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Tabloid trumpets Net IPO with binman's £20m fortune

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When a Net IPO story makes front page of The Sun, you know the Bubble Economy is near to bursting. Yesterday, Britain's best-selling tabloid newspaper splashed the "£20 million Web fortune of (former binman) Anthony Ashcroft, 23" just as if he had won the National Lottery. Which, in a way he has, only with paper rather than real money falling from the sky. Dad of one Anthony bags his £20 million through the £60 million flotation of Commercial Net Works, a low-end Web services firm he set up one year ago with Bob McCallum, a 44-year old ex-carpet fitter. The Nelson, Lancs company has ramped up quickly, employing 60 staff (mostly college leavers) and has Harrods and BT among its customers. So why the fuss? Well, Ashcroft's youth and blue collar background may make him a working class hero for Sun readers (at least that's what the paper's highly paid, share owning editors think). Yesterday's Sun also trumpeted the £1.1 million sale of Surfworld by Alex Lambert, 27. He is taking 45 per cent in cash. Wise man. This site attracts 40,000 visitors a month on the back of no advertising. The new owner, Name123.com, a subsidiary of Phase 8, wants to build a one-stop Surf shop around a great URL. Lambert, who set up the site two years ago with £100, received a Prince's Trust Award for £10,000 a while back. We hope he now repays it, with interest. Commercial Works and Surfworld could well be sound commercial prospects -- but being talked up on the main news pages of The Sun is an ominous portent. Still, there's some way to go before the UK reachs the IT money fever pitch in America, where last week I overheard a porter at the Sheraton Manhattan recommending the purchase of Oracle stock, on the basis of a conversation with an "executive" staying at the hotel. It brings to mind the saying (yes, I know it's a paraphrase): you know it's time to get out of the market when the bell hop starts tipping shares. ®

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