LGBTQ+ Tech Innovator: Peter Arvai
August is Pride Month here in Copenhagen. And what better way to celebrate than by shining a spotlight on boundary-breaking LGBTQ+ tech innovators? Our hope is, that by sharing success stories of amazing individuals each week in August, we can help honor milestone achievements within the LGBTQ+ community and help bring attention to those who, too often, fly under the radar.
Last week, we celebrated the inspiring work of businesswoman, actor, and LGBTQ+ advocate, Angelica Ross.
Today, we’re diving into the life and career of Peter Arvai. Peter is the Executive Chairman, Co-founder, and previous CEO of Prezi; a Hungarian presentation software company that currently has over 100 million users and is home to the world’s largest library of presentations.
You may have already used Prezi at work or at school. As of April 2018, the software was host to more than 325 million public presentations, which altogether had been viewed over 3.5 billion times. So, chances are, you’ve come across a Prezi presentation or two at some point. But how much do you know about its co-founders?
Peter Arvai has worked incredibly hard to champion diversity and inclusion at Prezi since co-founding the company back in 2009. And his hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Last year, Peter made it onto the OUTstanding LGBT+ Role Model Lists, which recognized him as one of 100 executives across the world who are helping to make the workplace a more welcoming place for LGBTQ+ individuals.
So, how did Peter achieve success with Prezi? What does he have in mind for the company’s future? And why does he believe it’s important for LGBTQ+ leaders to be open with their sexuality in the workplace?
From boring and forgettable, to intuitive and interactive: how Prezi changed the future of presentations
It’s 2008. Three men, Peter Arvai, Adam Somlai-Fischer and Peter Halacsy, have recognized a problem with traditional slide-based presentations – they’re undeniably boring.
Reflecting on this point in Prezi’s history, Peter explained to entrepreneur.com:
“My co-founder Adam Somlai-Fischer was a renowned media artist, in addition to being an architect. He found slide-based presentations limiting for his art, so he designed an open, zoomable canvas to showcase his work. My other co-founder Peter Halácsy is a computer scientist and revolutionized the code, and I brought the product and user experience mindset.”
And so the blueprints for Prezi were created! The very next year, Peter managed to secure a meeting with Chris Anderson, the creator of TED Talks. TED hadn’t previously invested in another company – but things soon changed when Chris met with Prezi’s ambitious three-man team.
Before long, Peter and his co-founders had secured $1.5 million in investment from TED and Sunstone Capital in Copenhagen.
That was just over a decade ago. Since then, Prezi has gone from win to win, and now has over 100 million users. Research conducted by Harvard has also shown that Prezi is more engaging and persuasive than traditional presentations – so Peter and his team have certainly achieved what they set out to do all those years ago.
Peter’s achievements as an LGBTQ+ leader and advocate
Peter’s success in the tech sector is not limited to Prezi’s innovative and engaging software, however. He’s also achieved an incredible amount as an LGBTQ+ leader and advocate – and is still working hard to do even more for LGBTQ+ individuals in the workplace.
In 2010, Prezi became the first ever company to march in the Budapest Pride Parade. Talking to San Francisco Business Times in 2018, Peter described his first march with the company:
“I didn’t know what to expect. As I entered the march there were these big fences so that you could hermetically seal off the marchers. You had an empty spot in between and then you had sort of the extreme right on the other side. I would be lying if I didn’t say that that was a really scary march and in some ways it also made it clear to me how difficult it must be in that environment to be openly gay, to just receive so much hatred for who you are.”
In the decade since their first march, the team at Prezi has continued to work hard to cultivate an open, diverse and inclusive work environment.
In the same interview with San Francisco Business Times, Peter went on to explain why he chose to come out and be open with his sexuality at work, and why he believes it’s important that other LGBTQ+ leaders do the same:
“I think it’s an important way of indicating the type of culture you’re setting with the company and, whether it’s a sexuality or not, leaders can be open or closeted with their personal lives. It’s really worthwhile to be open and to share who you are with people if you’re wanting to develop authentic relationships, candid conversations, creativity.”
Co-founding WeAreOpen and encouraging diversity and inclusion in Hungary
While Peter is currently based in San Francisco and works out of Prezi’s California offices, the company was originally launched (and still has offices) in Budapest, Hungary.
Being openly LGBTQ+ is difficult in Hungary. While being gay is legal, same-sex couples don’t have the same rights as heterosexual couples. Even now, Arvai is one of a very limited number of openly gay leaders in the country.
But he wants to change this.
In 2013, Peter and the team at Prezi co-founded the NGO ‘WeAreOpen’ with espell and Google. ‘WeAreOpen’ was set up ‘with a clear idea of promoting and helping organizations understand and experience the benefits of openness at the workplace’.
Since its launch, over 1000 companies and organizations have publicly joined WeAreOpen. As a result, hundreds of well respected public figures have shared videos and stories on why being open is a good thing and something society should value.
While reflecting on the achievements of WeAreOpen while speaking to the Evening Standard last year, Peter said: “I am really grateful that teenagers growing up today struggling with accepting themselves for being gay, can see diverse role models who they can relate to”.
Growing up in Sweden, this wasn’t something that Peter himself had. He hopes that by changing this for future generations, he’s showing young LGBTQ+ individuals that it’s possible to be openly gay and have a successful career in technology.
What’s next for Prezi?
Last year, Peter told entrepreneur.com his ultimate goal for Prezi:
“We truly believe that everything great about humanity starts with people sharing ideas. Prezi is looking to improve how information is transmitted and understood – since visual understanding is much stronger – to help solve for a world with more information but less insight. This is incredibly important for all decision-making, from elections to cutting through social media distortion. The future of our digitally-anchored world depends on dialogue and understanding.”
And it goes without saying that Peter and his team will do all of this while promoting a diverse, inclusive, and open environment for their employees across the world.
What do you think of Peter’s story? And what are your predictions for the future of inclusivity in the tech sector? Let us know! And don’t forget to join us next week for another Pride Month special right here, on the Dixa blog.