Categorized | Advice

Digital biz refugee offers useful advice

Posted on 12 November 2008

Web wunderkind Stephan Paternot co-founded, which represented both the best and worst of New Economy business trends. It was a bold company with seemingly unlimited resources, built upon a shaky foundation.

In November 1998, Paternot was transformed from an obscure twenty-something Cornell graduate into a media sensation. Stock in his online company soared to a then-record 600 percent on the day of its NASDAQ debut. A few years prior, Paternot was astonished to learn that tech talent could pull down as much as $53,000 a year–now he was worth $97 million.

Hard Work Pays Off
His life was defined by high-octane work, often until 1 a.m. and beyond. But Paternot capped off his day with an equally exhaustive nightlife, partying until dawn amidst the booming sounds, blinding lights, and half-naked revelers at Manhattan nightclubs.

He capped off his day with an equally exhaustive nightlife, partying until dawn amidst the booming sounds, blinding lights, and half-naked revelers at Manhattan nightclubs.

Then it all came crashing down. A familiar story by now, sure, but that didn’t make it any easier for Paternot. He eventually relinquished control of the company and lost most of his paper-based fortune. Although he’s still active in turning’s misfortunes around as vice chairman, the company was recently trading at 17 cents a share; it had been as high as $97.

Now introspective about his experiences, Paternot wrote a book about his rise and fall: A Very Public Offering: A Rebel’s Story of Business, Excess, Success, and Reckoning (Wiley). In a recent conversation with, he talked about the lessons that everyday professionals can learn from the Digital Economy Meltdown.

Key Considerations
Don’t live your life according to your stock price. Paternot didn’t spend like a $97 million magnate, for the most part. A big splurge was when he bought first-class tickets to go to Europe. Like many professionals, however, he was a victim of delusion, believing that a fast-rising stock price was an accurate gauge of power. “So many of us fell into that trap,” says Paternot, now 27. “That was the mania back then. Everyone wanted the quick buck. What we’ve all learned is that the buck will come and go. Instead, evaluate whether working for this company will represent something you love.”

Ultimately, the trap can lead to arrogance–burning potential professional bridges down the road. “Don’t wait for the hype to explode in your face,” Paternot says. “It’s so easy to get caught up with it. You’re there in the workplace and your company has built up so much momentum. Sometimes, however, you have to honestly evaluate your own pitch.”

Check out the workplace before leaping aboard. The questions you should consider are many-faceted, reflecting not just pay, but quality of life. Questions to ask, according to Paternot: “Is the company building a product that you agree with? Is it built on a sound business plan or does it seem like hype? Are the people there happy? Do they seem to like each other? Is it your kind of working environment?”

Get through the down times by cultivating a life outside of work. If all you have is your job, then life can be a downer when times are bad, right? Paternot’s fast-paced routine took its toll. “What matters over a lifetime are family and relationships,” he says. “That’s especially important during down time. The balance needs to be there. It’s so easy to get caught up in the fever and bury yourself into that computer in the cubicle. I went through a midlife crisis at age 26. I was swimming, pushing, and digging, but my head was still underwater. I had no idea what existed beyond my lifestyle.”

Yet, he says, you don’t have to adopt a negative attitude. It’s fashionable these days to dismiss the Digital Economy as a bloated sea of Dot-Bombs. But that’s not entirely the case. “My experience is all about people taking risks because of their passion,” Paternot says. “Sure, it went into overdrive and turned back. But it will balance itself out. I suppose the pink-slip parties are a good way to boost morale. But I don’t see this as the end. It’s time to examine what went wrong and build upon it.”

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