Melanie Perkins, CEO and Founder of Canva says, ‘design is the new language for visual communication’

2nd Nov 2015
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She is beautiful, soft-spoken, and very approachable. But tell her that it can’t be done and she will show you her nerves of steel. “The things that inspire me most are those which people say can’t be done, are impossible to do, or have never been done. That is when I feel like I have to do it.”

This thought process has been a strong driving force in the life of Melanie Perkins, the CEO and Co-Founder, Canva, an online graphic design platform.


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Melanie, native of Perth, Australia, has not one but two multi-million dollar startups to her credit and she lives and breaths design. HerStory spoke with Melanie to know more about the startup ecosystem in Australia, her love for design, and the launch of Canva in India.

Teaching graphic design

Melanie has not attended a design school. She discovered her love for digital media and graphic design while studying communication in the university in Australia. Such was her love and dedication for the subject that the university invited her to come and teach design the next year. From there on her association with design started and Melanie has not looked back since.

In 2007 while teaching students InDesign and Photoshop, Melanie released that the students were struggling to learn. Cognizant of the fact that design was the future and it was time to make it collaborative, simple, and affordable, she joined hands with Cliff Obrecht and started Fusion Books, an online tool to create school yearbooks. “Fusion Books is still doing great,” shares Melanie with a smile.

It was at the Innovator of the Year Awards in Perth, when Melanie and her co-founder were presenting Fusion Books, that they happened to meet with Bill Tai, MaiTai Founder and San Francisco investor. Bill invited them to San Francisco with the promise to meet with them. “He said if I made it to San Francisco,

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he would be more than happy to meet with me and so I jumped into a plane and went to San Francisco. I spent three months there learning all I could about the startup world,” says Melanie reminiscing about her time in the Silicon Valley.While in San Francisco, she also met Google Maps Co-Founder Lars Rasmussen, and pitched the idea of Canva to investors and engineers she met at the Valley.

In early 2013 Canva closed its first round of funding of $3 million and launched in August of 2013. Lars, Bill, and Matrix Partners were among the few investors. In early 2014, Guy Kawasaki, Former Apple Executive, joined Canva as the company’s Chief Evangelist.

Design dominates

According to Melanie, the world of design has changed over the years. “Today every single person is becoming more design aware. Every single industry needs design and everyone needs design not just the designers. For example, sales, marketing or even social media experts have turned to graphics. In fact, even startups used to have a long winded business plan and now every startup is expected to have a pitch deck that communicates visually,” she says with a smile.

Melanie explains how every industry is focussing on design to communicate visually and this “puts pressure on the designers that design should be able to communicate visually. This is a skill everybody needs to have.” It is here that Canva has found its market.

Funding

“A lot of startups have started looking at fund raising as the goal as opposed to creating a sustainable company, especially in the Silicon Valley. Investment shouldn’t be the priority. Priority should be to solve problems that actually matter to people,” says Melanie on the subject of funding.

Her own journey has not been a smooth ride and Melanie has had her fair shares of challenges. “Every single step in the company, we had do deal with a lot of rejection. My natural reaction would be when you get rejected, that you feel you don’t want to try again but then when you have such a company you realise it’s a part of the process.”

Team Canva

Meanie’s Co-Founder is also her boyfriend and since both have strong motivation and work ethic they make a strong team. “We spend a lot of time talking about everything and that is really important.”

After a year’s search they found themselves a tech Co-Founder, Cameron Adams who joined the team in 2012.


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Startup ecosystem of Australia

On the subject of the startup ecosystem in Australia, Melanie says “When I started in 2007, I really didn’t know about startups but now it is really started to take off. People are generally inspired by entrepreneurship and they are starting to get on board and startup. Even general awareness in media has increased; people are considering it as a career path, I think it’s becoming a lot more common. As far as females go I think that is something that is starting to take off as well. I think the more people can say it’s actually a possibility, the more likely it is to actually happen.”

Canva in India

This month Canva announced its official launch in India. Indian users account for Canva’s fourth largest market and have already created more than one million designs.

Along with this, India is a huge startup hub and that is what drew Melanie to India. Having travelled across India before, the company is excited about its plans for India and the response they have received has been encouraging.

They have created designs for Indian festivals and also have Hindi as a font. Canva is looking for designers and illustrators to contribute from India, as they really want India inspired layouts.

Canva is looking to extensively increase its user base in India by 2016. In October 2015, Canva raised $15 million Series A from existing and new investors, including Hollywood actors Owen Wilson and Woody Harrelson.

Valued at 165 million US dollars, their goal, Melanie says, “is to empower the field of design and get their product around the world.”

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