From a university start-up to household name, cloud-based visual presentation tool Prezi now challenges PowerPoint’s decades-old monopoly. Principal artist and co-founder Ádám Somlai-Fischer shares the Budapest-based firm’s growth journey
Ádám Somlai-Fischer imagines a world where visual storyboards are the norm. “Imagine walking into a doctor’s office where instead of just receiving a prescription and being told to take the medicine to get better, the doctors actually show you what the medicine will do,” Somlai-Fischer told GrowthBusiness.
According to Prezi research, 90 per cent of the information we take in is visual, and more than two-thirds of our conversations are story-based. Prezi began as a university spin-out in Budapest, banking on the science behind the impact of visual storytelling. Co-founders Peter Arvai, Péter Halácsy, and Ádám Somlai-Fischer quickly realised they had a fast-growth company on their hands.
Like most growth businesses, Prezi’s humble beginnings are rooted in utility, created as a tool for then-artist Somlai-Fischer. Here’s how the business took off in five short years.
What does your business do?
At Prezi, we created an interactive and visual presentation platform. Unlike slides, Prezi has a single, interactive canvas which lets you show the relation between different ideas. Our aim was to create a tool that encourages conversation and collaboration, making presentations more fun, engaging, persuasive, and memorable.
We founded the company in 2009, and now we have offices in San Francisco, Budapest and Mexico City. Over the years our website has become the home for a community of over 75 million users, hosting over 260 million public prezis created around the world.
As a next chapter of the company’s life, we have launched Prezi Business. This new platform is designed for collaboration and teamwork at businesses, and builds on all the components that made storytelling with Prezi great, and far more effective than slides. You still get the single canvas and the ability to zoom in on details, but now a range of new features are added to it that make it ideal for the millennial workforce. This new generation coming into the workplace are looking for tools that enable openness, transparency plus working in teams, and Prezi Business allows just that. The result makes content conversational instead of simply informative, and the collaboration features enable teams to work together.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
To be honest, creating Prezi wasn’t a conscious decision and it wasn’t my intention for it to be a business venture. Initially I created the tool for my own needs in the early 2000s.
At the time, I was working as a full time artist, travelling around the world, often having to do lectures and talks to present my work to a wider audience. And the tools available at the time just didn’t work for me. I wanted something different that would tell a story. So I hand-coded my first prezi in 2001, just a personal tool to develop my ideas, map out the bigger picture, and to help take my audience on a visual journey.
Before I knew it, people were coming to me with the same challenges, wanting something different to help tell stories and sell their ideas.
So with my two co-founders we created Prezi in a way that there is always context, there are no slides hiding one idea from the other, and the visual journey is always there to help navigate a story. Prezi helps you organise your thoughts and deliver them in a clearer way that really makes an impact on your audience and helps them reach that ‘ah-hah’ moment faster.
How did you know there was a market for it?
First the tool was handed around friends and family for their personal use but word quickly got out and potential investors started knocking on our door. The first area where Prezi became a success was with keynote speakers. With a map-like overview that lets users navigate more freely through their content, Prezi got quickly picked up by presenters around the world, enabling them to tell stories better. It was particularly well received at conferences like TED and SXSW.
Canal+ is a leading European cable network. The company uses Prezi for its stakeholder communication
Following our success on the main stage, we became a leading platform in the classroom as well, helping students and teachers alike to become better communicators and illustrate their ideas. What seemed like a radical approach at the time, now has plenty of science to back it up, proving that Prezi presentations are more engaging, more persuasive, and more effective than slides, as demonstrated by our 75+ million users.
As millennials graduate and move into the professional world, bringing their favourite tools with them, we realised that we have the opportunity to change the workplace for the better, and this is why we created Prezi Business. An environment that for decades has largely been ruled by Microsoft is suddenly fractured, full of new world alternatives that enable collaboration and open up a dialogue with audiences.
Why did you want to become an entrepreneur?
I’ve always been captivated by art, and been visual in demonstrating and communicating my ideas. At the same time I’ve always been independent and keen to pursue my own ideas, so I guess you could say that I’ve always been an entrepreneurial artist.
It’s all about empowerment – I’ve always wanted to do something that matters to people.
And still today, my background is applied at the company. I am running an innovation lab where I get to do what I enjoy, be creative and come up with fun ideas that will drive the future of the company.
How did you raise funding, and why?
One of our initial rounds of funding came from TED Conferences. We are proud to say that Prezi was the first major investment coming from TED, because we share a common vision of enabling people to share ideas around the world. Through an 18 minute TED talk and a daring elevator pitch, we convinced Chris Anders from TED to invest in our company and take Prezi to the next level.
By now we’ve raised investment from fantastic people at Spectrum Equity, Accel Partners and Sunstone Capital, who bring so much more to the table than just money. They share their knowledge and network, as well as their vast experience.
Describe your business model in brief.
Prezi offers a freemium model. Public licenses are free to use for everyone that wants to start making their own prezis – it includes all of the core features of the Prezi online editor. While using a Prezi Public License, all of the work you do will be available publicly. This means any information contained in your prezi will be available to anyone who has access to the Internet.
“Unlike slides, Prezi has a single, interactive canvas which lets you show the relation between different ideas”
In addition to the public licenses, Prezi offers subscription models, such as Enjoy, Edu Enjoy, Pro and Edu Pro, providing a range of features in addition. These features amongst others include the Prezi online editor, editable charts, portable prezis, downloadable PEZs, options for PDFs as well as premium support and unlimited storage.
For students and teachers, Prezi offers discounts when signing up with a school email address.
Prezi Business will be sold on an individual basis through the Prezi sales team, tailoring the solution for each business’ needs. For the initial sign ups, the Prezi team will provide special training, as well as a design service to convert old presentations to Prezi.
What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
We launched the company in the middle of the financial crisis in 2009 with an ambitious goal of taking on the likes of Microsoft and Apple. It was a daunting challenge but we have always been very clear on our main goal, which is to bring value to our users. This is why we have taken customer feedback very seriously and have continued to evolve our product to fit their needs. I think the results speak for themselves, as our user base is currently growing by a million customers a month globally. The UK is one of our Tier 1 markets, with 2.1 million users and over 4.1 thousand Prezis created daily.
The introduction of Prezi Business is also in line with the demand of our customers. We have noticed that our fastest growing user segment was within the marketing and sales community so we created a tool that best serves these groups’ needs, encouraging collaboration and teamwork.
We designed Prezi Business specifically for businesses, to help them present in a more visual, collaborative, data-driven–and most importantly–conversational way. This new tool will let them excite and inspire their audiences as well as invite them to participate, rather than force them to sit through another slide-based meeting. We also added a number of features for measurement and analytics as well as remote presenting.
We’ve found that there’s plenty of evidence suggesting that changing up the old office stack’s way of presenting can have a huge impact on overall success. According to the RAIN Group, for example, sales professionals can increase sales by collaborating with prospects instead of talking at them, and ION Interactive recently found that twice as many consumers say that interactive content is more memorable than static.
What was your first big milestone and when did you cross it?
My co-founder and the current CEO of Prezi, Peter Arvai had a very ambitious business plan for us from the start. Despite the grim economic outlook at the time, coupled with the well-established tech giants we wanted to compete with, he set out a goal of reaching a million users within 2 years of founding the company.
Prezi’s growth accelerated quickly, we reached 1 million users after 18 months, 3 million users in March 2011 and now the company has over 75 million users.
Malmaison & Hotel du Vin – an example of one of the 260 million prezis online
A personally very special moment for me was when we received an email from a 70 year old firefighter in Canada, thanking us for creating Prezi. He said that Prezi enabled him to become creative again. This is when we knew we were on the right track and managed to create a tool that transcends age, culture and background.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
Firstly, listen to your customers. Don’t develop your product based on what investors are saying or what the market expects. Make sure that you are engaging with your users – it is through them that you’ll find out what is working and what could be improved. After all, your main goal should be creating real value for them.
Secondly, empower your employees. It’s absolutely critical to create an inspiring environment where your employees feel like they are part of something that they believe in. Ultimately, a company is only worth as much as its employees.
Lastly, make sure to choose your co-founders well. I often think of my relationship with my partners as a marriage, a relationship that needs constant cultivation and care. At Prezi, we share the same vision, but each one of us have a particular skillset to bring to the table. I have the creative mind, whereas our CTO Peter Halacsy brings a more rational and technical outlook. Prezi’s CEO Peter Arvai has the business hat on and thinks on a global scale. It’s the combination of these skillsets which make us a successful team.
Where do you want to be in five years’ time?
Personally, I think our biggest achievement would be to reach the point, where Prezi and Prezi Business are being used in every situation, where it’s important to engage and influence people.