How did Canva CEO and founder Melanie Perkins overcome a hundred rejections in order to launch one of the world's fastest-growing unicorns?
Perhaps the biggest startup turned unicorn to come from Down Under, Canva, led by CEO Melanie Perkins, has quickly made a name for itself as the everyday man’s Photoshop.
Their co-founder Melanie Perkins is one of the youngest female CEOs of a tech start-up valued at over A$1 billion.
But did you know that she received more than a hundred rejections when looking for funding?
Canva is a graphic design platform that allows users to create a variety of visual content such as social media graphics, presentations, posters, and more. It was founded in 2012 by Melanie Perkins, Cliff Obrecht, and Cameron Adams in Perth, Australia.
The platform was created to simplify the graphic design process and make it accessible to everyone, regardless of their design skills. Canva's initial growth was fueled by word-of-mouth and social media, which led to rapid adoption by individuals and businesses.
But how did they get to this point?
As the story goes, in 2011 prominent investor, Bill Tai visited Perth to judge a start-up competition. Perkins and Obrecht pitched Tai the initial idea for Canva over dinner. There were also other venture capitalists present including Rick Baker from Blackbird Ventures.
They received no funding but became regular fixtures at gatherings hosted by Tai for investors and start-up founders. Some of these gatherings took place in Silicon Valley where Perkins and Obrecht met Lars Rasmussen, co-founder of Google Maps.
He expressed interest in the idea but told the founders to ‘put everything on hold’ until they found a tech team of the caliber required. Rasmussen then became the tech adviser to the business where he introduced Perkins and Obrecht to Cameron Adams, an ex-Google employee with the relevant technical expertise.
Canva filled a desperate need in the market. Photoshop thought it had a monopoly, but the problem with Photoshop is the barrier to entry. Not everyone can pick up the software and create a wonderful design within a few minutes.
Coming from a background of building drag-and-drop template makers for yearbooks, Perkins realized that Photoshop put through the lens of an easier UI could be a master play.
Canva became a unicorn startup by achieving a billion-dollar valuation within six years of its launch. The company's success can be attributed to several factors, including its user-friendly design interface, extensive library of templates and design elements, and commitment to providing a high-quality user experience.
But above all, Canva also differentiated itself from competitors by offering a freemium model that allowed users to access basic design tools for free while charging for premium features. Anyone can suddenly get the same level of results as a true graphic designer thanks to Canva’s existing templates and elements available for use.
Melanie Perkins, the CEO, and co-founder of Canva is widely regarded as a highly effective leader and entrepreneur.
One of the key reasons for her success as a CEO is her ability to articulate a clear vision for the company and inspire her team to work towards that vision. Perkins is also known for her strong work ethic and dedication to the success of Canva. She has a hands-on approach to leadership and is actively involved in all aspects of the company's operations, from product development to marketing and business strategy.
Another factor that sets Perkins apart as a CEO is her willingness to take calculated risks and pursue ambitious goals. She has a deep understanding of the design industry and has been able to anticipate and respond to changes in the market quickly.
Perkins is also known for her ability to build strong relationships with investors, customers, and employees, creating a culture of collaboration and innovation at Canva that has expanded its offerings far beyond its initial launch services.
Since the launch of ChatGPT, Bard, and other AI tools, we have seen many companies introduce this technology and Canva is no exception.
The visual communication software suite has released a number of new tools, with the aim of making the design process more efficient through AI and centralized content creation hubs.
The AI-powered tools will be available to users of Canva’s Visual Worksuite and consist of Docs, Websites, Whiteboards, Videos, and Data Visualization. Since the launch of Visual Worksuite, Canva says it has seen its monthly user numbers grow to 120 million, an increase of 35 million during the last six months.
These new AI tools will offer a new approach called Magic Design in which users will be able to “magically” create new presentations by providing a prompt, from which it will be able to generate a range of presentations with an outline and content on each graphic.
And that’s not all - translation is another key place in that AI is now playing a role for Canva.
A new Translate tool will automatically translate the text in designs to over 100 different languages, while Beat Synch will automatically match video footage to a soundtrack. Magic Write, which will be accessible across Canva’s entire Visual Worksuite, will create content such as website copy and presentation summaries, from a simple text prompt.
The future of Canva looks promising as the company continues to innovate and expand its offerings to meet the needs of its growing user base. One area of focus for the company is on expanding its enterprise offerings, with a focus on providing tools for teams to collaborate and streamline their design processes.
Canva has also been expanding into new markets, including education and nonprofits, as well as developing new products like Canva Video, which allows users to create high-quality videos.
In the coming years, Canva is likely to continue its growth trajectory, potentially through strategic acquisitions and partnerships. The company has also expressed interest in expanding its presence in Asia and other international markets, which could further drive its user base and revenue growth.
As the biggest unicorn to come out of Australia, it’s no surprise that Canva is set to take over the world.