Jim Szafranski never really wanted to become CEO; it was something that seemed to happen to him, rather than something he had deliberately made to happen. But it turns out he has a knack for it.
Szafranski took over visual communications company Prezi about eighteen months ago to chair a change of management, replacing founder Peter Arvai. Previously, the company had specialized in the design and presentation software, but has now turned his attention to video presentations.
Prezi had already started laying the groundwork for this change before the pandemic, but remote work saw demand soar for a service that could help people create and deliver professional virtual presentations. The company has set foot on gas and Prezi Video is now its flagship product.
As one of the main architects of the Prezi Video project and as a person who worked with the video conference titans (such as Microsoft and Google) in a previous life, Szafranski found himself next in line for the throne.
The right person for the job
Although he has now acclimated to the level and breadth of responsibilities that fall on a general manager, Szafranski said TechToSee Pro he sometimes found himself doubting his suitability for the role.
While he had always been a student of both business and technology, and had accumulated many years of experience at a managerial level, he was to some extent blinded by the opportunity when it presented itself.
“I love to learn, so I always tried to put myself in a position where I could learn from my surroundings and the people around me. And I kind of let the growth take care of itself, ”he explained.
“But when I joined Prezi, the plan wasn’t that I would ever take over from Peter. [Arvai] – It wasn’t even a discussion. The focus was on scaling the business and creating functions such as sales and marketing.
After consideration, Szafranski agreed to take the post, giving himself and Arvai three months to put the necessary measures in place. The best advice Szafranski received during this time, he says, was just to be himself and not emulate the archetypal CEO of the movies.
“Obviously, the board of directors and the former CEO have given careful thought to this issue and have chosen to elect me for this position. This advice was an important reminder to approach situations the same way I have always done; do what felt natural.
Fortunately, stepping into the role of CEO at Prezi didn’t require Szafranski to tear everything up and start over, as he had inherited the foundations of a healthy business. Its task is only to orient itself in a slightly different direction.
Virtual presentations, but different
Szafranski is often asked what makes Prezi Video different from traditional virtual presentation services. With words alone this question can be a bit difficult to answer, but the difference immediately becomes apparent when you see the product in action.
Prezi Video arises as a veneer above videoconferencing services (Zoom, Teams, Meet etc.), adding a layer of shine and interactivity which makes presentations much more appealing to the eye.
Unlike traditional screen sharing, which hides the video feed from presenters, users can bring content to the screen alongside them much like a news anchor. In turn, the presenter is able to see more of the other participants, which is supposed to help them read the room in the same way they might in person.
Prezi Video also allows users to interact with onscreen content in real time, making presentations smooth and polished. There is no longer a “next slide, please”; the presenter becomes more like a conductor.
According to Szafranksi, these attributes go a long way in solving the various issues that employees face since the transition to remote working, from video conferencing fatigue to feeling disconnected with coworkers.
“Ultimately, Prezi Video is all about creating a greater level of engagement,” he told us. “People are talking a lot about Zoom fatigue right now, but will always log off at night to watch a few hours of Netflix. Prezi brings TV-like engagement to your business.
Szafranski also sees products like Prezi Video playing a fundamental role as businesses emerge from the pandemic, creating a stronger sense of connection among meeting participants across multiple locations.
“The office was the great productivity hack, as it forced everyone into the same space at the same time. But we weren’t going back, ”he said.
“What definitely changed is that there will always be someone out of the room, and they were all going to have to figure out how to hold effective meetings under these conditions.”
Further on, Szafranksi envisions Prezi expanding into areas such as virtual reality, which could open up a whole new area of opportunity for interactivity, while again bringing everyone together in the same arena.
To look forward
As the world emerges from under the pandemic, which has brought about a period of extreme and unexpected growth for Prezi, Szafranski is thinking closely about how he can continue his momentum.
His first step, he explained, was to surround himself with a management team capable of putting his vision into action. For example, his new CTO is an expert in content ingestion, having cut his teeth in the Shutterstock image library, and Szafranski recently recruited a new SVP for product management to explore opportunities in immersive video and 3D.
These appointments were aimed at preparing the company for a change of gears. In addition to targeting SMBs and design departments, Szafranski says the goal now is to expand Prezi across the organization in some of the biggest companies on the planet.
However, an important question hangs over these ambitions: why don’t the video conferencing giants, with all their money and resources, come out and develop identical features? The warning signs are there; Microsoft recently rolled out a new reporter mode for Teams which allows users to appear in front of shared content.
But Szafranksi says copying Prezi is a lot harder than it looks. He describes the company’s intellectual property as a game engine (like Unity) rather than software.
“What Prezi does special is deliver content in a very spatial way, which creates much more interactive and layered experiences. And these qualities are certainly not trivial to recreate.
The alternative for the video conferencing giants, of course, would be an acquisition. When asked if he thought Microsoft or Zoom could get a hold of Prezi, Szafranski played him cool. It would be his responsibility to come up with all of these offers, he told us, but for now his efforts are entirely focused on steering Prezi in the right direction.