Monica Kade chats to Melanie Perkins, co-founder of Canva around her simple, collaborative and online design tool.
Meet Melanie Perkins, the co-founder of Canva. She’s determined, passionate, adventurous and only 27!
Canva assists SMEs with productivity by making it simple to “create anything for Web or print, such as social media posts, blog graphics, posters, invitations and more”.
The idea for Canva came about when Melanie was teaching graphic design programs, such as Photoshop and InDesign. “They were difficult to learn, and I realised that in the future design would be entirely different, that it would be online, simple, and collaborative,” she says.
To take this idea and turn it into a company was a “huge leap of faith” for Melanie as she “didn’t know anything about software development, hiring people, marketing, accounting, anything much at all”.
However, she says that the early experience gave her “faith” within herself “to get started anyway” and “trust” she would be able to learn everything as she went along.
From there she partnered with co-founder Cliff Obrecht, the pair launched Fusion Books, an online design tool that made it easy for students and teachers to create their own yearbooks.
They soon realised the technology they’d developed could be used much more broadly.
After searching far and wide, they launched Canva with tech co-founder Cameron Adams.
Canva launched in August 2012, and within the first month had more than 50,000 people sign up to use the platform.
Now, two years later they’ve grown to 4 million users. “It’s been incredibly popular particularly with marketers, bloggers, graphic designers and small businesses who need to create lots of visual content, and struggle with the existing tools. It’s been exciting to see it come together,” Melanie says.
Young and successful
Melanie describes being an entrepreneur as “an incredible path”. “It’s challenging, it’s a rollercoaster, it’s exhilarating” and it is her “dream job”.
“I get to work with the smartest people I have ever met, [I] get to invent [and] realise my vision.”
At 27, with some valuable experiences and knowledge under her belt, I wondered what her greatest advice for the entrepreneurial minds out there was?
“My biggest piece of advice for any entrepreneur is to solve a real problem. If you find a problem that people care about, then it will make every other aspect of running a business much easier,” Melanie says.
How does it feel to be a young and successful entrepreneur?
“I believe almost everything fits into two baskets: things I can change and things I can’t.”
“Getting Canva off the ground has been difficult and taken a long time, more than eight years,” she says.
“It was difficult starting our first company, Fusion Books and bootstrapping it to profitability, it was difficult getting investors to invest, it was difficult building a team and building our product.
“In fact every stage has been incredible challenging, but an incredible adventure.”
Melanie says that she was raising investment, every time she left a pitch she would go through all the factors that made the pitch successful or why she was rejected.
“When I was rejected, I would always see ways I could improve my pitch,” she says.
“I would go home and revise my pitch, explain the market better, articulate the problem we were solving in more detail, spend more time explaining an aspect of our vision.
“Age never really came into it, at least it never crossed my mind as a factor that would influence this.
“When I have a goal I see the mountains that I need to conquer, whether it’s solving a problem, finding an incredible team or building a product that people will love. Nothing else has ever come into the equation.
“Every challenge fits into two baskets. Things I can change and things I can’t. I believe almost everything fits into the first basket and don’t bother worrying about the second basket.”
“We’ve grown to 4 million users now and are a daily tool for many social media marketers, bloggers and small business owners.”
“We want to enable people to take their idea and turn it into a design with as little friction as humanly possible. Traditional desktop design software is hard to learn and use. Canva makes it simple for everyone to take an idea and turn it into a beautiful design for Web and print.”
The driving factor
Having a problem that you know you can solve is a driving factor (and recurring theme) for this young woman.
Melanie tells me, having a problem that she believes “should be solved” has been “strong motivation to continue” even when she felt she was “going against the grain”.
“We are so fortunate to have an incredible team, she says.
“Creating, inventing, building and solving problems with a group of motivated and passionate people is ridiculously fun.
“The support we have had from Canva users around the world is also a great motivation to continue building out our vision.”
Canva has taken Melanie nine years from the birth of her idea to reach today’s success and she remains very humble.
“In just over two years, we’ve grown to 4.5 million users. It’s crazy to think that over two designs are created every second,” she says.
I feel very fortunate when I think about the incredible team that I get to work with, see tweets to Canva, or read the thousands of emails from our users.”
The art of appreciation
I truly believe that in order to go beyond our current success, obstacles and reach our dreams, we must stop to appreciate all that we have regardless of whether it seems positive or negative.
Every checkpoint on our personal and business journey should be appreciated for what it is, for without that particular achievement - or failure, we could not have learnt what we have, nor could we have a taste of our limitlessness. So we must always celebrate all we have and all we don’t. I can see Melanie knows this.
“When I reflect for a short moment on how far we have come, I feel a lot of pride in what our team has been able to build. I also feel incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to see my crazy idea turned into reality.”
How does the Canva team celebrate?
“We have some quirky team celebrations when we hit big milestones,” Melanie says.
“We always try to celebrate occasions releasing a new product or reaching a significant metric. So far, we’ve had a gorilla-gram come into the office and sing to the team, we’ve released doves into the sky, and we’ve had a pirate party on a boat. While everyone gets a good laugh out of the experience, the most important factor is being together and celebrating successes as a team.”
I wonder if the pirate party boat set sail when Guy Kawasaki (former advisor to the Motorola business unit of Google and chief evangelist of Apple) came on board as Canva’s Chief Evangelist?
I knew that I wouldn’t be the only one wondering how on earth Melanie got Guy on board, so I asked.
“Guy was using Canva and tweeted one of his designs,” says Melanie.
“One of our users saw it and asked Guy if he had designed it in Canva, and as a result we saw the tweet.
“Cliff and I had a few chats with Guy over Skype and then went to San Francisco. He really liked our vision and he has a vast amount of experience bringing products to market, so it seemed like a perfect match for him to join our team. Guy is now our chief evangelist and is helping to spread the word about Canva to the world!”
Melanie and her team are going beyond the box. She’s taking risks, opening her heart and giving it all she’s got. But most of all, she knows that there’s no resting here. She knows that her work is not yet done and she shares it very candidly.
“Every step of the way holds new challenges. Depending on the stage you’re at, there are many different areas you need to learn about,” she says.
“Over the past few years we’ve learned how to develop a concept, how to raise investment, how to hire a great team, how to get the word out, and that’s just the start.
“Since launch, our focus has been on building a platform that solves a real problem for people. You’re always facing new challenges, but that’s the fun of a start-up.”
Some may rank Melanie’s success favourably, however she will tell you that Canva has “only achieved 1%” as to where it can ultimately go - a mighty impressive vision and outlook.
While Canva has made some big steps, the truth is they’re just getting started!