Q&A: Slated CEO Stephan Paternot On Why Culture Is Key

Stephan Paternot is a social media visionary who co-founded the internet’s first social networking site, theglobe.com, back in the 1990s. Now, he’s changing the way film projects are financed in Hollywood as co-founder/CEO of Slated, a company which helps independent filmmakers find and secure production partners and onscreen talent, and allows them access to its community of film financiers via its online platform.

Paternot spoke with Chief Executive about what inspired him to launch Slated and why company culture is so critical to his organization. Here’s what he had to say:

What inspired him to co-found Slated

After theGlobe, I decided I wanted to see what I could learn about the film industry. I wanted to dip my toe in there and I ended up getting involved with a couple of short films, which was a fun crash course in filmmaking, being an actor, a producer and learning all the different parts that are involved. And then I co-founded a film production company with somebody I had met who had finished his master’s degree at Yale with a focus on the film industry economics and he had a compelling business plan. And so I decided to be an investor and co-found a company with him and learn how to produce and for four, five, six, seven years, I was working with him closely. He was based here in Los Angeles and we got involved with a number of books that we optioned, true stories that were pretty high-profile. And we got many movies made over those years, but really the first four, five, six years were the struggle, and that’s where I discovered how incredibly inefficient and opaque the independent film sector is. It’s hard to navigate and there are gatekeepers everywhere and getting answers on talent to get them to read the script or read the book or be interested in directing or writing a check, it was just incredibly slow.

It really took 10-plus years of dipping my toe in and then up to my knees and then up to my waist and then up to my neck before I finally said, “OK, time for me to put my internet hat back on. I think there’s a way to reinvent how films are financed, and it’s probably going to take the right mix of somebody with tech experience and somebody with deep knowledge of how the film industry works, or doesn’t work, and giving it a shot.”

And so that’s where I ended up co-founding Slated with a few partners. And it wasn’t an immediate execution to success. It took a number of years of figuring out what the platform should be, how it should work, and building and then inviting in our networks of film industry acquaintances and figuring out how to get them to transact.

Essentially, we had to reverse engineer how the film industry had been working for 100 years and make those same mechanics, the same gamification occur through the platform until good films started getting connected to credible investors and those films would get green-lit and made and released and then we got to do our second, and third, and tenth, and twentieth. Now, it’s a lot more obvious how this all works, but for a while it wasn’t so obvious. It’s been a long journey.

The importance of culture at Slated

It’s absolutely critical. It started being a team of two, where it’s really easy, right? When you’re a team under five, you hire the best four other people you can find, you’re each specialist enough in a domain, but also generalist enough that they can cover all the other bases that we’re locking a keel on, and you just sort of let it go and let everybody do their own thing. I guess your company culture becomes a little bit of your personality. They can see my vibe, read the energy in the room, act accordingly and then I’ll do the same. I’ll see how they behave, read their energy, act accordingly.

As you go from a team of 5 to 25—right now we’re just under 20—that doesn’t work anymore. You actually need to instill certain disciplines, certain rigor. You’re actually now thinking about things like scale and efficiency, and there’s now a hierarchy. I may have three or four chief lieutenants and they each have now three or four reports and they’re maybe struggling with leadership.

As you go from up to five people, you’re going to wing it, it’s your personality. From five beyond, you start to think about what are the values I need to start instilling? And once you get to that dozen or more, I think you actively start documenting it and presenting it. It can be just a rudimentary presentation with bullet points, but you start to articulate what are your values? What do you want your company to stand for? Because the values you as a leader have and instill in your team will be reflected in the product you’re building and the head of the customer service team, the head of community, and how they communicate to your customers. At this point, it really matters.

I’m four years in now on running Slated and I only just finally put this formal presentation together earlier this year and I may have been instilling some of this company culture for these last four years, but this time I really tried to make it official to the point where team members now, they throw back buzzwords at me that I threw at them and I can see, in their own meetings, how they’re doing things and it’s starting to trickle. It’s starting to scale. So I wanted to do this now because Slated is rapidly growing, our investor introduction volume is blowing up, we’re getting to the point we’re probably going to do our Series B early next year, and I don’t want to wait until the next 50 hires to then start talking about it.

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Patrick Gorman :Patrick Gorman is managing editor of Chief Executive magazine and Corporate Board Member magazine. He is based in Stamford, CT.