Know your why: Building a company is hard. Things get tough and we all get tested. In those moments, having a clear and strong why keeps us going. For example, when we faced product and engineering deadlines for prezent.ai. We always remember we are here to help millions of busy professionals save time and make their ideas shine. The customer feedback reminds us of our why and keeps us going.
The telephone totally revolutionized the way we could communicate with people all over the world. But then came email and took it to the next level. And then came text messaging. And then came video calls. And so on…What’s next? What’s just around the corner?
In this interview series, called ‘The Future Of Communication Technology’ we are interviewing leaders of tech or telecom companies who are helping to develop emerging communication technologies and the next generation of how we communicate and connect with each other.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rajat Mishra.
Rajat is a senior tech-executive turned entrepreneur on a mission to automate presentations and democratize business communication.
He is the founder and CEO of prezent.ai, the presentation productivity platform for enterprise teams. Individuals can now create hyper-personalized presentations in a fraction of the time. Teams can distribute standardized content instantly.
He serves as President of PREZENTIUM, a full-service presentation services company that specializes in designer quality presentations overnight for a fraction of the price of agencies. They have built 1M+ slides, 50K+ presentations and serve 50+ Fortune 1000 companies at scale.
He is also the executive producer of the “Think Deeply. Speak Simply” podcast. A show about the art and science of business communication. And, how everyday leaders can accelerate their careers with great communication.
Prior to prezent.ai, Rajat was a Senior Vice President at Cisco Systems where he had P&L responsibility for Cisco’s 14B dollars CX business, led a 1000+ person team and was responsible for the Strategy, Product Management and Marketing functions. Rajat has been named to Wharton Business School’s “40 under 40”, Silicon Valley Business Journal’s “40 under 40” and Cisco’s Amazing People. He holds two patents in AI and software automation.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, 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?
Hello, thank you for having me! My name is Rajat Mishra, CEO and founder of prezent.ai. If I had to choose a word that captures my life, it would be gratitude.
I grew up in a middle-class family in India. We were not rich, but we were happy. My dad had a blue scooter. My mom would sit in the back, my brother between my mom and dad. I would stand in front. Only when I became tall enough that my dad could not see, we bought a used car.
I had the opportunity to study at IIT Delhi which gave me the chance to join the Microsoft team in Redmond. I came to the USA in 2001 with 800 dollars in my pocket.
I have had the chance to live in Silicon Valley, work in the tech field, and be blessed with a loving family and friends. Life has exceeded my wildest dreams — I am so grateful.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
When I first started my career, I was given the opportunity to interview, and eventually work, for Microsoft. The interview was in a 5-star hotel in Mumbai. I had never been in a 5-star hotel before. I was so enamored with the glass elevator and instead of preparing for the interview, I spent an hour going up and down that elevator. Then when I got to the room, I saw the bathtub. And, I had never been in a bathtub, so I spent another hour taking a bath. Afterwards, I realized I did not have enough time to prepare for the interview. So, I picked one question to practice: “How to reverse a linked list?”.
The next day, all 3 interviewers asked me the same question that I practiced. Even after I told them other interviewers had asked the same question.
That was luck. I believe in fate and that God has a plan. I was destined to join the Microsoft team and my life in the USA unfolded from there.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.”
Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces
I have always followed the soft voice of my intuition, even when it has taken me down unconventional paths. These choices have been my own. And, that has served me well.
I left McKinsey & Company, while on the partner track to join a startup called Mu Sigma to learn about data science. I left a senior executive position at Cisco to build prezent.ai.
Our greatest regrets are regrets of omission. Not the things we did but the things we did not do. The paths not taken. I hope building my own path leads to a life of less regrets.
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 about that?
Deepti, my wife — my best-friend, business partner and my inspiration.
When Deepti and I decided to start a company that helps busy business professionals with presentations, we both had great roles in Fortune 500 companies. We realized that one of us should test the market and learn more about the customer before we went all-in.
I remember we were in the kitchen in Burlingame when I asked Deepti to quit her job and start PREZENTIUM. She courageously agreed to do so when our daughter Deeya was 6 months old.
She grew PREZENTIUM into a thriving business and we learned a lot about customers and presentations in the process. If she did not have the courage to start PREZENTIUM and the tenacity to build the thriving company it is now, I would not have been able to leave my role at Cisco and pursue a dream of building and scaling our company.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Deepti and I always wanted to start a business with a double bottom line, combining business and social responsibility. We believe everyone deserves a fair chance to bring their ideas to life. At PREZENTIUM, we have a program called Presentations with Heart where we donate 1 dollar to a children’s charity for every slide we make.
We have three main giving partners:
- No Kid Hungry is a nonprofit combating child hunger in the United States. I am on the Leadership Council and we have raised over 250,000 dollars for them in the last year.
- Sonia Nabeta Foundation is a nonprofit for kids with Type 1 Diabetes in Uganda. My wife Deepti is on the advisory board and we are helping to build a medical campus for kids in Uganda and neighboring countries.
- The Adruta Children’s Home was established to give a home to unclaimed and parentless children in Odisha, India where about 44% of the population live below the poverty line. I am on the advisory board.
Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about the cutting edge communication tech that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?
We created prezent.ai for enterprise teams with the goal of increasing presentation productivity. It’s the only AI-powered platform that supercharges presentation productivity of teams by combining audience empathy, business understanding and design.
The current manual processes, inadequate training and lack of cost-effective alternates has created multiple points of friction in business presentations. Because of this, we have built a one-stop solution for all business presentation needs for the modern enterprise, tackling the final frontier of business communication.
Deepti and I believe everyone deserves a fair chance to bring their ideas to life. Our mission is to automate presentations and democratize great communication.
Individuals can create hyper-personalized presentations in a fraction of the time. And, teams can standardize content and distribute presentations instantly.
How do you think this might change the world?
Busy business professionals spend 6–8 hours per week or ~30B hours per year laboring through presentations. Teams also find it difficult to standardize content, distribute presentations and establish a common language.
At prezent.ai, we want to cut that time in half to allow for more productivity throughout the day. Individuals can now sparkle with well-structured, hyper-personalized and company-branded presentations in a fraction of the time they spent on creating presentations earlier.
Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?
Prezent.ai helps you hyper-personalize communication to your audience. It codifies empathy. We are still in early stages. But one can imagine if hyper-personalization reaches extreme levels, people can use the software to not just convince but manipulate people.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?
Prezent.ai has been an idea many years in the making. It really has been little nudges and gradual insights that have brought us here. No watershed moment.
- Through the 50K+ presentations built at PREZENTIUM we learned customer needs.
- From the careful analysis of the meta data of 1M+ slides, we built out AI.
- From 6 months of prototyping and editing we learned what customers liked.
There have been hundreds of tiny “tipping points” and the willingness to learn from them.
What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?
A lot of it is quality execution by us, the prezent.ai team. Our early customers love the product and the value-proposition is clear. We need to execute well, continue to listen to our customers and continue to win over one customer at a time.
The pandemic has changed so many things about the way we behave. One of them, of course, is how we work and how we communicate in our work. How do you think your innovation might be able to address the new needs that have arisen as a result of the pandemic?
Since the pandemic hit, there has been a huge increase in the hybrid and remote workforce and we need more compelling ways to communicate with each other. When you are communicating with someone at home over Zoom, you are competing for their attention with emails, Slack, and all of the other countless notifications.
So, a clear visual hyper-personalized communication strategy will be critical in the post-COVID world.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Know your why: Building a company is hard. Things get tough and we all get tested. In those moments, having a clear and strong why keeps us going. For example, when we faced product and engineering deadlines for prezent.ai. We always remember we are here to help millions of busy professionals save time and make their ideas shine. The customer feedback reminds us of our why and keeps us going.
- Not work-life balance but work-life harmony: Balance implies take from something and give to something else. Harmony means work and life feed off each other and each gets stronger. For example, as a founder and a dad, there are not two distinct parts of my life. We talk about four kids in our family. My son (10) and daughter (6) and the two companies, PREZENTIUM (5) and prezent.ai (1). Our kids know when we are on customer calls and they have ideas about how to make the business better.
- Think BIG: Every founder and business owner works hard. It takes a lot of effort to get a business — small or big — moving. So, you might as well think big. Thinking big forces us to think about setting up a model that will scale. It also inspires others to join you on the broader mission. For example, we are building an AI engine that helps not just large enterprises but with small tweaks can serve small companies, academic institutions and individuals as well.
- When you hire, prioritize values over expertise: In the pace of a startup, it is tempting to hire someone with the right skill-set to get the job done. That is a mistake. Your company is going to pivot and change, so expertise won’t take you far. You will also have more fun with people who share your values. For example, we made a hire for expertise because we were in a pinch. I did feel like the values-fit was poor but I made the hiring decision anyway. That turned out to be a huge mistake. And, after 3–4 weeks of issues, we had to part ways. Lots of wasted time and energy.
- Patient with Strategy; Impatient with Execution: Some decisions in a startup impact strategy and are hard to reverse (e.g., fund-raising, architecture). While others are easier to change (E.g., product UI). Go slow with the former and faster with the latter.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire 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. 🙂
Giving back should be an obligation of companies, not an optional choice. If we can have companies donate 1% — 5% to good causes, it would make a world of difference.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can connect with or follow my LinkedIn profile — we post content regularly.
You can also email me at [email protected]
Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.