LEWISTON — The collection agencies were calling.
After three years, the startup film and TV management/production company that Sandy Parakilas helped found in Los Angeles had a great reputation and $250,000 in debt.
"The company is on paper growing. In reality we were barely hanging on," Parakilas, 33, said. "Just as we start calling back lawyers to finish things off, something amazing happens."
His co-founder got a note on Facebook: Check out this manuscript. It was 900 pages. Too long, but their policy was to read the first page of anything. She read that and more. It came from an unemployed bartender in New York. The book was "Starcrossed."
"Six days later Harper Collins bought it for more than $1 million," he said. "The company was saved by this random act. When you think you're about to fail, you're probably closer to success than you think."
A 1997 Lewiston High School graduate and entrepreneur, Parakilas has worked at Amazon and Facebook. He spoke at the Great Falls Forum at the public library on Thursday with business advice and some of his own story.
Parakilas, a jazz drummer, said he grew up passionate about music and went to college at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. But, after graduation, "I quickly realized being a professional musician is really hard and you don't make any money."
In 2003, Parakilas decided more career opportunities were available in California, so he packed up and moved to the West Coast in October.
"Hopefully, I would find a job before my money ran out, a brilliant plan," he said. "And it worked, shockingly."
After Christmas, with $7 in his pocket, he got a job offer at a recording studio. From there, he met the friend who would co-found Tom Sawyer Entertainment. Parakilas said that incident with "Starcrossed" had him intrigued with the possibilities of Facebook and the Internet. He started another company; it didn't get traction. So he went back to school to get an MBA at Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business.
As school wound down, he and friends worked on a business plan to "use mobile phones to change ways people buy clothes." They called Google and said Amazon was interested. Then they called Amazon and said the same.
"That worked amazingly well," Parakilas said. "The talks with Amazon had real legs."
The retail giant asked the students to consult with a venture capitalist to determine how much the idea was worth. The venture capitalist estimated $9 million.
Amazon offered $2 million. The group held firm at $9 million. Amazon walked.
"We blew the deal," he said. "The lesson I learned there, when you're negotiating . . . you can't assume you have all this leverage because you're incredible."
Parakilas landed at Facebook after graduation in 2011. He described the scene in Silicon Valley as being like a large dorm room: lots of free food, free laundry service, massages, casual dress.
"They hire really smart, really motivated people and they want you in the office 24/7," Parakilas said.
He ran into Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg once at a cooler.
Six weeks ago, Parakilas left Facebook to head growth and operations at CitizenNet, a social advertising startup. It allowed him to move back to Los Angeles.
Starting a business is difficult, he said, and the risk is frightening, but it's also how you get the reward.
To encourage entrepreneurship here, he suggested Lewiston-Auburn invest more in science and technology education. Parakilas has more companies left in him. He's not sure what they are yet.
"If you're an entrepreneur, you're an entrepreneur," he said. "You can't help yourself."