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The 'Motley' Crew

With three new AOL areas including the cybermagazine ”Rogue”, the ”Fool” founders are making a killing

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A fool and his money are soon parted? ”I call that a propaganda line,” laughs David Gardner. ”That’s the enemy speaking.” He can afford to laugh: Along with his brother, Tom, 27, the 29-year-old Gardner is responsible for one of the most fruitful brand names in cyberspace. Started in late ’94, their Motley Fool site on America Online (keyword: Fool) has become a snarky financial tip sheet with a legion of adherents. And with the recent publication of The Motley Fool Investment Guide (Simon & Schuster), they’ve put their witty take on Wall Street into dead-tree format.

Hell-bent on Fooling the world, the Gardners have launched three new AOL areas since August ’94 — Follywood (for movie fans), Rogue (a slacker-targeted magazine), and FoolDome (a sports arena) — all carrying over The Motley Fool’s doubting-Thomas tone and anyone-can-do-this ethos. To wit, Follywood encourages AOL subscribers to create haiku reviews (a From Dusk Till Dawn sample: ”George’s baby face/Or Quentin’s ugly visage/I’ll see it for George”). Where most online publishers deliver canned prose to readers, Follywood hosts a party.

Not bad for two guys who had difficulty getting relatives to buy their financial newsletter three years ago. But when they began an AOL message folder in late ’93, it quickly became the service’s most heavily trafficked financial area. AOL approached them about a full-blown site and now funds all their online endeavors.

Covering entertainment hasn’t been easy: A section of Follywood devoted to the movie business isn’t as popular as the site’s reviews. ”I’d say that 10 percent of AOL’s readers actually want to read about what a gaffer is,” sighs David. And Rogue clearly hasn’t found its voice yet: Heavy on essays and light on interactivity, it’s a dour Esquire wannabe. Still, David notes that one reason he plucked ”motley fool” from Shakespeare’s As You Like It was to give the enterprise some margin for error. ”What could be a better starting point?” he asks. ”You can only impress people from there.”