How Melanie Perkins went from teaching Photoshop to building multi million dollar Canva

The story of Melanie Perkins and Canva is nothing short of a dream come true. Passion, grit, determination, challenges, success, it has got it all. For the uninitiated, Canva is one of the world’s most widely used online portals that allows people to make complex designs with a lot of ease. It has more than 4 million users and the basic version of Canva is available for free.

It all began in college, when in 2005, as a first year student of digital media, Melanie fell in love with designing. She grasped the subject quickly, and was soon invited to teach designing to other students. While teaching, she found that students found software like Photoshop and Indesign difficult to learn and this is what prompted her to think of a solution.

Melanie Perkins and Cliff Obrecht Co Founded Fusion Books in the Living Room of Melanie's Mom's home in Perth
Melanie Perkins and Cliff Obrecht Co Founded Fusion Books in the Living Room of Melanie’s Mom’s home in Perth

As a result, Fusion Books was born in 2007 after she and Cliff Obrecht took a loan and started this company from her mother’s living room in Perth. While they were clueless at the time on how to run it, today the company is the largest school yearbook publisher in Australia and has expanded to New Zealand and France. This first stint at entrepreneurship helped them learn how to sell, recruit and build a business.

In a way, you could think of that as a Steve Jobs’ Apple moment, who found most other computers too clunky at the time of starting Apple.

Melanie Perkins and Cliff Obrecht used to go around town taking Fusion Books to people and telling them about their dream. They did that in dorky suits as they like to put it.
Melanie Perkins and Cliff Obrecht used to go around town taking Fusion Books to people and telling them about their dream. They did that in dorky suits as they like to put it.

At an awards ceremony in Australia, the co founders happened to meet Bill Tai (Founder of MaiTai). He invited them over to America and the next year they went and met up with Mr Tai and Lars Rasmussen, Co Founder of Google Maps among a host of other relevant people and investors. That’s when she pitched the idea for Canva, which intended to be a free online tool that would allow people to design practically everything.

Mr Tai eventually ended up investing in Canva, with the company closing their first round of funding of $ 3 million in 2013. Later, Guy Kawasaki also joined the team as Chief Evangelist, a role he earlier played for Apple.

Amidst all this, they were in need for a technology champion, who will help turn their dreams into a product. That’s when they met Cameron Adams, a hardcore Googler who joined the team as a Co Founder and is currently their Chief Product Officer.

Google Whizkid Cameron Adams joined Melanie and Cliff as Co Founder and helped them build Canva.
Google Whizkid Cameron Adams joined Melanie and Cliff as Co Founder and helped them build Canva.


Canva hit one million users in 2014
and had surpassed 4 million by August 2015. At the core of Canva is simplicity, and that is one of the biggest reasons to draw so many people towards it. We were fortunate to catch up with Melanie over email and she offered a personal account of how Canva became what it is today.

Canva hit a Million Users in 2014 and has grown rapidly ever since.
Canva hit a Million Users in 2014 and has grown rapidly ever since.


DD: From the living room in Perth to Silicon Valley to taking over the world, Canva has come a long way. Do you see Canva replacing complex design software for many people in the time to come?

MP: The vision for Canva is about making design accessible for everyone, without years of training or expensive and complex software. Because we want everyone to be able to create beautiful and professional designs, our focus is on creating an entirely new kind of design software, one that is simple and intuitive, rather than focusing on how to replace the existing options.


DD: Simplicity is at the heart of Canva. What other factors do you think draw people towards using the tool?

MP: Simplicity is key to Canva and flowing out of that is creating a tool that works the way people expect it to. Core to our vision is Canva will always be easy to learn and a joy to use, even as it becomes more developed and established.

Our library of more than a million high quality photographs, vectors and templates also draws people to Canva because anything and everything you need is only ever a click or two away from being in your design.

Canva's ease of use is what draws millions towards it.
Canva’s ease of use is what draws millions towards it.


DD: In a world where everybody is trying to growth hack their way to more users, Canva seems to have done remarkably well to grow organically. While the Guy Kawasaki’s bring in business attention, how do you think word spread so fast making millions around the world use this tool?

MP: Canva grew rapidly because we are solving a genuine problem. For too long, graphic design was an exclusive skill that was hard to learn, so giving people the tools to design themselves sparked conversations worldwide and waves of recommendations.


DD: You are here to build a business and not sell one. That and what else do you think have been the guiding factors to help the company and you grow?

MP: I came up with the vision for Canva for almost a decade ago now. We’ve grown crazy well so far, but we’ve only achieved 1 per cent of our plans for Canva, so there is a lot to get done!

Another guiding light for us is building the best possible company and team we can. We want everyone at Canva to do their life’s best work, and to have every opportunity and support to keep growing.

Building a happy, healthy and exceptional team that loves coming to work and constantly pushes themselves is a guiding factor for us. It means we can produce the best possible platform for users, and have a lot of fun doing it.

 

The Canva Team at work in their office in Australia. They also have a team that sits out of Philippines.
The Canva Team at work in their office in Australia. They also have a team that sits out of Philippines.

 

DD: In a world that is increasingly focusing on becoming aesthetically pleasing, what role do you see design play in the time to come. After Content, is Creativity the new King?

MP: Creativity and design are crucial for businesses. The world’s most valuable business, Apple, has always focused on design, and its sleek, intuitive designs have seen the company grow to be worth more than $US100 billion.

While Apple is the epitome of a company that uses clever design to thrive, creative designs help your company stand out, engage people and keep your customers happier.


DD: You officially launched in India last year and it is the 4
th largest market for you. What growth patterns have you seen in India and what is your forecast for the future?

MP: India is an important market for us. It’s long been our fourth largest market and launching there was a great opportunity to meet so many of our local users. Growth continues to be strong in India, and we expect it will keep soaring in the coming years.

Melanie Perkins' Canva can potentially change the way this world designs, make it simpler for millions more and become one of the strongest products in the designing and products domain.
Melanie Perkins’ Canva can potentially change the way this world designs, make it simpler for millions more and become one of the strongest products in the designing and products domain.

All images courtesy Canva. Special thanks to Rose.

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