If you don’t grow up with money and then are suddenly worth millions, how does it change your life?
Details magazine, April 2003 (approx. 1,500 words)
“Did I show you my leather outfit?” Philip Kaplan pops up off the sofa and lopes through his midtown Manhattan loft, returning with a white leather pants-and-vest set. “Touch it,” he urges, pointing to the big red star stitched onto the vest. “It’s python. Made by the guy who does all the stuff for Guns N’ Roses and Marilyn Manson. The pants were like $2,000, and the vest was like $1,000.” He strokes the python. “I designed it,” he says proudly.
Until recently, Philip Kaplan could only dream about buying $3,000 rock-star outfits. When he arrived in New York from Chevy Chase, Maryland, five years ago, he lived at his grandmother’s apartment on the Upper West Side, in his mother’s childhood bedroom, because he couldn’t make rent. “I knew the locations of all the ATMs that gave out $10 bills,” he recalls.
Even at the height of the tech boom, when he had come up with FuckedCompany.com, the dot-bomb Web site he still runs out of his apartment, he couldn’t afford that much “rich-guy stuff,” as he calls it, with a dismissive wave. Then one day last year, when he was 26, he sat down to figure his net worth for a mortgage application. Somewhere along the way, he had hit seven figures. “I called my parents,” he says. “I was like, ‘Guess what?'”
Kaplan will only say that he’s “a 7- or 8-millionaire,” but the exact number isn’t the point. The point is that in the not-so-distant past, Kaplan was just a nice kid from the suburbs who could hardly afford a round of drinks. Now he’s a guy who once spent so large at the Tribeca Grand Hotel bar that the management comped him a room at closing time because they didn’t want the party to end.
When I first meet him, Kaplan has been up for 48 hours straight, staring at lines of code on his computer screen. Because he often works all night and sleeps late into the afternoon, he left the steel shutters on the bedroom windows of his loft on 31st Street. “I don’t want to be a cog in the machine,” he says. “I want to be the machine.”
Scattered around his Aeron chair are a bunch of shoeboxes that have just been delivered by UPS. Kaplan keeps buying shoes on Zappos.com because they have his size — no small thing to a guy with size 14 feet. He still favors jeans and t-shirts at home, but when he wanted to sharpen up his wardrobe recently, he kept the Versace boutique open late so he could buy a couple $2,000 suits. The upgrade is extending to his home : Kaplan has just closed on a new triplex apartment on 15th Street. We hail a cab to go see it. (If Kaplan had a few more errands to do, he might have hired a car and driver for the afternoon. He likes to drive, but like most New Yorkers, he doesn’t own a car. On a recent trip to L.A., he rented a $400-a-day Corvette.)
Down on 15th Street, Kaplan strides into his new place and opens his arms wide, surveying his kingdom. The large, empty ground-floor cube is fitted out with fixtures that were high-tech before he was born. “Isn’t it great?” He’d been looking in the million-dollar range, he says, but his broker showed him this $720,000 triplex because he knew it had something Kaplan would want: an underground bedroom that has no windows at all. Kaplan put 25 percent down. “There’s no reason to pay cash for anything with interest rates at 6 percent,” he says.
The new place also has a washer and dryer, which his current apartment lacks. One afternoon I go with him to the Laundromat to make good on an overdue bill. The last time they picked up his clothes, the sack tipped the scales at 76 pounds. “I just keep buying shirts and socks and let the rest of it get dirty,” Kaplan says cheerfully, writing a check for $170. “When I get to the point where I’m recycling underwear, that’s when I do my laundry.”
Kaplan takes pains to point out that as millionaires go, he is “not super bling-blingy.” But he has nothing against blowing cash in pursuit of a good time, and he’s flown himself to Vegas for the past two years for the Adult Video News Awards, where he rubs elbows (if only that) with the girls, parties with a porn photographer friend, and tries to get close to idols like Gene Simmons and Vince Neil.
If Neil didn’t remember Kaplan from the year before, it’s probably only because Neil has never seen Spel, the heavy metal band in which Kaplan moonlights, playing drums. One cold winter night, Kaplan rents a Ford Expedition to drive the group to a gig deep in the hinterlands of New Jersey. He picks his bandmates up at the $1,200-a-month rehearsal space he rents on Eighth Avenue where the guys also live. On stage, Kaplan beams from behind his drum set like a manic Charlie Watts. His best move is when he spins a stick and pushes his $800 Selima Optique glasses up the bridge of his nose in the same motion.
Spel is pretty good at their Jersey gig, but it’s clear that Kaplan shouldn’t quit his day job. Actually, he hasn’t had a day job in about four years. He quit a company called THINK New Ideas in 1999 to start his own Internet consultancy. Then he set up F_C_ in the spring of 2000, gave away the consultancy to his employees later that year, and has been happily working on his “art,” as he thinks of it, ever since. Besides FuckedCompany, Kaplan’s art consists of the handful of sites he’s dreamed up, almost all of which are designed, tested, and maintained by Kaplan and a single employee. Kaplan usually eats at home so he can work more. If he wants a meal from a restaurant that doesn’t deliver to his neighborhood, he phones in a $14 pick-up order and hires a $25 courier service to get it for him. He would rather work than go on vacation. He likes to work so much that perhaps it’s not surprising that this interferes with his love life.
Kaplan is tall, handsome, nice, funny, and rich, so it seems odd that he wouldn’t have a girlfriend. “A girl might be really attracted to the things I’ve done, and then, once we get in a relationship, she’ll be frustrated that I can’t spend enough time with her,” he explains. “But I didn’t just wake up and have seven companies.” When he’s invited to the premiere of the movie Spun at the Tribeca Grand Hotel, the only girl he can think of to take is someone he chatted with recently on the Internet. “A normal bachelor millionaire would probably be able to lock down a date for that,” Kaplan muses. Even a fake rich guy like Joe Millionaire has better luck. “People perceive me as a man about town, but I’m just the dork who didn’t have any plans for Valentine’s Day,” Kaplan says. “I want a girl to use me for my money.”
One night, I meet Kaplan in Little Italy at a bar where he likes to hang out with a bunch of other young Internet successes every Monday night. “I have two very distinct groups of people who are my friends,” Kaplan says. “Half my crowd are not particularly rich, half are. It’s not like we sit around and count money. But we’ll go to a bar and get the $400 bottle of vodka and sit at a table and just be stupid.”
Not that Kaplan likes to be stupid with just anyone. He’s been to the Hamptons but has no wish to be part of that scene. Instead, Kaplan thinks he might prefer the seedy cool of Asbury Park on the Jersey shore, where he’s considering investment properties. “It’s half, like, crack den,” he admits, “but parts of it are starting to get nice.”
That’s about the state of things at his new home on on 15th Street, where we tread carefully on the stained shag rug of the upstairs balcony bedroom, soon to be Kaplan’s office, once it’s renovated. “A lot of doors are open,” he says. “The money thing definitely enables me to say maybe I want to have a magazine. I thought about opening a barbecue joint. Everyone has one million-dollar idea every ten years, but the thing is, you have to do it, and nobody ever does,” he says. Kaplan’s latest? “A topless shoe shine. It takes a long time to shine a shoe, all that wiggling and stuff. It’ll be like Starbucks,” he says, his eyes flickering over an imaginary line of topless shoe-shine girls. “It’ll be everywhere.”