Canva CEO Melanie Perkins On Raising $6 Million In Funding And Building A Successful Design VenturePart of the series “Entrepreneurial Women Rocking the World”
July 21, 2015
by Kathy Caprino
A few months ago, I decided I wanted to develop some powerful inspirational quotes backed by beautiful photographic images to share with my community, as I’d seen other inspiring authors and personal growth experts do. I dedicated some time to looking at what was out there, and saw that some images were absolutely gorgeous and seemed to be professionally designed, while others were far from it. Wanting to create designs that not only enlivened but also created an “experience” for the viewer, I asked my in-the-know marketing partner Jayme Johnson what she recommended, and she suggestedCanva.com. She said, “It’s really easy and you’ll love it.”
I checked it out and, literally, in about 20 minutes, I’d created a design I loved and that I was very excited to share with my social media communities and on pinterest. Canva offers design options for a wide range of uses and outcomes (social media, presentations, Facebook covers, posters, etc.), and I’ve now designed scores of images that are generating shares and engagement. I truly look forward to creating these designs and images each and every week. For me, it’s somehow uncorked my design interest and creativity, and that’s a very exciting feeling.
I wanted to learn more about the business behind Canva’s design genius, and discovered that in the past twenty months, Canva has grown to 3 million users who have created more than 20 million designs. There are now over 200,000 companies and organizations represented on Canva, some with up to 180 employees using the platform. More than one design is created with Canva every second.
I caught up with Canva CEO Melanie Perkins to learn more about how she and her leadership team built this instrumental service and program, and any success tips she had for other entrepreneurs in the design field.
Kathy Caprino: Melanie, how did you come up with the idea of Canva, and what drove you to develop it?
Melanie Perkins:The Canva story started several years ago. The idea came about while I was teaching design programs at university. In every class, I saw students struggle to even learn the basics. It took months to be able to create something that looked good.
It made me realize that in the future, design would be different. It would be collaborative, online and easy to learn. I asked myself: why shouldn’t everybody be able to create beautiful designs? That’s how the idea for Canva came about.
You may have seen that we’re about to launch Canva for Work. That’s our next focus here at Canva. We think Canva for Work has the potential to entirely transform the way design works at every organization, from startups to Fortune 500 companies. We can’t say too much just yet it, other than you’ll see that the product definitely speaks for itself when we launch, and it takes Canva to the next level. We’ve had interest from major brands that are household names, and they’re incredibly excited about the potential Canva for Work holds in their organizations.
Caprino: Is this your first venture and how did you learn about building a successful entrepreneurial venture?
Perkins: In 2007, I started my first company, Fusion Books. It took the concept of a simple design platform and applied it to the market of school yearbooks. Over five years, my co-founder Cliff Obrecht and I grew Fusion Books into Australia’s largest yearbook publisher and expanded to France and New Zealand. However, we always knew the market was larger than school yearbooks, and launched Canva in August 2013.
Caprino: How exactly did you launch it (from your home office, was funding needed, if so, where did you get it, etc.)?
Perkins: When my co-founder, Cliff Obrecht and I started Fusion Books, we were just two university students sitting in my mum’s living room. We had crazy dreams to change the world of design and publishing, however we didn’t know anyone else who had started a tech company nor did we have any relevant experience.
Every single aspect has been a steep learning curve. We’ve had to learn how to hire a team, how to raise investment, and how to build and launch a product. We’ve certainly had a lot of setbacks and challenges along the way.
Here’s a bit more about the story of how we raised our first round of funding of $3 million dollars for Canva in 2013. Due to Canva’s rapid growth, existing investors including Matrix Partners, Shasta Ventures and Blackbird Ventures, alongside AirTree Ventures, have invested an additional $6 million of capital in our company.
Caprino: Please tell us more about how Canva got the user adoption it needed to turn the corner and succeed? What process did you engage in for that to happen?
Perkins: Our best marketing has been our product. Many of our users come back each and every week and have told their friends, family and social media about Canva. Finding people who love the product has been the best marketing we could have. Some of our users have created video tutorials, written blog posts and in some cases even taught classes on how to use Canva.
Canva has an incredible community of supporters from all over the globe. Over 9,000 blogs have been written and 2,000 video tutorials in some cases people have even taught classes on how to use Canva.
Social media has provided an amazing opportunity for Canva. We’ve seen people create their own communities. There are Facebook groups and Pinterest boards where users share inspiration and help each other with questions, people making their own tutorial videos and blog posts.
Since launching Canva, we’ve grown our community to 3 million people, who have together created more than 20 million designs. People take great pride in sharing their designs with others and getting feedback.
Having a product that people like has certainly helped us to get the word out. Most of our marketing is centered around education. There are a lot of people who want to learn graphic design, how to improve their social media skills and marketing skills. Sharing tips and tricks that are useful to users helps to get Canva out into the world, but also provides value to our users.
Caprino: What are your overall goals and mission for your work, Melanie?
Perkins: Running Canva is the best job in the world that I could ask for. I love coming to work each day and figuring out how we can achieve the big vision we have for Canva. Being an entrepreneur is an incredible path. It’s challenging, it’s a roller coaster, it’s exhilarating, it’s my dream job. I get to work with the smartest people I have ever met, get to invent, get to realize my vision.
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.
It’s important to solve a problem that really bugs a lot of people. It takes a long time to rally the people needed — the team, the investors. It takes a long time to build your product and to get it into people’s hands. You want to make sure that the solution you create solves a deep problem that people care about.
Find something that is truly significant. Find a problem faced by lots of people. With Canva, the problem was that creating engaging, professional looking graphic design was incredibly difficult unless you had expensive software and spend years studying, and we wanted to resolve that problem successfully for people.
Caprino: Would you please share your top 5 tips to budding entrepreneurs who long to build a successful business in the creative arts?
Perkins: Sure, here are a few key tips I think you can apply to any business:
Solve a deep problem.
This makes everything else much easier. You’ll find it easier to get customers, market yourself, and recruit a passionate team who believes in the vision.
With Canva, we’re lucky to have a community of people who are vocal supporters. Think about who your community is, and make sure you provide for them.
Think about the value you can offer your community. Write a blog, share tutorials, educate. If you provide value, people will be much more likely to engage with your brand.
Focus on amazing customer service.
At Canva, we provide 24/7 customer service. It’s a big focus for us, and it’s something every business should work on. Your customers are the most important people in your business.
Simplify the experience.
Think of your best experiences with websites, products or services. The best companies simplify the experience.