Melanie Perkins, Co-founder & CEO of Canva
How Mel Perkins of Canva is Democratizing Design
What happens when a passionate designer and educator gets into the startup world? You get perhaps the greatest thing to hit the design world since colored pencils.
Mel Perkins was not motivated to embark on her entrepreneurial journey because she craved the freedom and agency of owning her own business and being her own boss. In fact, she was quite happy working as a college professor teaching design. However, what she found frustrating was the learning curve of the software programs she used in class.
Flagship products like InDesign and Photoshop were so complicated that many students would spend the entire semester just learning to use the tool and very little time absorbing design principles. Students in her class were becoming discouraged. They were in the class to learn to be better designers, and while those products are amazing in the right hands, there weren’t any solutions to serve the middle ground—those who were interested in learning a little about design and quickly moving into the creation phase.
Big Vision, Small Start
Perkins knew that the future of design was not going to be wrapped up in a complicated tool that limited access and contributed to tedious review and revision cycles, especially not as communications were shifting to more visual forms. Increasingly, both in and out of the industry, “design is fundamental to every job.” Rather, the future of design was online collaboration and a tool that met the needs of both serious designers and non-designers alike. She had a vision for such a future, but knew she had to start small.
So before launching Canva, Perkins started Fusion Yearbooks, a cloud-based solution for schools to use to design their own yearbooks. While her ultimate vision was to produce an online design tool for the masses, Perkins understood that she needed to “start niche and then go wide.” She took a very specific problem in a very niche market and then developed a solution that solved that problem better than anything else available.
Fusion Yearbooks is still operating today and supports schools around the globe. To date, the entire venture is 100% bootstrapped—no investors, just a great solution to a very specific problem.
The success of Fusion Yearbooks gave Perkins the confidence to tackle her big dream of making design accessible to the masses with an easy-to-use, cloud-based solution. But huge dreams require huge investments. Just getting started would require a team of highly qualified developers.
Those early days were tough. She spent nights sleeping on the floor of her brother’s apartment and days working feverishly to get travel visas approved so that she could go to the US to meet with potential investors.
On one three-month visa, Perkins met with Lars Rasmussen, the co-creator of Google Maps. She was awestruck. Here was a man who had created a household-name product and not only were they eating together, but he actually believed in her idea—he believed in Canva. Meeting Rasmussen was a game-changer for Perkins and it opened up her mind to new possibilities. “I realized that he was just a regular human being who tried really, really hard.”
Trying really, really, hard was something Perkins was up for. So she spent three years courting her first investor. The process required hundreds of revisions to her pitch deck and lots of traveling, but eventually she won them over and got the funding she needed to launch Canva.
Filling a Need and Tackling User Fears
Just like Fusion Yearbooks, Canva was designed to fulfill a need. As the world shifts to digital, the need for great design becomes crucial to every industry. Every business, from Fortune 500 companies to the mom-and-pop diner down the street, needs a beautiful online presence that communicates who they are.
But Canva was not designed specifically for businesses. The original model was designed for everyone: students, teachers, professionals, anyone. “Being able to communicate your design is fundamental to a lot of people,” whether that design is a cool image to post on your Instagram or a new business card for your accounting firm.
As most entrepreneurs know, there is often a point at which we must tame our “Impostor Syndrome” fears that we’re not good enough. Perkins found the same was true when new users tried Canva. These individuals had spent their lives believing that design was complicated and mysterious and something they could never accomplish on their own. In short, people were seriously intimidated.
To break through those fears, Canva provides new users with a 23-second introduction and five starter challenges to build user confidence and have them flexing their design muscles within minutes of signing up.
Raising Funds and Rising Up
Canva is just two years old and has already signed up 8 million users and is receiving valuations that top the $165 million mark. The company has gained the publicity and strategic support of superstars like Guy Kawasaki, Woody Harrelson, and Owen Wilson. Now, instead of flying across the globe to coax investors, investors fly to Sydney to meet with Perkins, giving her team the luxury of choosing an investor they love.
This hybrid model, where the company is based in Australia yet receives funding from US investors, gives Canva the best of both worlds—amazing access to the talented Australian developers pool, plus the finest advice from Silicon Valley’s elite.
In addition to enormous funding ($15M in Round A funding) and epic advice, the Canva team holds true to the set values established during the pre-launch days. As Perkins puts it, “The most important thing at the start is to make sure you really believe in what you are trying to achieve, you are solving a problem you believe is worth solving … you want to get that fundamental thing so right.”
Canva works based on a principle of “providing legitimate value first instead of always trying to extract value,” a strategy that applies to their relationships with both users and employees. Canva is dedicated to maintaining a great company culture filled with people who are committed to the way they do things. To better support users, the company recently launched Canva for Work, a product geared towards business users.
The company has come a long way since she had her original vision, but for Perkins, the real reward is “getting to do what we want to do and getting to work with the people we want to work with.”
Canva is the kind of entrepreneurial success story that motivates us to persist in spite of daunting odds. After all, every one of us is just a regular human being who is trying really, really hard, right?
What’s It Like to Work at the Coolest Company in Tech?
In 2015, Canva was named JobAdvisor’s Coolest Company in Tech, which is no small accolade considering the number of tech companies using extravagant perks to lure the best talent.
Since their humble beginnings when lunch meant leftovers around Perkins’s mom’s coffee table and sandwiches prepared by Canva’s co-founder (and sandwich extraordinaire) Cliff Obrecht, the team has used this time to bond.
Perkins believes that making people feel included, valued, and cared for is central to Canva’s success, and lunches together provide the perfect opportunity to foster these feelings. These days, the Canva team can still be found sitting on couches eating together. However, the comfy couches are in the middle of their beautiful, open air office, and the food is prepared by one of the three chefs employed by the company.
“Everyone at Canva should feel like they are doing the best work of their life,” and that they are “empowered to achieve things they didn’t think were possible.”
How to Hire Selectively, Like a $165 Million Startup
Having the right team in place can mean the difference between simply achieving your immediate goals and blasting past even your stretch goals as you near “unicorn” status. Here are a few traits Canva co-founder Mel Perkins, looks for:
- A belief in the Canva mission and a desire to achieve goals that align with those of the company
- A willingness to embrace challenges and new ways of doing things
- Someone who is trustworthy and capable of making smart decisions
- Amazing people she can empower to do amazing things
Mel’s Top Three Favorite Tools
- Canva (duh!)
- The tools that you need to kickstart your own graphics design company
- The importance of finding and empowering the right people on your team for maximum results
- Why you need to fundamentally believe in what you’re trying to achieve with your startup
- How to get people to use your platform and software in a crowded market
- What you need to do develop your team’s focus, decision making, and leadership skills so your business works for you
Full Transcript of the Podcast with Melanie Perkins
Nathan: Hey, guys. Welcome to another episode of the “Foundr” podcast. I hope you’re super pumped for today’s episode. It’s with the one and only Mel Perkins from Canva. And this company is a real Australian success story at the moment. I don’t know if you guys have heard of Canva. Some of you might. Some of you might have not. If you are listening, you have now. You know, these guys are absolutely crushing it.
They’ve only been around for two years and, you know, they have over eight million users. They’ve got a, you know, $233 million of evaluation. They’ve got investors like Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson, you know, their chief evangelist is Guy Kawasaki. It’s absolutely crazy. So they’re an amazing graphic design platform. So if you suck at graphic design, like most of us, Canva really takes those headaches away. Especially if you wanna just knock up something up quickly, Canva’s really, really powerful. And what’s really cool is it’s free. And, yeah, they’re amazing platform. They’re doing amazing things.
So, yeah, I had a chance to talk with Melanie, and we speak everything, growth, startups, investing, the early days, the struggles, you name it. Entrepreneurship 101, scale, building a team, culture, you name it. So there’s a lot here.
I really enjoyed my conversation with Mel. She shared so much with us. She’s extremely humble, and, yeah, like I said, like, these guys are, like, an Australian tech success story. Recently, they won an awards. You know, they’re winning all sorts of awards. They’re doing amazing things. Amazing company. So, yeah, that’s it from me guys.
If you are enjoying these interviews, please do take the time to leave us a review. It helps more than you can imagine. And also, if you are enjoying these interviews, make sure you check out the magazine. It is the fruits of our labor. If you love the podcast, you’re gonna love the magazine even more. All right. Now, let’s jump into the show.
Let’s just start from the start. Like, how did you get your job?
Melanie: How did I get my job? So I was actually at university, and I was teaching design programs, so students were learning things like Photoshop and InDesign, and they were just so complex and difficult. It would take a whole semester for them just to learn the very basics of learning how to design something that actually looked good. And so we actually realized that, in the future, design was going to be much simpler. It was going to be online and collaborative.
And so I set to work on creating my first company called “Fusion Books,” which took this grand idea of an online design system that applied it to a school yearbooks in Australia, which, I think, is a really important thing to do is, sort of, to start niche and then go wide. If we tried to tackle online design for everything under the sun to start with, it would have been very, very difficult, but because we started with a very specific problem in a specific geography, it meant that we were able to solve that problem really effectively.
And then a few years after doing that, we started Canva. And we just hit our 1,234th day of being launched, which I thought was kind of funny, 1-2-3-4. And, yeah, we have been growing like crazy ever since.
Nathan: Yeah. Okay.Wow. So look, for everyone listening, I missed the first six minutes of this recording, so Melanie is doing an amazing job improvising. Super embarrassing, but she’s been very humble about it. So, look, I, you know, I’m just gonna throw some numbers out there. You said you have eight million users. The last raise that you did was at a 233 million. That’s OZ. U.S., 165 U.S. million evaluation, and you’ve got some rock star investors. You guys are absolutely crushing it. You’ve got a brilliant product. I’m a massive fan. I’m curious, you know, when you have a value…like, we’re gonna take a different turn this time round, but when you have a value…
Melanie: That was just a dress rehearsal.
Nathan: Yeah, that was just a dress rehearsal. So when you have evaluation like that, is it life-changing to you?
Melanie: Life-changing for us is getting to achieve what we want to do and to work with the team that we want to work with. And so in the very, very early days, if we didn’t raise funds, we didn’t have a company. So in my company before, it was bootstrapped, and that was a really, really useful experience because it meant that we didn’t actually have to worry about investors or pleasing anyone else. All we had to do is worry about pleasing our customers and providing them enough faith that they actually wanted to pay for it.
So, in that case, they could design their school yearbook using our online design platform and then have it printed, and we ended up with quite a number schools doing this. But with Canva, because it was such a huge company and such a huge vision of what we wanted to achieve, it was very important that we actually got investment earlier on so that we could actually hire the technical team that we needed to deliver this crazy big vision.
And so getting that first, “Yes,” was such an important part of our journey because if it didn’t happen, we wouldn’t have find a way to kick-start this company. As things have gone on, it’s got progressively easier. But in the early days, it was like three years before, you know, meeting my first investor to actually landing funds. One hundred revisions to the pitch deck and just a crazy amount of work. Whereas now, you know, in our last round, we had five investors fly in to come and see us here in Sydney. I mean…
Nathan: Yeah. Wow.
Melanie: We get to choose our favorite investor. Someone that we really loved and connected with and thought we could, you know, build a big company with. So there is quite a huge transition between our early days and now. I mean, in the early days when we were taking…I would take, literally, every single meeting that would come along because I was just hoping that something could pay off.
Eventually, it did, but it just took a very, very long time. So, yeah, I think, that every single stage is a little bit life-changing, but in the very early stages, we’ve met, you know, quite literally a different having a company and not. So we’re very, very happy to have people who actually believed in us and could see the vision before we’d even actually build the product. And now, we get, you know, to choose the most amazing people that we think can take Canva to the next level.
Nathan: Yeah. No, it’s a really exciting journey that you guys are on, and you’re trying to commoditize design and really disrupt an industry, a massive industry. Yeah, you talked about Fusion Books, do you still run that company?
Melanie: Yes. So it was actually quite funny. Our very first employee ever, who just rocked up at my mom’s house and knocked on the door. I didn’t even realize that our address had been published anywhere, so I was quite surprised by this, had seen a job ad and thought that she deliver her resume in person. And we really liked her, and then her boyfriend came and started working at the company, too. And then, they went and run Fusion Books France, and now, they run Fusion Books Global, so it was kind of a neat story. And they’re absolutely amazing, and we have a really great team running Fusion Books and going full-on in the yearbook market.
Nathan: Yeah. Wow. Okay. So you’ve got two successful companies. Is that hard to manage? Did you ever think that you’d run two? Because I, personally, struggle with just one.
Melanie: We’re very fortunate that the team down there, and, like, when I say down there, they’re usually like about a kilometer down the street. They do an excellent job and just really, you know, make all the decisions and do a fantastic job of pushing the company forward. But, I think, that’s such an important lesson learning in running any company.
You know, Canva is growing so quickly. We now have almost 100 people. You have to find people that you really trust in, that can make really smart decisions. If you’re trying to micro-manage every single little tiny thing, it’s gonna be a ceiling on what you can achieve. But if you can find amazing people and then empower them to do an amazing job, it, sort of, opens up a whole new world.
Nathan: So you guys are growing so fast. You know, a big part of growth is finding the right team and equipping the right people to that team. Do you think the team has been the biggest attribute, not only the product? Where do you place the most importance when you’re looking to grow a company at the speed that Canva is growing, and what do you attribute the most?
Melanie: Well, definitely, the team is absolutely, you know, literally, what is making Canva successful. But, I think, that before you get to the team part, you know, if you’re thinking about founding a company or even if you are in the early stages, the most important thing at the start is to make sure that you really believe in what you’re trying to achieve. You’re solving a problem that you believe is worth solving.
I’ve been, sort of, attacking the same thing for almost nine years now. And so you want to get that, sort of, fundamental thing so right because later down the road when you’re trying to tell a hundred people what you think the company should be, what the future is, you kind of have that sort of bedded down in the early stages, and then you want to hire so selectively. You want to make sure that you’re getting people who will believe in your mission, that really want to achieve great big things and do things that may have never been done before.
I think the right sort of people who join a company at our stage are people that really like the idea of challenges and achieving things that have never been done and that doesn’t daunt them. I think, you know, some people feel different towards challenges. Some people think of a challenge and think, “Yes, that’s something that I want to do because it hasn’t been done.” And some people will think, “Well, why would we do that? It’s, like, kind of, scary and terrifying.” So you wanna find people who definitely here.
Nathan: And, you know, you guys recently won in Australia the “Coolest Company” award. You know, what are you guys doing that makes Canva such an amazing place to work? And what can, you know, our audience learn from what you guys are doing to, you know, attract great candidates and build an amazing team?
Melanie: I thought that was a pretty funny award. I think that my mum’s probably the only person that thinks that I’m cool, but that award was a great accolade for our team. I mean, there’s just really simple things that you can do, and we’ve, you know, done this from the very, very early days. When we were around my mum’s living room, we’d always have lunch together with the team, and that’s been really fundamental for helping everyone to feel part of a team and to get to know people other than just talking about their projects, to know people in a personal level and to feel included and to feel happy and part of something.
And so now, we have two amazing chefs that come in and cook lunch here in Sydney, and we have another amazing chef in our Manila office. And so it’s continued to be a really important bonding experience for everyone. And so that can be really inexpensive for you. Just throw leftovers together and, you know, put together something really quickly.
Our co-founder, Cliff, used to put together some sandwiches. He’s actually quite an incredible sandwich extraordinaire. But it, you know, it doesn’t need to be an expensive thing, but, I think, it makes a huge difference to the way people feel about coming to work because they feel cared for.
And then, I think, one of the most important things is hiring people but then empowering them to do great work. We want everyone to do the best work of their lives here, and people also want that. People want to achieve great things and to do great things that they didn’t even think necessarily was possible.
And so I think that if you have that call to what you’re doing. Call to the way you think about the world, that you want to create a company that you’d want to actually work at rather than a company that, you know, sort of, is crossing every eye and daunting every team, you know, in a not very enjoyable fashion. I think that’s quite important.
Nathan: Okay. So I’m gonna switch gears and talk about, like, the model that you guys are going for, which, I think, people would find interesting because…would you guys consider, like, you know, Adobe a competitor?
Melanie: I think that there’s a lot of different companies in the market that do all sorts of different things, but the reason why we created our company was because we saw a huge gap. So people can go and spend quite some time learning professional design tools and then they can create incredible graphics, but a lot of people want to be able to put something together quickly for a presentation or a social media or a Pitchstack, and they don’t necessarily have that design experience but they still want to create something that looks really professional. And so that’s, sort of, the gap that a lot of people were saying that they desperately needed some link in.
But then on the designer side of things, they also have their own struggles. So when they’re trying to create a presentation for a client, for example, they’ll then, often, have to send that presentation over email backwards and forwards many times, making all the little tiny text tweaks. And what we wanted to do with Canva, was to enable designers to be able to create a template that then the marketing person or the salesperson could easily go and edit the text. So the designer can play it at, which is creating incredible designs, and then everyone else can easily get what they need quickly.
So there just seemed to be this huge gap in the market from both the designer’s perspective and the ability to collaborate with their clients. But then also, every single social media marketer, every single salesperson was really struggling getting to create their professional designs that now society, sort of, requires.
Nathan: And is that why you choose the freemium model, because you wanted everyone to be able to utilize a tool like Canva?
Melanie: Yeah, absolutely. We really want everyone in the world to be able to design. And that’s whether you’re a student, that’s whether you’re a charity, that’s whether you’re…you know, regardless of your profession or your economic mean, we think that design and being able to communicate your ideas is sort of fundamental to a lot of people. And so we wanted to make it free so that everyone can use it. And then, you know, if you want to purchase an image, it will only cost $1. So we want to make it affordable to everyone.
Nathan: Because what I find really interesting is the way that you guys are, like, approaching growth is very aggressive. Like, kind of, like, the culture in Silicon Valley, where, you know, you have these freemium-type model, and then you look to monetize, and you guys are doing bits and pieces around monetization. But, you know, are you able to explain to the audience why you’ve chosen that kind of route as opposed to looking to develop profit off the get-go and stuff like that?
Melanie: Yeah. Sure. I think that every company has differently needs and has different requirements as, you know, when you choose a monetization model. But for us, getting Canva into the hands of everyone around the globe is a really important aspect. One, because we think that design is fundamental to every job and it’s going to be increasingly more so. So if you see social media, it’s certainly becoming more and more official, and people are wanting to express their ideas more and more in a visual manner.
In fact, every single profession is moving in that direction, so, you know, the corner store in years gone by could just put out a menu once every year or whatever it was, it would need to borrow that social media. You know, their Facebook page, their Instagram page, or anything like that. And now, it, sort of, become a necessity. So we wanted our monetization model to mirror the way people are actually needing to design. The way people are needed to do things.
So rather than trying to pirate something or we’re trying to just throw something together that looked ugly, we wanted to give them a great option to be able to create something that looked professional and made themselves feel proud.
So that was, sort of, was why we chose to go for the freemium model. And then getting Canva into more hands means that then more people will consider to actually purchasing an image or whatever it is that they want. But giving that value-add first is really important. The same even with Fusion Books was that we always had education strategy, where we give people value and then because people receive value, then they would want to actually use your product.
So I think that that can be a really useful strategy for any company. It’s trying to give people legitimate value rather than trying to look like you’re just trying to extract as much value from other people. I think that people can tell if that’s your intent.
Nathan: Yeah. No, I agree. And, you know, when it comes to monetization, do you have any big plans that you’re allowed to share with us or…?
Melanie: I can say that we launched Canva for Work late last year, which has been growing like crazy, and so that’s been really powerful. So that’s for people who are using Canva frequently for business use, and so we’re seeing a lot of startups getting on board. A lot of even bigger companies are using Canva to create their marketing collateral, to create their business cards, to create their social media posts, and to have a much more cohesive brand identity across all of their marketing materials. So that’s been a really exciting product that we’ve launched, and we’re going to keep developing. There’s a lot more yet to go on that product, too.
Nathan: Yeah. Okay. Exciting. And I’m curious, you know, some people are very intimidated by design and you guys are trying to, I guess, really help commoditizing it and make it accessible to anyone that wants to, you know, design and build, you know, great nice looking things. What would you say to people around that, you know, people that are hesitant, and how would you urge people to use your platform?
Melanie: Yeah. That’s actually quite funny. So when we build our first version of Canva, we got to interview users testers hands, and there’s this great website called usertesting.com where you can actually watch someone…
Nathan: Oh, yeah. That’s awesome.
Melanie: Yeah, it’s really cool, hey? Where you can watch someone create a video while you’re there, like, using your product for the first time. So they, sort of, do a screencast and voice over it. And when they first got in, we’d spent a year trying to make this product very very simply and easy to use. But people were really intimidated and scared because they’ve set their entire lives thinking that design was something that they couldn’t do, so they were really intimidated to even get started. And so we then spent the next month trying to make sure that it was really, really unintimidating.
So when you login to Canva for the first time, you know, a 23-second intro that takes you through how to search for our images, how to drag them onto to your page, and how to publish your design. So in 23 seconds as opposed to, like, a month or years at university. So it was a little bit cheeky, but also, it really was intended to make people feel more confident. And then once they’ve watched the 23-second intro, they go through these five starter challenges. And you do all sorts of fun things like change the color of a circle, and search for a hat and drag it onto a monkey, and search for your favorite food. Fun fact, there’s actually…the most favorite food in the world is pizza. survey of millions of people.
Nathan: Yeah, wow.
Melanie: And so all of these little things just to build up people’s confidence and to make them feel like design is something that they can do, and they can actually be good at it, and it’s not as intimidating. So it was a really important thing is because everyone can design and everyone has ideas, and everyone can be creative, but, I think, a lot of people spend a lot of their time thinking that it’s not something that they can do. So, I think, the best way to demolish that concept is just to jump online and actually give it a shot and when you try to make it so that in the first five minutes, people actually felt confident to have a go at designing.
Nathan: So, like, user on boarding has been extremely critical for you guys?
Melanie: Absolutely. And, yeah, usertesting.com was a really cool site to actually look at and gave us a lot of insights in terms of the emotional journey into the product.
Nathan: Yeah. No, that’s gold. I’ve used that before. I can’t remember. There’s another company that owns it. I can’t remember who though, or maybe, it’s owned by usertesting.com. I can’t remember it, but it’s a great service. I highly recommend that. That’s a great one. Can you tell us about, you know, you said you were sleeping on your brother’s couch, you know, in the early days of…
Nathan: Floor? Okay. Floor. Correction. Floor, and you said that you would take any meeting that you could. You were in the States for six months, so you did, like, the six months Visa?
Melanie: I did a three-month Visa. And then my three-month Visa run out…
Nathan: And then you come back.
Melanie: And then I went back to Australia. And then I tried to get a Visa, and I didn’t get a Visa, and then I got a three-month Visa again. It was a very traumatic experience.
Nathan: Yeah, it is tough like that. I’ve had friends that have actually been booted out of the U.S. and never can come back and all, sorts of, crazy things. So what did you learn, like, from that experience? Because I have only been to the States once, and I’m going back…I’m gonna have to go back every year now, because it’s so important. I think it’s such a different mindset over there and it’s so exciting, and the people there just think 10 times bigger, I found, compared to here in Australia.
You know, I’m really curious to hear your takeaways. You know, we have a global audience but, you know, what have been your biggest takeaways from just hanging out in Silicon Valley and meeting people and investors and…? I’m sure you…that was, like, a really good training grounds for you when you eventually got that investor and actually started, you know, really working hard on Canva.
Melanie: Yeah, definitely. So I think it was my second day there, I had a meeting with Lars Rasmussen, who founded Google Maps.
Nathan: Oh, wow.
Melanie: And that just completely blew my mind. So we were sitting across the table, and he was explaining about, you know, his career and the ups and downs. And I was telling him about my vision for Canva and what we were trying to achieve. And having his support and realizing that he was just a normal human being who had just tried really, really hard, that was incredibly powerful, because all of a sudden, you know, companies that you hear about, you know, households names, they’re not companies that are being created on some other planet.
They are created by humans, which I know it sounds like the dumbest thing ever, but it was actually, kind of, surprising for me because I’d never met someone that had created a brand that had been a household name before. And so, I think, that that just opened up my mind to believe what was possible. That even though I had been presenting the future of publishing, it was quite another thing actually believing. Having someone else who’d created a household name believe it was possible as well and really open my mind to what was possible.
Nathan: Yeah. Okay. So, look, we have to work towards wrapping up, but there’s a couple of last questions I have. What was the reason that you came back to Australia and grew the company from Sydney as opposed to staying? What is it Visa reasons or, like, what was the reason there? Because a lot of people go to, like, the States in San Fran and build their company from there or want to? Was that strategic or…?
Melanie: Yeah, I feel, like, we’ve got the absolute best of both worlds now. So we have an excellent engineering team, where we’re able to attract the best of the best to come to Canva, and, I think, that that’s, you know, really helpful, especially as we’re trying to grow so rapidly. And then also, in the early days, we were able to get something called “Commercialization Australia,” which was a really really helpful as well for Canva because they gave much funding.
And so it was quite difficult enough, the first round, to raise funds and that funding stretched a really long way. And now, we’re able to go to Silicon Valley, and we’re able to speak to great investors, and in fact, we’ve had new investors flying to Sydney quite frequently. And, you know, we had Wesley from Felicis, who is our lead investor from our last round, over here just last week. And that’s all been extremely helpful because it means that we are able to hire from an incredible engineering pool here, and then also, benefit from having incredible advisers from our friends at Silicon Valley. So, I think, that high of a rebuttal has worked excellently well for us.
Nathan: Did you plan that it would work as well? Like, did you plan that Canva was going to take off as much as it is?
Melanie: I think you have dreams of what you believe your company can be and we always believed that the idea can turn into something big. It will be used by everyone across the globe. We’re still running like 0.001% of the way there, but it’s actually quite another reality, seeing it all happen in reality. So even though you have this big ideas and beliefs, when it actually starts to happen then, you know, now, I’ve got 100 people in there, almost 100 people, and they’re doing incredible work, you know, working towards the, sort of, mission of our company, it’s pretty cool. So, yeah, even though we have had the plans for a long time, seeing it actually start to come true is pretty incredible.
Nathan: Yeah, look, you guys are doing an amazing job. Last couple of questions before we wrap. I’m curious, you know, like, what is your biggest challenges right now? You guys are growing so fast from, you know, what everyone sees, you guys are kicking some serious goals here. What are your biggest challenges right now? What are the struggles that people would not be aware of when you have a fast-growth company that you need to, you know, keep in mind?
Melanie: We were actually asking Wesley this last week, and we were saying, “What are the challenges that you see companies at our stage go through?” And he was saying that the most important thing is to maintain having a great culture, and that’s something that we have a really strong focus on, is making sure that people coming in really are embedded in the way we do things and really get to express themselves and really feel part of it.
We’ve had a really strong focus on developing people’s decision-making and leadership skills, and because we need every single person to actually have great decision making and leadership skills because we’re trying to do so many things across so many different markets. And so developing our team and helping them to grow as rapidly as our company is growing is really important. And then helping to make sure that everyone feels part of it as we grow up a little bit. I think we’re still a tiny toddler.
One of the exercises we did just last week was actually have…every team came up with their mission and a goal worthy of celebration, and so that was a lot of fun because when each team hits their goals, then we’re going to celebrate in some fun quirky fashion. So, I think, that if you constantly are trying to find out what is the next breaking point? What is the thing that we need to work on most? And at different stages, they’re entirely different things, but if you keep your eye focusing on that, it will, hopefully, it will help you along the journey.
Nathan: Awesome. Well, look, last question, Melanie, and that is, where is the best place people can find you? Canva.com, obviously. Anywhere else you want people to connect or go? And just, like, do you have, like, three action items for our audience, you know, from your lessons as an entrepreneur?
Melanie: Yeah, sure. Well, the first one has to be slightly Canva-related, because Canva is actually really, really helpful for startups. So creating your pitch decks and your social media graphics, and your presentations, you should totally give it a shot, and it’s also free, so I think there’s not too many reasons not to.
I would really strongly recommend using usertesting.com, so regardless of where company is at or where the stage is. If you have a website of any description, even if you have a social media page, it costs about $50, I think, to get someone to go through it and to actually give you feedback. And so that’s really, really helpful as well because you can just learn so many things that would actually never learn even from data. It’s just that anecdotal feedback can be very helpful.
And then finally, it just takes a long time, so determination is absolutely paramount. I think that if you, you know, persist and you push through, and you keep on going. Eventually, you’ll get there. So it will be rejected hundreds of times, and you’ll be…there will be many many times where you, kind of, think it seems a bit crazy or, at least other people will be telling you it’s a little bit crazy, but if you push through, hopefully, you’ll find the rewards on the other side.
Nathan: Awesome. Well, look, that was amazing, Melanie. Thank you so much for your time. I apologize, again, for not recording the first eight minutes. That was totally my bad.
Melanie: No problem at all.
Nathan: But we got some great stuff. So, look, thank you again for your time and we’ll wrap there.
Melanie: Thanks a lot, Nathan. See you later.
Nathan: Awesome. See you later.
- Learn more about Melanie and her team on Canva’s website
- Follow Melanie on Twitter
- Follow Melanie on Facebook
- Explore Canva
- Check out Canva’s tools
- Explore Canva’s marketplace