How the CEO of Prezi Continues to Grow a Business That Went From 1 Million to 100 Million Users
Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox
In this ongoing series, we are sharing advice, tips and insights from real entrepreneurs who are out there doing business battle on a daily basis. (Answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Who are you and what’s your business?
I am Jim Szafranski, CEO of Prezi, which makes a virtual presentation software app that is the most engaging way to share information with remote audiences. Our anchor product Prezi Video lets you bring any content onto the video screen with you during a video conference or recorded video, like a newscaster or weather person. We plug into Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Cisco WebEx, Google Meet and Slack, and are being used by more than 20,000 companies, 100+ of the Fortune 500 and the majority of US school districts.
What inspired you to create this product? What was your "aha moment"?
Prezi’s first investor was TED Conferences, so we’ve been used frequently over the years by TED presenters, and our “aha” moment came when a presenter needed to “beam himself and his content” from Stanford to the main stage of the TED Conference in Vancouver. We developed an AR prototype and his presentation content appeared on stage in a very lifelike way (almost like Star Trek).
From there, we focused on building something that would let you have a presence among your content so that you could interact with the content and bring the audience in deeper. We launched Prezi Video in November of 2019 and had no idea how soon the world would go full virtual just months later.
What advice would you give entrepreneurs looking for funding?
Look as close to your network as possible. Your credibility and passion are so important, so anything to improve the chances of you coming across as credible and a known quantity will help.
Look for investor teams who have a passion for your area. They have a better chance of intrinsically understanding your idea, which reduces uncertainty — the key friction that keeps people from investing.
The holy grail is with your early customers. Getting them to fund the seed stage puts you in a great position to raise institutional money and at better terms because you have de-risked the idea.
Any advice for preparing for a pitch?
The VC isn’t looking to just give you money. They are looking to partner with you and spend a lot of time working together on solving problems and making key decisions. So, your pitch is a good opportunity to explore that connection together. Don’t just present the logic and the opportunity. Also, work to create an emotional connection with the idea. Relate the product and service to their lives. Imagery, interactivity or a unique conversational experience, helps.
What has been your biggest challenge during the pandemic and how did you pivot to overcome it?
Staying in connection with the team, in particular in Europe (8 time zones apart from my location). Part of my solution was mechanical - I shifted my workday earlier and engaged in more proactive communications — posting updates weekly on our internal wiki, increased our all-hands frequency from bi-weekly to weekly. Overall, I had to replace all the information and hallway conversations through deliberate practice.
The big epiphany has been asynchronous video, i.e. sending recorded videos that don’t require coordinating a live meeting. It cuts down on time spent in live video calls, lets more introverted team members contribute on their own timeline, and overall encourages people to own their schedules while still empowering them to give full virtual presentations at any time. We still do video calls for brainstorms, all hands and planning meetings, but we keep meetings async where it’s just giving updates or sharing feedback.
What does the word “entrepreneur” mean to you?
Someone who so badly wants to bring their idea to the market and improve the lives of their customers, that they push against all the odds and immense challenges to actually do it.
Is there a particular quote or saying that you use as personal motivation?
My motivation is largely intrinsic and based on my appreciation for my parents and their parents and all the hard work and sacrifices that everyone before me has made to ensure that I have amazing opportunities in life. I want to make the most of this opportunity. Where I most often look for inspiration is in how to act. One really simple saying, that I learned 17 years ago from a manager, that has helped me act is the idea of “seven different ways, seven different times”. It’s known as the 7x7 Rule for communications. Reminding me that I need to share my messages seven different ways and seven different times to ensure that I’m doing a good job communicating, giving my intended audience a chance to understand and connect with me. I think as entrepreneurs that we all can benefit from this reminder and take courage from it to share our ideas broadly and often to help bring about the change we seek.