Brno success stories: ZONER software – Photography love brand

Vlastimil Veselý

Many of us use photo applications for processing photographs on our home computers. The Czech market is one of the few exceptions where the global king – Adobe – is not the leader. More users prefer Zoner software and it is so for thousands of others across the world, too.

In total there are 10 million installed Zoner products and 35 thousand paying subscribers. The Brno based company with over 100 employees (most of them in Brno) is doing business far beyond software for photographers and currently generates almost USD 10 million.

I spoke with Milan Behro, CEO, founder, and the only owner, about the ups and downs of doing business from Brno and the key factors of their success. His interview is the 13th in a series with the personalities behind notable Brno companies that operate internationally.

The story started in 1993, four years after the Velvet Revolution, when two guys from Brno founded the company developing a graphic editor. Meeting a Japanese partner meant changing the strategic direction towards digital photography. The company enjoys a large user base in the US, Germany, Japan, UK and Spanish speaking countries around the globe, with a physical presence in Tokyo, Osaka (where Milan’s brother lives), Bratislava and Budapest. In 2004, Zoner Photo Studio (ZPS), the current flagship, was launched and gained tremendous popularity including Czech schools. 50% of the revenues still come from the local market.

Four divisions

Nowadays ZPS is the most complex tool for processing digital photographs, the successful alternative to globally popular Photoshop or Lightroom. Its business model is based on SaaS (software as a service) subscriptions. The portfolio of Zoner apps for photographers keeps growing — Zonerama photo gallery with 200,000 users and the ability to process 4K videos, cloud services or an online magazine with video guides and tutorials.

The photo software carries the company brand and is the most visible part of the business, however in financial terms it is the smallest division of the organisation. The main driver is the division founded in 1996 which is focused on internet domain registration, webhosting and cloud services representing over one third of the company’s turnover. It operates on the Czech market only and as a top 5 provider has 120,000 registrations on 700+ top level domains.

The third division and business line represents the publishing house which was founded in 2006. It covers books and guides mostly on personal computing and photography. It enjoys the advantage of its own distribution structure used also by third party publishers.

The newest child founded in 2015 focuses on internet security (certificates, antivirus protection). It has become the leader on the Czech market and a top 3 commercial certification authority for Europe, Middle East and Africa regions offering services in eight languages.

Every new business area always brought synergy and new business opportunities. All divisions are completely independent units sharing only the brand, physical infrastructure and administration. As a whole it is able to compete with the global leaders like Adobe or Symantec and attract customers like Škoda Auto, Y Soft or banking institutions.

Brno is on the crossroad

“Brno is an ideal city for doing technology business on a growing trajectory. It is situated within a short driving distance from Prague, Bratislava and Vienna, but still close to the countryside when one needs to drop out from the buzz,” Milan highlighted. Ideal size, superb city transport and secure streets for a night life or kids, could be the attractors for talents thinking of moving here.

On the other hand our non-capital city has less cultural events and the trouble with the missing part of the highway to Vienna airport. As more and more international corporations come here they drain the best managers and experts. Milan has the advantage to be able to compare. When turning fifty he started to commute between Prague and Brno and share his time between both cities.

Zoner used to have an office in Silicon Valley for three years, but left the place due to the extremely high cost for people, accommodation and business space. The US office is currently in Florida and Milan turned his attention to opening an office in another large market – China. The intention has been stopped by Covid, however it may be already the right time to resume.

The coronavirus pandemic did not affect Zoner business much. People had more time to process their digital content and the plan for 10% growth is well on its way. With no need for external capital the company faces a new challenge — a tool for editing users’ videos.

Milan Behro is one of two of the company’s original co-founders. He is currently chairman of the board of directors and is engaged in strategic planning, determining the direction of the company. At the same time, he works as a leader of the Internet division.

Zoner Software in numbers

Turnover (in mil CZK)181199219
EBITDA (in mil CZK)263135
Employees worldwide6970110