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Start-Up Site Grand Designs Out Of This World

SILICON Valley luminary and former Apple chief evangelist Guy Kawasaki believes Sydney start-up Canva can “make a dent in the universe” with its online design tool without having to relocate to the US.

July 08, 2014
The Australian
by Fran Foo

Mr Kawasaki was recently appointed as chief evangelist at Canva, which is a “design for dummies” website that aims to turn anyone into a designer.

Canva’s biggest selling point is ease of use at no cost. People can create flyers, birthday and business cards, Facebook covers, posters, info graphics and other designs at Canva.com. Premium images are priced at $US1.

“This is the first time I’ve become a full-time employee in about eight years,” Mr Kawasaki told The Australian during his visit to Sydney last week.

“It’s because I really think that Canva, as Steve (Jobs) would say, would make a dent in the universe.

“I’d rather be the hammer than the dent.”

Mr Kawasaki, described by Canva co-founder and chief product officer Cameron Adams as a human megaphone, will bank on his eight million-plus social networking followers to spread the word on the start-up.

He said Canva would take a leaf out of management consultant Geoffrey Moore’s playbook to grow its business by expanding into niche areas.

Mr Kawasaki’s online followers include some six million people on Google+, more than one million on Twitter and more than 800,000 on LinkedIn.

He expressed confidence in being able to put the Australian start-up on the global map, starting with the mammoth US market.

“They have one very big mouth in America ... I can cover the whole country,” he said.

How does he “sell” Canva?

“I say that it’s an online graphics design tool that’s fast, free and easy to use.”

Mr Kawasaki said people understood that most graphic design tools were slow, hard to use and not free.

He said there was no need for Canva to relocate overseas to be successful.

“They’re fine here in Sydney. It’s a global market. It’s English speaking,” he said.

Mr Kawasaki said companies should be based where there was ­talent and not where it was more convenient.

As reported in The Australian last week, Canva has 575,000 users who have created about three million designs since it launched 10 months ago.

In January it had more than 280,000 users responsible for more than one million designs.

Mr Kawasaki said Canva had no plans to increase the $US1 fee for premium images, as the main focus was on “reaching critical mass and getting the word out”.

“It’s not about getting every last penny out of people ... we’re not in that part of the life cycle now,” he said.

How does he plan to achieve critical mass?

“Hopefully a great chief evangelist will help,” Mr Kawasaki said with gusto.

“An evangelist is only as good as the product he’s evangelising.” . He said smart evangelists only worked for “companies with great stuff”. “It’s very hard to evangelise crap,” he quipped.

“I call this Guy’s golden touch — whatever Guy touches is gold.”

He said a big part of being a great evangelist was knowing what to evangelise. “I’m not a Windows evangelist (for a reason)”.

Although Canva was developed in Australia, Mr Kawasaki said there was no reason why it couldn’t cater to non-English speaking users.

“It’s easy to use (so) it’s not like you need to speak English to use Canva,” he said.

When asked if the start-up could reach a million users in the next six months, Mr Kawasaki said: “One thing I’ve learnt in my career is never make predictions.

“If I’m wrong and it’s longer, I look like a fool, and if it’s shorter I look like a fool ... there’s no upside,” he added.

He said it took Facebook a whole year to reach one million users and “we’re six-tenths of that” in 10 months.

Asked if there were any lessons to be drawn from Facebook, Mr Kawasaki said: “It looks like if you make confusing terms of service and change them all the time it fosters growth.”

Mr Adams has promised “big product launches with new features” in the next six months.

He said Canva would be targeting niche markets that were reliant on graphic design.

He cited Moore’s Crossing the Chasm marketing bible as the inspiration behind Canva’s diversification process.

According to Moore, a product becomes mainstreams or generally accepted by conquering one niche market at a time.

“Then one day you wake up and you become a de facto standard,” Mr Kawasaki said. “We’re just going down the line of niches that need graphic design.”

For example, real estate brokers have to create flyers for their listings and Canva will make templates for that group of users. Kindle e-book authors who have to make covers for their ebook tap into Canva, and so can Pinterest small business users or Etsy store owners.

“We’re trying to knock off each of these niches. One day we’ll wake up and say ‘Oh my God, we control the world’,” Mr Kawasaki said.

Canva has more than 20 employees mostly based in Sydney. It had 12 employees in August.

Canva has raised $3 million in seed funding from myriad investors including Twitter investor Bill Tai, Google Maps co-founder Lars Rasmussen, Commercialisation Australia, Matrix Partners, InterWest Partners, Blackbird Ventures, Seek co-founder Paul Bassat’s Square Peg Capital, Yahoo chief financial officer Ken Goldman and former CVC Asia-Pacific chief Adrian MacKenzie.

Canva co-founders Melanie Perkins and Cliff Obrecht contacted Mr Kawasaki after they ­noticed him using Canva for marketing material.

They soon realised it was Mr Kawasaki’s social media guru Peg Fitzpatrick who had been busy on Canva.com. Mr Kawasaki recalled being contacted by the duo via email.

“Is this the company that you told me you really like,” he asked Ms Fitzpatrick.

She said yes and told Mr Kawasaki to “do anything they want”.

‎Ms Fitzpatrick has since been recruited as Canva’s head of social strategy.

Mr Kawasaki said his first impression of Canva.com was “totally clean, Macintosh-like, lots of white space, pure, and not a lot of bullshit”.

He said that when he met Ms Perkins and Mr Obrecht in person, they “reflected their product — no bullshit, and clean”.

“I asked them some tough questions and every answer came back right (at least in my opinion) and the rest is history,” he said.

Mr Kawasaki said his goal was to have every graphic on the internet created with Canva.

“It might take a while, but it’s not impossible,” Mr Kawasaki said.

“One must have big goals.”

He said not even the late Jobs would have predicted that Apple would one day be the most valuable company in the world.

Start-Up Site Grand Designs Out Of This World

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