When Ryan Hamilton and Bret Faber started a wholesale toy company in Ohio three years ago, they decided to present their wares differently. "I spent a lot of time in corporate America being subjected to PowerPoints, so I wanted to steer clear," said Hamilton, the company's president and CEO.
Previously the company, Geared for Imagination, had been selling imported toys that were hard to get in the United States, it pivoted to create American-made, eco-friendly toys. Tapping the manufacturing capacity in the founders' native Ohio, they created a wooden toy with lots of possibilities for play, combination and decoration, and created a stand-alone website—and line of animal toys—called Topozoo.
To debut the new product, they needed a presentation for multiple audiences and across different platforms—they wanted it to appear on the website, but also work for demonstrations at trade shows. Hamiton discovered Prezi.
Prezi isn't just PowerPoint 2.0. Its starting canvas is huge, which allows users drag and drop pictures and words into a browser-like screen that can be navigated in multiple ways—making using it less linear than PowerPoint. Instead, it's more of a visual quest, or journey.
"You can zoom into parts of the presentation and tell stories, and zoom in on details which let people grasp relationships," said Peter Arvai, CEO of Prezi. "It is a fun way of exploring information and knowledge. Additionally, you can embed YouTube and other videos, and several people can collaborate to create one Prezi."
Hamilton said "Prezi's rotations and panning in and out grab people's attention more than dissolving, swiping or standard transitions on slides." Arvai added "The way the ancient Greeks memorized speeches was by laying things out in a room or location. The movement helps people remember and understand information more effectively."
Hamilton created his Prezi, then captured his screen via CamStudio software, added a voice-over and embedded a web version via YouTube. Hamilton said that while he's not a production designer, he didn't find much trouble doing this.
"I create a 'wireframe' so I know where I'll lay items out, to keep things concise and not have the screen moving all over the place," Hamilton said.
The Prezi has since found a third purpose: Faber is using it to train the independent sales reps who help sell their product. The team has used the Prezi to pitch and win shelf space at Whole Foods and the Smithsonian museum.
"We've also used the video of our Prezi on Amazon," said Hamilton. "Its one of our bigger customers, and they told us that using video gives a 20-30% lift in sales of an item. People like to see a video within the images section of the product. So we use this video to provide more direct communication with customers."
And, a bit of breaking news: Prezi has just surpassed 10 million users. The company is announcing a PowerPoint import tool that works with PPT and PPTX files from both desktop and Web-based versions of their software. Users can view Prezis online, via computer or iPad, or take them offline with a subscription.
The company runs on a "Freemium" model, where public Prezis are available at no charge, but tools like storage, private Prezis and offline access can cost from $59 to $159 per year. Prezi closed $14 million in Series B financing led by Accel Partners in December 2011 and had a previous investment from The Sapling Foundation, owner of the TED conferences.