GROWING UP IN WASHINGTON, D.C., Lou Montulli seemed programmed to be a nerd. Skinny and smart, he endured so many pummel-ings from neighborhood kids that "my glasses were always broken," he says. "I ended up getting a special warranty from the manufacturer." And when he dropped out of the University of Kansas in 1994 to become a founding engineer of Netscape, even his fellow computer programmers had to snicker. "One of his favorite shirts was a pink tank top," recalls former coworker Matt Fisher. "Socially and style-wise, he was truly a geek."
No more. With his dimpled chin, Dylan McDermott chiseling and newfound fashion sense, the 6' Montulli, 29, is as hot as an Internet IPO. "He was always good-looking, he just had no clue," insists his mother, Mary Lou. "He's found himself." The divorced Montulli, now a founder of the online shopping guide Epinions.com, credits the upgrade to balancing his 70-hour workweeks with fun (he competes in an amateur hockey league and plays drums in a rock band). "A lot of geeks have a Spock mentality—they only care about facts," says Montulli. "I've discovered there's a whole world out there." But he can still be endearingly techie too. As a recent surprise for girlfriend Ashley de Arrigu-naga, 29, he bought a bundle of chips and memory boards, which he fashioned into a custom PC. "It's three times faster than the one I have at work," says de Arrigunaga, a pharmaceutical sales rep. "That he made it himself is the most romantic thing."