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

Harper’s Bazaar (Australia) - - Contents -

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.

Me­lanie Perkins.

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