Elevating communications, uplifting interconnectivity
THE WASTED POTENTIAL OF POOR COMMUNICATIONS. Peter Arvai founded Prezi, a cloud-based presentation software company, with the premise of providing people with tools for telling engaging visual stories. “People care about good visual communication. If you work on communicating well, you have an improved chance of getting your idea across,” he says.
Interestingly, Prezi was not founded as a concerted solution to a market problem. When Peter created Prezi with two other co-founders, they just wanted to create access to visual tools for people who were not artists. “Over 100 million people started using the platform to make visuals for themselves, and the product gradually morphed into what it is today.”
It was hard convincing people that three guys from Budapest, Hungary starting out in the midst of the 2008 financial crisis could succeed. “We said we were going to take on Apple and Google with our software, and there was disbelief from everyone. So many things were stacked against us, but once we put out the first version of the software, things changed.”
There were little to no startups coming out of Hungary at the time, and no one wanted to finance their venture. Peter and his co-founders put in all their savings to put out the first version of Prezi. “We needed to make it work," said Peter. He presented the first version of Prezi at a startup conference, and when the moderator asked the audience how many would be willing to pay for their product, half of the audience raised their hands. “That’s when we knew we were on to something.”
MAKING A JOYFUL WORLD. For Peter, reconciling his gay identity and entrepreneurial spirit was a challenge growing up in a small Swedish town in the 80s. The only publicly gay people at that time were a comedian, a celebrity hairstylist, and a show host who eventually died of AIDS-related complications. He later realized that a kid growing up in today's Hungary might have surprisingly limited exposure to various LGBT role models as well.
Seeing the need for change, in 2015, Peter became the first visible and openly gay CEO in Central and Eastern Europe. When the Financial Times listed Peter in 2018 as the world's 3rd most influential LGBT business leader, he felt things had come full circle. "All of this was made possible thanks to the support of my straight co-founders and a supportive company. I hope our example will show young people in Europe that you can be LGBTQ and a business leader at the same time."
"There is tons more work to be done though," Peter says. He had been working over the past five years with NGO WeAreOpen to improve gender, sexual orientation and disability acceptance and diversity in the workplace. He points out that people still don’t trust the legal system to support them even when they face discrimination.
“Once people in Hungary realize that LGBT people exist in all families, and their struggles are not just some distant thing, they will be able to empathize.” It comes back down to the principles of Prezi, really: How can we engage with the larger community? Interconnectivity means exposing one’s vulnerabilities to each other, and that’s scary but a necessary component of society. “If we compartmentalize our authentic selves from others, nothing will ever change.”