Interview with Adam Somlai-Fischer, Prezi founder

As you already know, we love web startups. And everything about them. However, there are some startups which we like more than others. And Prezi is definitely one of them. The Hungarian startup, Prezi, was founded by Adam Somlai-Fischer, Peter Halacsy and Peter Arvai in 2009 in Budapest and represented a real revolution for business presentations. Later in 2009, Prezi received an investment from TED Conferences and Sunstone Capital.

As we are huge fans of Prezi, we decided to have a chat with Adam Somlai-Fischer, one of the 3 Prezi founders, and find out something more about the motivation behind Prezi and their road to success.

How To Web: Adam, you define yourself as an artist and you studied architecture. How did you get from architecture and design to Prezi?

Adam Somlai-Fischer: As an architect and artist, I always worked with innovation wich enables people to express themselves. We create interactive spaces, surfaces, experiences. So to me Prezi is really a continuation of all this. Its amazing for me to see how much creativity happens when people use Prezi.

HTW: How did you come up with the Prezi idea? Did it  start from PowerPoint problems you experienced and features you would have liked?

Adam Somlai-Fischer: The original idea in 2001 was really about creating something more spatial than slides, pages. Coming from architecture, I felt that we should use the immersive power of spaces when sharing information. Experimenting with this, I found that people really enjoy these zooming presentations. However, here the story stopped, I was happy using it alone. Luckily, in 2006, I met Peter Halacsy, my co-founder, who saw the potential but really wanted to create an easy to use editor for Prezi. And in 2008 Peter Arvai, our CEO joined and he propelled the whole idea into a fine business and product.

HTW: Some say that you need to be tech savvy in order to work with Prezi. Is there a learning curve for standard Internet users for using Prezi?

Adam Somlai-Fischer: People who have great ideas, great presentation to share are not necessarily tech savvy. So our aim is definitely to make it as simple as we can. It has much less buttons than ppt 🙂 For example, kids find it very intuitive to use. I think you just have to let go of your tried and tested (and maybe dusty) slide design habits.

HTW: This January you launched the Prezi application for iPad. What feedback did you get from users so far?

Adam Somlai-Fischer: Prezi works very intuitively on the iPad, since zooming around on a touch surface feels very good. We started with a very basic Prezi viewer and we are developing the application based on feedback from our users, learning from how, where they use it.

HTW: What are your main development plans for Prezi for 2011?

Adam Somlai-Fischer: Unfortunately, we can’t disclose our future plans.

HTW: As you know there are very few web startups coming from Eastern Europe and you are one of the few success stories we had during the last years. What do you think is the cause of this? What is Eastern Europe missing?

Adam Somlai-Fischer: I think the culture of entrepreneurship, teamwork, and commitment could be better. let me explain. for me, a true entrepreneur is a very intelligent and motivated person who loves to work with people and wants to change the world with them. power is a mean, not a goal. are most of the business owners you see here like this? sadly not. teamwork is not even educated in most school, more so its sometimes even punished (judging great teamwork is extra work for teachers, so they prefer just to grade individually). commitment is something where people don’t even think of excuses, if they promise something, it will happen, no matter what problems came. I think commitment is needed for any business, but sadly in our region the decades where businesses where prohibited left a bad mark. i think its changing, but it needs time.

HTW: What do you think we need to do in order to build a more active Eastern European web ecosystem?

Adam Somlai-Fischer: Meet more, exchange more, and not only meet at Western European events.  I think the mobility of workforce is great too, its crucial.

HTW: As far as I know Prezi has also got an office in San Francisco. How did it benefit Prezi so far and how was life in the Valley compared to life in the Budapest web ecosystem?

Adam Somlai-Fischer: Even though we keep our Budapest office for R&D, our main market is the US. People present even at the kindergarten there. It’s so much more present in the culture. We had to open our San Francisco office to be present in our main market, to understand it better, to grow with US employees, and of course to be close to the valley. The main difference I think is speed. Here, sometimes companies wait for months to meet, decide. There, even with large names, things happen in days. People focus more.

HTW: OK, Adam, thank you for the interview and we wish you great luck with Prezi’s development in the Valley!

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