Interview with Prezi CEO Jim Szafranski on the Pandemic's Impact on the American Education System

Yahoo! Finance

Prezi CEO Jim Szafranski joins Yahoo Finance’s On The Move panel to break down how the pandemic has challenged America's education system and impacted students ability to learn.

JULIE HYMAN: Let's talk to another company that has benefited from that trend. It's called Prezi. Jim Szafranski is the CEO. And he's joining us from San Francisco.

Prezi has 100 million users. And essentially what you all do is help people, as the name might indicate, present things as they are doing their online communications. A lot of your customers are in the education space. Talk us through how much you have grown while this has been going on and how your customers' needs have changed.

JIM SZAFRANSKI: Thanks, Julie. When the lockdowns happened globally, let's say, in April, what we've seen is of our users, over 50 million of them are in education, teachers and students. And immediately in April, we saw a newer product of ours called Prezi Video, which helps make products like Zoom more engaging, used in over 175 countries in April alone. And that-- you had asked about growth. What that led to is essentially a 40 times, 40X growth in a matter of days and weeks in the usage of this product.

And I think the reason that this is happening is, obviously, distance learning and the need for teachers to engage their communities and their students remotely. And the way Prezi works in that situation is that it actually allows a teacher to interact with their content and become more of like a newscaster or weather person, which you guys would be quite familiar with, the idea of having content and the teacher all on the screen in the same format at the same time.

AKIKO FUJITA: Jim, let me pick up on that point. You talked about the interaction between teachers and students. What we've heard increasingly over the last six months is that this is kind of that inflection point in education, where you're going to have to go beyond standard slides, just sort of the Zoom communication that's been happening, because this is where the future is headed. How have you thought about that in terms of how your company needs to evolve to make these courses more engaging, especially given that the remote learning is likely to stay, even past COVID?

JIM SZAFRANSKI: So the way we're trying to evolve with it is basically following the teachers. And we really believe that teachers are going to shape not just the future of learning, but the future of work. And the reason we feel like that is teachers are obviously extremely influential, right? We've all had the influential teacher in our lives, right? And they reach households, many students and other teachers.

And they have such an acute pain right now. Distance learning is so new to them. And they didn't have the tools, let's say, that businesses all had remote work tools for some portion of their population.

And so an example of where we really see this going and changing is Prezi was often used in a live situation. And we see teachers essentially mainstreaming recorded video in the coming months. And by doing that, it's going to allow them to have a broader reach, handle some of the flexibility required of distance learning, and ultimately let students learn at their own pace. So that recorded video, we believe, as we're seeing it in our user base, is going be a massive shift in the way teaching and the workplace is done.

BRIAN CHEUNG: Jim, it's Brian Cheung here. It seems like the use case is quite clear for how your technology could be helping many types of different applications in this time right now. But I've been asking a lot of other companies this as well, but have you had to scale up amid COVID? It seems like for a lot of companies, they were already aware of the shift to digital, but maybe had to scale up quite fast because of just how quickly this pandemic surprised all of us. Have you had to put a lot of investment into the company to get some of this infrastructure, some of this technology ready for use day-to-day?

JIM SZAFRANSKI: So we launched Prezi Videos-- we talked about, again, that really fits in this remote work and distance learning situation. We launched it in 2019. So we were a little ahead of the curve. Obviously, luck. It was a trend we were seeing.

And given that we've had a big Freemium model with a lot of users, we've been fortunate. We're certainly adding some capacity. But I wouldn't call it as an investment. It's essentially just incremental capacity to make sure we're taking care of the users we have. But we were in that fortunate position to have been out in front of COVID.

JULIE HYMAN: Jim, as you mentioned, you have a Freemium model, particularly when it comes to education. It's my understanding that your legacy product, as well as Prezi Video, is free to educators and students. So have you-- have you seen a lot of different customers then scale up to the more premium model? Or how do you make money from those folks?

JIM SZAFRANSKI: Yeah, well, the making money is good. And we also feel good that we're just here to help with the free product, too. The way our model works is essentially we give the educators, essentially, the business product for free.

And there are still some features in there that would allow educators to make even more use of it. And so we do have a version that they can charge. It's $3 to use it in a month. So we're not particularly trying to stick it, earn too much profits from, say, the teachers.

But what I will say is what we're seeing is the school districts, then, all the way up through higher ed start making use of it as a business tool. I'll give you an example. In higher ed, we're seeing so many universities now using it for outreach to students coming in, for parents on financial aid. And those seem more like business use cases. And that's the primary places where we're monetizing and earning revenue.

JULIE HYMAN: Jim Szafranski is CEO of Prezi. Thanks so much, Jim. Appreciate it.


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