Formerly known as Adobe Systems Incorporated, Adobe Inc is a computer software company founded by Charles “Chuck” Geschke and John Warnock in 1982. Chuck started his career at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC)…
Melanie Perkins is the CEO and co-founder of Canva, an online design and collaboration tool valued at $40 billion in 2021.
Canva is now one of the world’s most valuable tech startup, one of only a handful unicorns that is actually profitable.
Only one in four startups is founded by a female, Melanie is amongst the 2% of female CEOs of venture-backed companies.
Originated from Perth, a city built on mining and petrochemicals rather than tech startups, Melanie is now one of Australia’s richest women.
She is a good example of how ‘people on the outside’ from diverse backgrounds can pursue big dreams by concentrating on their goals.
Melanie was born in 1987, she is the daughter of an Australian-born teacher and a Malaysian engineer of Filipino and Sri Lankan descent.
During high school, Melanie aspired to become a professional figure skater and would routinely wake up at 4:30am to train.
By the age of 14, she had started her first business selling handmade scarves at shops and markets in Perth.
Melanie developed her entrepreneurial drive from there as she never forgot the freedom and excitement from building a business.
While enrolled at the University of Western Australia, she taught fellow students computer design as part of her communications studies.
This was when Melanie noticed the challenges students had in learning and using design software like Adobe Photoshop.
She thought of the possibility of creating a design platform without the need of technical skills to make the whole design process easier.
The initial idea of Canva was ignited, but Melanie was aware that it would be difficult to embark such business without any tech background and resources.
Dropping out of university at the age of 19, she instead started a niche business with her boyfriend, Cliff Obrecht.
The couple founded Fusion Books in 2007 for students to design their school yearbooks by using a simple drag-and-drop tool.
Started in the living room of Melanie’s mother, Cliff would cold call the schools to acquire clients, and their parents helped on the yearbooks printing.
While Fusion Books was doing well, they realized that they couldn’t go far without venture funding, which was virtually impossible to find in Perth.
The opportunity came when a prominent venture capitalist Bill Tai visited Perth to judge a startup competition in 2011.
Bill is a skilled kitesurfer who had backed TweetDeck and Zoom, he was in town mainly to play in Perth’s killer waves.
Melanie and Cliff pitched Bill but he didn’t invest right away. However, they picked up kitesurfing and joined Bill’s subsequent gatherings.
Little did they know at the time that Bill would play an important role for them to raise investments and hire technical experts later on.
However, it wasn’t a smooth sailing as Melanie faced many rejections while pitching in Silicon Valley.
Many turned her down citing her location being too far from Silicon Valley, without a credible tech team, and over-valuation.
Melanie learnt from each rejections and improvise her pitch deck, from the Future of Publishing, ‘Canvas Chef’ to more sophisticated ones.
James revealed that he excelled at long-distance running when he was young not because he was physically good, but because he had more determination.
I went to San Francisco, I just got rejected a lot.
Pitching people trying to get them join my tech team, pitching investors trying to get them invest.
Most people were saying that for various reasons, they weren’t really quite ready.
“Unfortunately right now, I do not think there’s quite a right fit just now.”
There were so many rejections, and each one of them really hurt.
It was until they met Lars Rasmussen, co-founder of Google Maps in one of the gatherings in Silicon Valley, who advised that they need a tech team with calibre first.
Lars introduced Cameron Adams, an ex-Googler who agreed to join Canva, becoming its third founder and chief product officer.
With a technical leader on board, the founders broke through by raising $3 million in seed funding including a grant from the Australian government.
Relocated to Sydney, Canva launched in 2013 when the rise of social media platforms were changing how businesses reach customers.
In business, timing is everything. Canva is an affordable way to look good when everyone started to care a lot about their online presence.
In 2014, Canva set up its office in China by hiring the former head of LinkedIn China. Unlike many Western software, Canva is a rare success in China.
Instead of one size fits all approach, Canva built the China-only version from the ground up with features like deep integrations with Chinese messaging apps.
On the global front, Canva is growing leaps and bounds in terms users and designs created on its freemium, easy-to-use platform.
Instead of competing directly with professional design tools like Adobe, Canva is going after everyone rather than just designers.
Raising $200 million in 2021, Canva intends to increase its workforce (42% female currently) and introduce more work collaboration features.
From presentation, video editor, to launching its website design tool, Canva is going after many digital formats with its full suite of freemium tools.
Melanie believes that it is important to make their product really good even though it’s free, people loving the product is why Canva grows rapidly.
With enterprise clients like Salesforce, Marriot, PayPal and American Airlines, Canva expects to exceed $1 billion revenue by the end of 2021.