Executive Spotlight: Peter Arvai, Prezi CEO and Co-Founder, Wants to Help You Share Your World-Changing Ideas

Peter Arvai, CEO and co-founder of the presentation software program Prezi, is of Hungarian descent; however, he was born and raised in Sweden, and has lived on three continents throughout his life. This multicultural upbringing really sets the stage for his life’s work and great accomplishments. “I was always interested in exploring cultures and building bridges where I could,” Peter told Smallbiztechnology. Today, with Prezi being used on three continents, he has certainly achieved that goal.

Before Prezi, Peter was involved in building two different companies. Long before the iPhone came along, he helped develop one of the world’s first mobile newsreaders, which enabled people to watch TED Talks on their mobile phone. Peter’s second venture was the website Omvard.se. This Swedish website allowed people to compare the quality of hospitals and find the right hospital for them. Among the many happy users of this website is Peter’s own mother.

Prezi Co-Founders

Prezi itself was co-founded by Peter and two others, who all met while working on different past projects. Peter met co-founder Peter Halascy (whom they call “HP”) while working on the mobile newsreader. HP joined the project and contributed natural language processing technology that was eventually added to the newsreader software. Years later HP met Adam Somlai-Fischer who was working on a zooming software. HP and Adam were interested in bringing it to the public but, not having built a product or company on their own, they came to Peter for advice. Peter flew to Hungary, intending on just having a small chat to share his expertise. He ended up becoming so inspired by the idea that he convinced HP and Adam to quit their full-time jobs and instead devote all their energy to developing the Prezi concept.

Turning Passion Into Power

Peter’s quick change in attitude – his sudden passionate belief in Prezi – is an interesting story in and of itself, because it was sparked by something more than HP and Adam’s great ideas. On the initial trip to Hungary, Peter’s uncle picked him up from the airport. During the car ride, Peter’s uncle talked discouragingly about the future of Hungary, saying that young people don’t have any hope in Hungary and that nothing good will come out of the country. Having lived in Hungary through socialism and a difficult transition to democracy that began in 1989, you can imagine his uncle’s jaded perspective. But one person’s hopelessness can become another person’s fire. As Peter told Small Biz Technology:

“By the time I got out of the car, I was fuming. I thought about how important it was to show positive role models of entrepreneurship who had their starts in Hungary. So when I sat down for dinner that night, I happily declared that I was starting a company in Hungary; I wanted to be a part of founding Prezi. The conversation with my uncle helped provide a deeper sense of purpose that’s still with me today.”

The Beginning Of Prezi

And so Prezi began to take shape, with each cofounder making unique contributions that eventually made it the success it is today. Adam designed the original prototype, which was used initially by HP (a professor at Budapest University), whose presentations created an initial buzz about the product, requiring Peter’s business/product development expertise to make it a reality. They quit their jobs and came together to work on Prezi full time.  After plenty of hard work, in 2009 the free online Prezi website was launched with extra paid upgrades, inspiring users around the world to look at presentations in a whole new way.

But no business startup is really THAT easy, and there were definitely bumps in the road. One initial difficulty was the fact that Prezi upgrades were paid in Euros, which discouraged U.S. clients and required them to revamp the system so they could switch to dollars. And as the company continues to expand globally, there are increasing complexities of running the business. Since Prezi is used on three continents, their team of just over 130 employees has to collaborate from offices in San Francisco, Budapest and Korea.

Taking Pride in the Success of Others

Prezi’s success has quickly brought forth success for many other people and businesses – and when asked about his proudest moment, Peter said that it is the success of others that brings him the most pride. Just a few weeks after its launch, Peter and his cofounders began to receive rave reviews via email. One email came from a history teacher who told them that with Prezi she could finally explain industrialization in a way that made sense to her students. Other emails came from job seekers who landed jobs with the help of Prezi. Also, recently Prezi was used by Korean presidential candidates, and in February, 2013 U2 front man Bono used Prezi to promote his non-profit, the One Campaign. As Peter told Small Biz Technology, “These moments are hard to rank, but it makes our everyday work meaningful and I am very proud every time it happens.”

Prezi for Small Businesses

Businesses in the U.S. have already seen great success with Prezi. Recently we featured the company Geared for Imagination who convinced Whole Foods and the Smithsonian to sell their products using Prezi. The chemical company Chemtura equips its sales team with iPads and the Prezi iPad app so they can pitch to clients on the spot and demonstrate how the company differs from its competitors. Finally, Artiphon, an upcoming company that is developing an iPhone-powered musical instrument, uses Prezi to map ideas with team members from different states.

Peter’s Advice To Business Owners

When asked if he had any advice for other business owners, Peter talked about the importance of having a sense of purpose and being creative. “The idea of being involved with a start-up is the latest rage. But, you have to be rooted in something deeper in order to build a long term culture,” he said. He also talked about the need to keep adapting your product to the ever-changing world. “The world is going to keep changing and Prezi will keep innovating according to the world’s needs and new technology requirements. [We] feel strongly about helping people share their world-changing ideas, and we’ll always keep improving to this end.”

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Jennifer Peaslee

Jennifer has a Masters in Sociology from the University of Notre Dame. She is currently working as a freelance writer, editor, blogger and researcher.

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