintosh computer. In the years that followed, he tried running his own software companies as well as doing a stint in venture capital but the results were unremarkable. He discovered in the process that his most successful evangelism was on his own behalf, either as a book author or as a motivational speaker.

Kawasaki is in great demand as a speaker on the art and science of entrepreneurship: recently in front of Bacardi dealers in Hong Kong and keynoting a Salesforce.com developer conference in Silicon Valley.

Go ahead, make all the jokes you want about how, "Those who can, do; those who can't, motivate." Kawasaki isn't only immune to such sniping, he seems to encourage it. His speeches are funny, with the humor often at his own expense. (See for yourself; many are up at Google Video.) In one, Kawasaki recalled how he once declined to interview for the CEO job at a brand new startup because the offices were too far from his home. The folks at Yahoo (Nasdaq: YHOO) thus had to find someone else.

With Kawasaki so closely associated with startups, there has been considerable curiosity in recent weeks about what his own startup would be like, as whispers he was up to something began circulating on blogs such as TechCrunch.

The result is Truemors.com, where people can use e-mail or the phone to call in "true rumors" they've just heard. The submissions are categorized -- "Business," "Entertainment" and such -- then users vote for the ones they like the most. Last week, with the site open only to test users, the top-rated Truemor was that British singer Amy Winehouse would be the new Bond girl.

For someone associated with one of the great tech products of all time, who regularly tells his audiences that the only companies worth starting are those that can change the world, Kawasaki's startup seems, not to put too fine a point on it, a little cheesy.

It's obviously in the debt of several popular Web 2.0 sites, notably Twitter, where users post short updates about their current activities, or Digg, where readers vote for the stories they like best. As for rumors and gossip, the stock-in-trade at Truemors, they don't now seem to be in short supply, World Wide Web-wise.

But -- and this may be the part of the episode with the biggest trend potential -- Kawasaki responds to all such criticisms with a shrug, along with an explanation of the new economics of the Internet.

Apparently, Web businesses now aren't much harder to make than YouTube videos. Kawasaki says he has been working on Truemors for just three months. Because it uses free software, with programming done by a for-hire outfit in called Electric Pulp located in the high-tech mecca of South Dakota, the costs are minimal. Kawasaki says to date, he has spent $12,000 on Truemors.

Or, as he puts it, "During the dot-com bubble, you needed $5 million to do stupid ideas. Now you can do stupid ideas for 12 grand."

With so little at stake, Kawasaki can afford to adopt a tone of almost cheerful agnosticism when fielding questions. Will Truemors have any redeeming social purpose? "The real answer is, 'I don't know,'" he replies. Will the things people read on Truemors be true? "As much as anything else they read on the Internet," he says.

Mention that he seems to not know a lot about how his business will shake out and Kawasaki lets you in on a little secret. "If you raise $2 million from VCs, you have to pretend like you 'know' all this stuff. The truth is whether it's $12,000 or $2 million, you really don't know. The only difference is what you think you can admit."

So here are the bullet points for the Truemors.com PowerPoint presentation: It may be a lame-O idea, but in these Web 2.0 bubble days, ideas even lame-Oer are in the process of making people rich. For $12K, Kawasaki gets a ticket to the lottery. If it succeeds, he can spend all day playing ice hockey, a favorite pastime. If it's a bust, he'll recoup his investment with a lecture or three; plus, he'll have new grist for the speaking mill -- "What I learned when my startup wouldn't start up."

What would you do, class?

Anyone who has ever watched a doe-eyed entrepreneur insist, "It's not about the money" will appreciate Kawasaki's bracing mixture of honesty and cynicism. It even makes you think: Maybe a cynic is just an honest man tired of watching other people get rich.

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