Once upon a time, in the early '90s, before anyone conceived of liking a Facebook status, Cornell University students Stephan Paternot and Todd Krizelman slaved away through long days and sleepless nights, creating theGlobe.com, one of the first social-networking websites. In 1998, the pair took the company public, opening to, what was at that time, the largest first-day gain of any IPO in history.
Overnight, on paper, they were rumored to be worth $97 million – each. Young and wildly successful, they graced magazine covers and talk shows. Everyone wanted a piece of them and their stock.
Within a year, however, the company's value plummeted along with their dreams. At 26, Paternot was left broke and broken.
His former partner, Krizelman, went on to acquire his MBA at Harvard Business School before working for Bertelsmann's publishing division and ultimately starting his own company, MediaRadar.
After Paternot's exit from theGlobe, however, he took a couple of years to decompress. He wrote an autobiography. He planted one foot in the tech world, investing in angel funds, while rooting the other in Hollywood with his film finance and production company, PalmStar Entertainment.
Two years ago, combining his passion for both tech and film, Paternot launched his comeback: Slated, a website that connects filmmakers with investors. Sitting in a West Hollywood café sipping an iced decaf latte, Paternot is dressed casually in a black sweater and jeans. He recently bought a house in Los Angeles after moving here from New York four years ago. He is confident that where theGlobe failed, Slated will succeed.
“I've accumulated enough wisdom to have a second chance at an Internet company and to do it a lot smarter than the first time,” he says. “I've studied what I did right. But I've also studied what I did wrong and how I would do it differently next time.”
Last time around, an initially gushing press corps turned sour. Paternot was dubbed “the CEO in the plastic pants” after being filmed standing on top of a Manhattan nightclub table, clad in shiny pants, holding Champagne and declaring, “Got the girl. Got the money. Now I'm ready to live a disgusting, frivolous life.” Young, suddenly hugely successful and immersed in New York City's nightlife, Paternot let loose after years of toiling on his site.
“Those are the stories that sell and, quite frankly, if your business is one where you build an audience and sell it to advertisers, you want publicity,” he says. “And if someone wants a sexy story for a front page, well, we gave them a sexy story.” Certainly, Paternot's movie-star good looks accounted for some of the media scrutiny.
But that was then. At 39, he's just as handsome, but he doesn't seem as bothered by public perception as he once was. Last time around, he admits, “I let the good press inflate my sense of self-worth too much and the bad press deflate my sense of self-worth.” Now, he says, “All I care about is inventing something new that will do something positive for the world.”
He acknowledges his mistakes – for one thing, he says, he doesn't want to be CEO again. “There's too much responsibility running a billion-dollar company.” But if anything, he feels vindicated by Facebook's success: “It felt fantastic to know we were on the right path. Do I wish I could have cashed out of theGlobe and had the $100 million in my pocket that Mark Zuckerberg is making? Of course. But hindsight is 20/20, and instead of sitting around and moping, it reinvigorated me and now I have those 10 years of experience.”
Years ago, he astutely conceived of a virtual community where people could connect socially. This time, Paternot believes he has spotted a gap in the filmmaking community: It's too closed to outsiders. Navigating Hollywood, he felt, could be a lot easier. “It made me think, 'Why isn't the Internet solving this?'?”
He started doing research with the goal of solving “the inefficiency of fundraising and communication in Hollywood” – basically, how to help investors find worthy projects, and help filmmakers find both investors and key personnel, such as sales agents and distributors.
His remedy was Slated, a filmmaking social network that already boasts 10,000 members, including Oscar-nominated producer Lawrence Bender (Pulp Fiction, An Inconvenient Truth). Membership is free but two current members must vouch for someone wishing to join. From there, members can peruse other profiles, list their projects and see what others have listed.
“We want to make it as easy to invest in a film as it is easy to buy a book on Amazon,” Paternot says. Unlike Kickstarter and Indiegogo, which bring in donations, Slated is based on equity financing, wherein investors own a piece of the project – and its profits. “Those sites are a great place to start for filmmakers doing their first films,” Paternot says of crowdfunding sites. “Crowdfunding is where you start. Slated is when you graduate and are in it for a career.”
Director Marina Zenovich's Roman Polanski documentary, Odd Man Out; Katie Holmes' Days and Nights both received funding on Slated. And director Jehane Noujaim's Oscar-nominated documentary, The Square, was listed on the site. [A correction was made to this paragraph. See editor's note at the bottom of the piece.]
As Slated's chairman and co-founder, Paternot's duties include developing company strategy, fundraising, recruiting and working with the site's programmers. But cinema isn't just business for Paternot. He loves acting, although for now it's more of a therapeutic hobby: he's taken acting lessons and had roles in three short films. Movies, he says, have always been his “safe place.”
He needed one. His parents divorced when he was a child (his French father co-founded one of the biggest staffing companies in the world, now called Adecco; his American mom dropped out of Boston University to get married). Paternot's nomadic childhood – including moves from his birthplace of Menlo Park to Switzerland, Connecticut and London – left him feeling lost. “I didn't realize it until way after theGlobe, but probably I invented a virtual community so I could feel like I could have my own virtual family for life. Like, if I can create this place where everybody comes, then I won't be stranded, I won't be on my own and I will be connected to people.”
His anxiety, he says, caught up to him years later. “I started to have panic attacks out of nowhere, and I realized movies were my crutch when I needed to run away from myself.”
His life now, however, is in sharp contrast to his lonely younger years. He has a serious girlfriend and a good relationship with both parents. “Whatever childhood or stability I missed out on, it's been significantly made up for in the last 10 years,” he says.
Therapy and yoga cut his anxiety. And moving to Los Angeles, where he begins every day with a morning hike in Runyon Canyon, didn't hurt either. “For years New York was magical, but the magic wore off and my anxiety started to dominate so I wondered, 'What's this all for?'
“New York is unforgiving. You don't want an existential crisis in New York. Los Angeles had always been at the back of my mind, and moving here did the trick. I feel way more relaxed having more skyline, blue sky and hiking. I feel a sense of zen here. It's a perfect place to be.”
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Editor's note: A correction was made to this piece after publication to clarify The Square's relationship with Slated. It was listed on the site, but did not get its funding that way. We regret the error.