Prezi CEO Peter Arvai: “Create a culture that you want to be a part of”

Create a culture that you want to be a part of. Our company is built on communication, creativity, and inclusion. In order to sustain that through the years, it’s important to pick the right people who can help you live your culture in your daily life. As part of my series about the “5 Things You […]

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Create a culture that you want to be a part of. Our company is built on communication, creativity, and inclusion. In order to sustain that through the years, it’s important to pick the right people who can help you live your culture in your daily life.

As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Peter Arvai, co-founder and CEO of Prezi. Prezi is a visual communications company with offices in San Francisco, Budapest and Riga, Latvia.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

My name is Peter Arvai and I’m the co-founder and CEO of visual communications company, Prezi.

I believe our ability to make good decisions is not keeping pace with the power of our technology. Never has the need for widespread knowledge and better communication been more urgent. So, for the last 20 years, my mission has been to combine storytelling with technology to help people make better informed decisions.

I’m interested in the way people understand and digest presented information, and how the mind processes information spatially. Early in my career, I developed the first mobile newsreader app that allowed you to see TED talks on your mobile devices at a Swedish mobile telecommunications company, Mobispine. Then I launched a healthcare startup called that helped people — like my mom — make better choices on which clinic and procedure to choose, so they could compare treatment outcomes.

After those two startups, I launched Prezi in 2009 with my two co-founders in Budapest, Hungary. Our mission was to create a better presentation tool that would help people worldwide share ideas so they can make better decisions. Our prezis have been viewed over 4 billion times.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

My co-founder Adam Somlai-Fischer, who is an architect and artist, had previously used zooming for artwork. He created the tool as a necessity to be able to explain and share his work, which consisted of creating installations in which interactivity was mixed with technology and art. When we founded Prezi together with Peter Halacsy, we wanted to make it possible for anyone, not just Adam, to make beautiful zooming presentations — and thus began our journey in creating Prezi.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

When we started Prezi, my co-founders and I spent the first year and a half without a salary, which made for tough times. Toughness built grit — and perseverance — to keep us going (we were also very young.)

Our team grew incredibly fast, particularly the first couple of years. I wish I had hired more senior people sooner, who would have provided expertise that would have helped us grow the business faster — (and not just keep up.)

I knew the mission and vision of Prezi was important, not just to me but to visual communication as a whole, so I needed to figure out how to overcome my challenges and advance the coherent communication on a macro level.

So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

It’s a really exciting time at Prezi today. We actually just launched a new product, Prezi Video, that allows users to create videos with graphics on the screen in real-time. But the grit and perseverance we needed when we started were also necessary as we gained experience and built new features and products.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We help people tell compelling stories and we get to work with incredible people. For example, when Bono did his TED talk on how to eradicate poverty, he used Prezi. In a different year, two of the three presidential candidates in Korea used Prezi to launch their platforms.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

I think my fellow entrepreneurs, founders and tech CEOs can avoid burnout by taking care of themselves. Good health and balance are essential to performing well and lead to better results. For me, practicing yoga, meditation, maintaining a healthy diet and getting good sleep helps me operate at my best capacity as a problem-solver and leader.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

My father and his experiences taught me a lot about work ethic and what it takes in order to achieve success. He left Hungary during the socialist era and fled across the mountains between Yugoslavia and Italy to find a better life. His experience showed me that risks are necessary in order to have success. It also taught me the importance of sharing ideas and how that can be important for any society to work well.

Another key person in my journey is Christina Bellander. At the time, she was reporting directly to the CEO of MTG, a leading media group. She became my mentor because she couldn’t fathom how I had made it through all her gatekeepers to speak with her directly. Once we connected, I was amazed at how warm, perceptive, and giving she was. She was the first one that showed me that you don’t have trade business acumen and idealism/passion for success.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app or software currently have? Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you’ve taken to build such a large community?

We’ve built this community by 1) having a very large presence in the academic world 2) creating tools for our users that makes communication visual, transparent and engaging 3) continuing to innovate and develop products across our platform that solve the problems our users face today.

What is your monetization model? How do you monetize your community of users? Have you considered other monetization options? Why did you not use those?

Prezi is free for anyone to use, with subscriptions that users can pay for to unlock additional features and to make their presentations private.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful app or a SAAS? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Build something meaningful and impactful.Prezi has changed the way people present and communicate information.
  2. Create a culture that you want to be a part of. Prezi is built on communication, creativity, and inclusion. In order to sustain that through the years, it’s important to pick the right people who can help you live your culture in your daily life.
  3. Your customers. Together, with our users, we have been able to create the largest world’s largest library of visual stories. Not only are they advocates for the brand, but they are also real people telling real stories in a compelling visual way — that is the most powerful kind of communication in its purest form.
  4. Take risks and set big goals. If I didn’t risk spending the last of my money on a flight to New York, we would have never been funded by TED.
  5. Keep innovating! We are constantly faced with new challenges on a daily basis. Tapping into the problems of today will lead you to developing new products that solve real problems for many people.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

In a world of increasing polarity and decreasing curiosity, I’d like to see people to take the effort to understand each other better — by recognizing their shared humanity — and not focusing only on their differences. #WeHaveMoreInCommon

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Twitter & LinkedIn:

Twitter: @peterarvai


This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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