This Innovator Spent All of His Money to Fly to a 20-Minute Meeting and Walked Out With a $1.5 Million Investment
Two things most of us can agree on: 1. Presentations are important and 2. Presentations are boring and we forget everything the moment they're over.
Peter Arvai, Péter Halácsy, and Adam Somlai-Fischer saw this problem and built a solution, Prezi, a presentation platform that lets presenters put information in easy to understand and remember graphics. Since its launch in 2009, Prezi has amassed 100 million users worldwide and is used in boardroom, classrooms and everything in-between. CEO Pete Arvai shared his insights on creating a product that successfully connects with consumers, and the necessary steps you need to take to seriously scale when you've got the goods.
How would you explain Prezi to someone who is unfamiliar with it?
Our core product is a presentation platform that has reshaped presenting into a more intuitive, interactive audience experience – you are essentially dropped into a 3-dimensional map with different ideas serving as destinations, which creates a unique visual journey.
What led to the creation of Prezi? Was there a specific problem or challenge you saw?
In terms of mission/challenge, we believe that open and clear communication is essential for reasoned and civil conversations. The noise created by our current use of technology is reducing our level of understanding and we wanted to fix that.
My co-founder Adam Somlai-Fischer was a renowned media artist, in addition to being an architect. He found slide-based presentations limiting for his art, so he designed an open, zoomable canvas to showcase his work. My other co-founder Peter Halácsy is a computer scientist and revolutionized the code, and I brought the product and user experience mindset. I’d worked on the world’s first mobile phone newsreader apps (way before iPhone) and a healthcare comparison site that gave Swedish patients and doctors access to treatment outcomes.
How did you raise the money to build the company?
I managed to get a meeting with the creator of TED Talks, Chris Anderson, and spent all the money I had to fly to New York for a 20-minute meeting, even though TED hadn’t invested in a company before. Together TED and Sunstone Capital out of Copenhagen invested $1.5 million. Since then, we have raised over $72 million in funding from a variety of partners including Spectrum Equity and Accel Partners.
How important was it when TED Conferences backed Prezi, in terms of fueling its credibility?
It felt like being the piano company that Beethoven invested in. This and the massive adoption by the academic community — teachers and students worldwide — have given us incredible credibility among people who have something to say. After our initial success with education, Prezi became widely adopted by business professionals. Today, we have over 100 million users.
What roadblocks or failures did you encounter along the way? What did you learn from them?
Probably the biggest lesson I learned was that in order to scale and grow the business, you need to surround yourself — early on — with seasoned advisors and contributors who know what “great” looks like so they can help you grow the business faster. In the first few years, I had a large learning curve in figuring out how to run the business itself. But I would have been smarter looking to *find* and hire those people who could do it faster than I could. Eventually, I hired a COO, CFO and a CPO who increased scale and operational effectiveness, helping us grow Prezi to over 100 million users today who have created over 360 million presentations that have been viewed over 4 billion times.
Looking ahead, what is your ultimate goal?
We truly believe that everything great about humanity starts with people sharing ideas. Prezi is looking to improve how information is transmitted and understood – since visual understanding is much stronger – to help solve for a world with more information but less insight. This is incredibly important for all decision-making, from elections to cutting through social media distortion. The future of our digitally-anchored world depends on dialogue and understanding. We say can’t put a woman on Mars, make peace in Syria or cure cancer, but seeing how Prezi is being used, we see that we can contribute to making all of these things happen by our users — who tell compelling, moving visual stories. Our goal is to give people tools that help them imagine things, collaborate around ideas and make better decisions.