Goodbye PowerPoint: Lunch with Prezi's Adam Somlai-Fischer
Professional Manager spoke to the Prezi co-founder about the origins of his company and how boring business presentations could soon be a thing of the pastMatthew Rock
This column usually recounts a lunch with a notable business leader. But this instalment would be more fairly entitled ‘A very rapid glass of water with… Adam Somlai-Fischer’.
The co-founder of Prezi proves the world’s top digital entrepreneurs don’t do anything so decadent as lunch. While I left hungry, I did get to learn about one of the hottest companies on the planet, one that’s on its way to becoming synonymous with business presentations.
Prezi was founded in Hungary in 2009. Its co-founders, including the creative impetus of Somlai-Fischer, imagined a future in which presentations comprised more than soul-sapping bullet points on standardised slides.
They envisioned the full artistic possibility of digital technology unleashed to create beautiful, memorable presentations. Somlai-Fischer brought the dream to life.
Today, Prezi is, by a distance, the world’s most popular cloud-based presentation app, with 250 million presentations on its database, and a fan club among the world’s rock-star entrepreneurs and TED Talkers.
Trained as an architect in Hungary, Somlai-Fischer grew disillusioned with that profession’s “square, pedagogical methods”. He moved to Sweden, where he felt free to search for the “poetry in high-tech”. He became a well-known media artist and started to master Prezi’s hallmark zooming technology.
We meet at The Betjeman Arms in St Pancras International Station. The mesh of intricate Victorian ironwork seems a ﬁtting backdrop to a conversation about how great design aids impact.
Somlai-Fischer is tanned, burly and friendly. He is every inch the digital entrepreneur.
The logo on his grey T-shirt asks ‘What does your story look like?’ He carries only an iPad.
In conversation, he switches easily from visual-memory science to the management challenges of moving from start-up to mature business.
Right now, Prezi is in serious growth mode. The company has 250 employees, based out of Budapest, San Francisco and a recently opened Mexico City oﬃce.
It has recently launched Prezi Business, which brings incredible collaborative power into presentation software. With it, you can build presentations with teams, wherever they are (no more confusion about who’s got the master deck).
Real-time analytics reveal who’s engaging most with your presentation while you’re giving it. And, notably, Prezi now integrates with Slack, the collaboration platform du jour.
With growth comes management challenges: hiring, incentivising and hanging onto the best talent; giving negative feedback; maintaining the founders’ vision and integrity in a company that’s maturing; introducing professional processes; and, at the same time, keeping the company sharp and self-critical.
The company has a strong, public set of shared values, which Somlai-Fischer calls “our living foundation”.
Before the company’s three founders launched the business, they spent two days in a Budapest café discussing life, values and the future. “We understood that, if we were going to be co-founders on this journey, it would be like a marriage,” Somlai-Fischer recalls.
Those values are revisited each year, discussed and, where necessary, rewritten.
To make sure colleagues have strong bonds of trust, new hires go through a “week-long conversation” with their prospective team. The process involves assessment days when they all practise working together, and making Prezi presentations.
Prezi is also innovating in performance reviews and how negative feedback is delivered. As well as having a review with their manager, employees also give peer feedback.
Start-ups and SMEs can sometimes be slapdash about what they see as boring operational and management obligations. Albeit at top speed, it was exciting to learn that, in such an exciting, upcoming business, quite the opposite is true.