#GROWTHSTORY How Prezi is Building the Future of Digital Storytelling
If someone told you they are building a product to challenge the top three tech companies in the world – Microsoft, Apple, and Google – you’d probably think they are crazy. Yet, Prezi did just that and succeeded. With over 85 million users on its cloud presentation platform, the Hungarian company is revolutionizing the way people communicate their ideas. In this post, we’ll dissect the company’s growth strategy.
The company’s value proposition is simple: Prezi offers a better way to tell stories and share ideas. It provides both presenters and their audience with a more unique, compelling, and engaging experience.
This is the moment
From personal tool to a SaaS platform
The idea for Prezi came about in 2007 in an attempt, as is often the case with startups, to scratch your own itch. Adam Somlai-Fischer, a visual artist, was struggling to showcase his art pieces with PowerPoint presentations, so he coded up a simple presentation with a kind of “zoomable canvas,” which enabled him to explore the “big picture” overview of his ideas, and then zoom into the details of individual projects.
When Péter Halácsy, then-university professor and current CTO, attended one of Adam’s presentations, he saw the potential in this presentation “code” and proposed to collaborate. The duo was tinkering with the code in their spare time without having a clear vision for what they wanted to accomplish.
Prezi co-founders: Péter Halácsy, Peter Arvai, and Adam Somlai-Fischer
The defining moment came when they were joined by a successful entrepreneur and current CEO Peter Arvai, who realized the concept had a future as a cloud software platform with a global reach. The three founded Prezi in 2009 and went on to disrupt the world of presentation software long dominated by Microsoft PowerPoint.
Prezi founders story
Driving growth through virality
Prezi from the early days enjoyed two types of virality – what Josh Elman of Greylock defines as word-of-mouth virality and demonstration virality.
With word-of-mouth virality, people have a great experience with Prezi and tell their friends or colleagues about the product.
Demonstration virality stems from the nature of the product. Whenever somebody delivers a presentation with Prezi, they are showcasing the product at the same time. The “wow” factor when people see a prezi for the first time has been a major contributor to user signups.
The best Prezi presentation ever
Virality helped Prezi get launched and funded. Peter Arvai was pitching the product for the first time at the TNW Conference in Amsterdam in 2009, and while Prezi only came in second in the startup contest, the audience loved the software, and word about the new presentation tool started spreading.
Shortly thereafter, the company received an investment from TED, its first-ever investment in a startup, as the organizer of global conferences recognized the nascent power of Prezi’s visualization and storytelling tool to change the way people present information.
In fact, the company that earlier had trouble convincing investors of the idea started getting lots of inbound interest from VCs who saw startup pitches delivered in a prezi format.
Today, Prezi has the world’s largest database of presentations with over 300 million prezis available on its site, and its content library is growing in a hockey-stick pattern.
With nearly 300,000 new prezis published each day, there is a massive amount of user generated content that spills out into the market, organically driving new users to the site.
Cementing presence in key verticals
As a visual storytelling alternative to traditional slide-based presentation formats, Prezi appeals to diverse categories of users.
Building a “Trojan horse” in the education market
One of the verticals that Prezi targeted early on was academia. The company banked on the students’ desire to try a new and innovative alternative to a jaded Microsoft PowerPoint, and it was right. The product was also well received by the faculty, who loved how the product’s interactive nature helped them convey the material in a more memorable and engaging way.
The company’s focus on the educational market was far-sighted. The company understood that the students joining the workforce upon graduation could become their Trojan horse that would help it break into the office environment and challenge Microsoft’s hegemony.
Becoming a staple at conferences and corporate events
The platform’s unique visual storytelling capabilities have made it a popular choice for speakers at large corporate meetups organized by the likes of IBM and Lufthansa and at conferences, such as TED and SXSW. These venues provide the company with a perfect opportunity to gain visibility in front of a large audience.
Why have world’s best storytellers been using Prezi to share their ideas?
One of the reasons why Prezi’s product has been so successful is because it allows for “conversational presenting”. The term was coined by Prezi to describe the ability for the presenter to move freely between topics using zoomable canvas and adapt on the fly, without having to flip through slides. That way, presenters can focus on what interests their audiences most and make conversations more engaging and effective.
What’s more, Prezi’s infinite canvas helps the audience better understand and remember ideas by playing on the fact that our spatial memory is stronger than our semantic memory.
Taking a grassroots approach in the enterprise market
Prezi had targeted business since the beginning with multiple use cases. Whether it is selling products, training employees, or publishing marketing content, Salesforce, Vodafone, Bloomberg and a number of other companies achieved tangible success when using Prezi, building a positive reputation for the company.
The company has doubled down its efforts to woo enterprise clients with last year’s launch of Prezi Business, aimed specifically at modern businesses that are more likely to collaborate and develop presentations as teams.
The new product combines Prezi’s core offering with business-focused features, such as co-editing and commenting, virtual meeting room for hosting remote presentations, Slack integration, and real-time analytics that let presenters see how their content performed after it is shared.
In trying to become the go-to choice for creative business presentations, Prezi is going head to head with Microsoft PowerPoint, Apple Keynote, and Google Slides, not to name a host of smaller players. How can it win this battle?
To ramp up its presence in the workplace, the company is harnessing the power of workplace consumerization. As part of this strategy, it is looking to capitalize on the generation of millennials who have used Prezi while they were students and have moved into the professional world, bringing with them expectations for collaborative tools and more visual and conversational way to present.
In this regard, Prezi is looking to emulate Slack which has seen the adoption of its software trickle down into the office over time through bottom-up adoption by enthusiastic users. And given the collaborative nature of Prezi Business, the company should also benefit from network effects, making it more interesting for new users to adopt it as the number of people using Prezi within the company grows.
Scaling through affiliate marketing
Prezi augments its organic growth in key verticals with affiliate marketing efforts.
To amplify its on-campus success, Prezi instituted the Ambassador Program and recruited student leaders in universities in 33 countries to evangelize the product among the rest of the student body. The program represents a win-win situation, providing students with valuable marketing and agile startup experience, with some of this talent pool eventually joining the Prezi team.
To scale its presence in the public speaking market and among business professionals, Prezi put in place the Prezi Experts Program, where it curates and manages an international community of independent experts, who lead corporate training for Fortune 500 businesses or who design templates and presentations for keynote speakers.
Freemium model with a privacy-based pricing strategy
Prezi uses the freemium model, so users can have the basic product for free but can upgrade to more features for a monthly fee.
In a market, where clients are already paying money for existing solutions – Microsoft Office package or the Keynote app for Mac users – Prezi needed a smart pricing strategy to entice users switch to its product.
Prezi has several pricing tiers. The main feature that marks the transition from a free to a paid plan is private storage: the company forces non-paying customers using its Basic license to share all their presentations.
Customers who pay for a Standard, Plus, or Premium license can control their presentations’ privacy settings and have access to a number of other features, including unlimited storage, offline editing, and real-time analytics. All paid versions have a 30-day free trial.
Prezi’s pricing strategy has worked well, as evidenced by the fact that the company has been cash flow positive from the very beginning.
Evolving the core product
With Microsoft adding zoom and other features to PowerPoint, Prezi is always working to refine and evolve the core product in order to maintain the innovative edge. Its recent announcements demonstrate how Prezi is pushing the envelope on the presentation market.
In 2017, Prezi introduced a new full-lifecycle presentation platform called Prezi Next that builds on the original Prezi product that incorporates a more intuitive editor with customizable designer templates and provides analytics features which allow users to track progress with their audiences all the way through the funnel.
Prezi also announced that Prezi AR, an augmented reality presentation model that gives users the opportunity to add images, filters, and video to their video stream, will be available by the end of 2017. Think of a weatherman presenting a weather map with special effects on television but with all capabilities embedded in the product. It previewed the technology at a TED talk in Vancouver.
Data visualization capabilities
In 2017, Prezi expanded its data visualization capabilities with the purchase of Infogram, its first ever acquisition. The Latvian company with around 3 million registered users specializes in charts and infographics and will enhance the Prezi platform’s storytelling functionality.
Growth hacking user activation
With a product that has strong viral dynamics, Prezi is seeing massive traffic at the top of the funnel. The problem that the company’s growth team tackled was activation, which the company defines as having entered the prezi editor and produced a prezi worthy of sharing with others (“first show”).
Prezi is not a super simple tool. It takes a few hours and sometimes even days to learn how to use it. How can the company make it easier for the user to make it through the activation funnel?
Offering instant copy and templates
While the product team was focused on making UX/UI changes in the editor and putting out video tutorials covering specific aspects of creating a prezi, the growth team focused on shortening the journey between acquisition and getting into the editor.
One of the approaches was to offer users an instant copy feature – ability to copy an existing prezi and open that copy for editing in one click. It also added the ability for users to choose from a template in order to help new users get to the core value of the product faster.
Removing friction from the editor entry process
In the old activation sequence, right after signup users were delivered to an account page and only from there they could enter editor.
The growth team saw an opportunity in bypassing the account page. Transforming editor entry process into a one-click action, the growth team placed a prezi CTA in the user welcome email and multiple places on the site, including the blog.
Finding new use cases
In order to drive activation, the growth team decided to break out of the presentation tool concept and find other use cases that would match the product’s feature set. In fact, the company started repositioning itself as a digital storytelling tool.
It made several attractive activity templates, such as Prezi Scrapbook and Prezi Presume, and packaged them as alternative uses of the product.
Besides giving users another template to work with, the added benefit was the ability to use it as a landing page and market it to new users outside those who were looking for PowerPoint alternatives.
Leveraging in-house analytics capabilities
The company invested into own analytics tools that enable it to follow 1-day cohorts all the way down the funnel. Ability to merge cookie id (pre-registration) with a user id (post-registration) provides Prezi with a seamless perspective on everything user does from their first exposure to the platform and enables it to observe effects of product changes downstream.
Tactful approach to international growth
Prezi is now being used in almost 200 countries around the world. In most cases, the adoption happens organically, and where appropriate, the company relies on Prezi experts to help establish presence in the local market.
Prezi’s approach to international growth has been measured. Aside from making the product available in multiple languages, Prezi deliberately avoids localizing its software for a specific geography in order to avoid distraction that would be caused by the need to maintain locally-relevant features.
Key takeaways from Prezi’s growth journey
- Prezi’s growth has been primarily organically driven, relying on word of mouth and demonstration virality.
- Ability to identify new use cases around the broader concept of digital storytelling is an important driver of user acquisition and engagement.
- With the launch of Prezi Business and the recent acquisition of Infogram, the company is targeting the enterprise market as the major source of growth going forward.
What’s next for Prezi?
Prezi has proved to the world that presentations can be exciting, fun, and creative.
The biggest challenge the company faces is to drive what Sarah Tavel of Greylock terms as growth of users completing a core action or, in this case, creating a prezi. Maintaining high engagement is particularly important for enterprise users, who are entrenched in an environment long dominated by slides and for whom the novelty of using a prezi format may wear off.
Why Engagement Matters to Investors
With an ambitious goal of unseating Microsoft, Prezi is looking to become new reference software for digital storytelling. The key will be to enable people to create presentations easier and faster.
And considering that the company’s product offering hasn’t even touched such areas as infographics or social networks, the future for Prezi looks exciting.
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