THE YEAR THAT CHANGED MY LIFE
‘Game changer’ is an overused buzz-phrase, but if anyone fits the bill, it’s MELANIE PERKINS, who at just 30 helms the billiondollar tech company Canva
Canva founder Melanie Perkins reflects.
In 2011, I jumped on a plane to San Francisco with a pitch for what I believed was the future of publishing. I came up with the idea when I was teaching design programs like Indesign and Photoshop at uni and found students were struggling with the basics. The idea was to make design accessible to everyone by creating an online drag-and-drop tool that was incredibly user-friendly so that people could design anything and publish anywhere. I’d met an investor called Bill Tai in Perth the year before, and he said if I came to San Francisco he’d be happy to meet with me. So six months later, I was on the plane. I’d printed out a paper pitch using my mum’s printer, which was hilarious because I was presenting what I believed was the future of publishing and paper pitches were really not on trend. I was incredibly nervous when we went out to lunch — I was trying to show him my pitch deck and eat lunch at the same time, and I’d also read somewhere that if you mirror someone’s body language they will like you more, so I was trying to do that, too. Bill was on the phone the whole time, so I thought the meeting went horribly, but he emailed me that evening saying he’d be happy to invest if I got a tech team together. It was completely mind-blowing, but then it meant another year of going to conferences, cold calling and being on Linkedin trying to find these people.
Eventually, I found Cameron Adams [Canva’s chief product officer] and Dave Hearnden [chief technology officer], who were both from Google. It was certainly worth the wait.then there was another round of pitches to investors, and after we landed investment in 2012, there was a year of development. So it was more than three years from when I first met Bill to when Cameron, Cliff Obrecht [co-founder of Perkins’s first startup, a yearbook design and publishing company called Fusion Books] and I launched Canva in August 2013. Since then, more than 400 million designs have been created on Canva, we have 300 team members in our offices in Sydney and Manila, and the company was valued at US$1 billion [$1.3 billion] in January 2018.
Meeting Bill really opened my eyes to the world of startups and venture capitalists and changed my perception of what I thought was possible. In the same year, I also met Google Maps co-founder Lars Rasmussen. Before I met him, I had no idea that people who built big, world-changing companies could just be nice people who worked incredibly hard.
The most challenging thing about building Canva was dealing with all the rejection when I was first pitching to investors. A natural reaction to rejection is to stop what you are doing, because it doesn’t feel nice. But I had to persist hundreds of times over and be rejected hundreds of times over. I learnt that if I put enough effort into things and kept doing them, eventually, I would succeed. It would have been easy to give up at hundreds of points along the way, but continuing where most people would stop has been critical to Canva’s success. One of the most important things was to just get started, even on the smallest possible thing — figuring out how to make $100, for example — and building from there. It’s so easy to talk yourself out of beginning anything if it feels overwhelming. But if you start small, you can grow.
People use Canva for creating everything from social media graphics to marketing material, and I’m particularly proud that we have more than 20,000 nonprofits using it to promote their causes.
Dreaming about the future is something I love to do. I couldn’t imagine the future of design being desktop-based and so difficult; it seemed impossible that publishing would not undergo a radical transformation.our vision is to enable everyone to design anything and publish it everywhere. I feel like we’re only just getting started.