By @SimonCocking. Great interview with Melanie Perkins cofounder and CEO of Canva. Perth native, learning to kite board, changing the world of design.

What is your background briefly?

I am the cofounder and CEO of Canva, a platform that makes graphic design accessible for everyone. I live in Sydney Australia, and love travelling and building Canva.

Looking back does it all seem a logical progression to what you do now?

It’s definitely been a logical progression. The Canva journey started back in 2007, while I was studying at the University of Western Australia. At the time I was teaching students how to use programs like InDesign and Photoshop. Students found the programs hard to learn, and harder to use. I imagined the future of design would be entirely different. It would be online, collaborative and very simple.

I first had the idea when building the product of our dreams was not even a remote possibility. My co-founder Cliff and I were university students. We had no money. We had no engineering or business experience. We did not even know what a ‘startup’ was, let alone know anyone who was in one. We just had a problem that we wanted to solve and an absurd amount of determination.

So we launched our first business, Fusion Books, which was the idea of Canva but applied to the very niche market of high school yearbooks in Australia. Once we had established a growing and profitable business and proven the approach, we were ready to expand it to the whole design space and began to work on Canva.

Canva has done so well, and is loved by many – well done. How long was the process when you were trying to convince others / investors etc of it’s potential value?

To launch Canva, we needed investment and a tech team. Finding the right people for both took two years but there is always a lot of rejection for entrepreneurs in their early days. But every time we got a hard question or a reason why people wouldn’t invest, we stayed focused on what we could change. I revised our pitch deck after every meeting, more than 100 times in one year, to answer the questions or fix the reason for rejection from the last time. You just have to keep going. The normal thing to do after your 100th, 80th or even 20th ‘no’ would be to stop, but you just have to persevere.

What tips would you give to companies starting out now ?

One: Solve a real problem that many people experience. Two: Go niche before you go wide. We tested the idea for Canva with our first business, Fusion Books, which was the idea of Canva but for the very niche market of high school yearbooks in Australia. Once we’d learned a lot and proven the idea, we decided to tackle a much larger problem, enabling design to be simple for everything from social media posts to marketing materials. Three: Hire and work with the very best people you can. We’ve been incredibly lucky to build a really strong team who want to achieve huge things. Four: Focus on the projects and tasks that are going to have the biggest impact. Five: Just get started!

What’s next for Canva?

We’re only just getting started. From the outside it could look as though Canva is fairly well developed. But we have only achieved 1% of what we plan to, and have a lot of work to do. Ten million users sounds like a lot, but that’s only 0.03% of the internet using population. We’ve recently launched our iPhone app as well as the web app in seven of the 20 new languages it will be available in this year to make this happen.

Being based in Australia what are your tips for growing a business from there to the global markets that you now operate it?

One of the really exciting things about technology is it can make geography almost irrelevant. We are based in Sydney, Australia but have users from 179 countries and our biggest markets include the US, UK and India.

From the first night we launched Canva, we had tweets and Facebook comments and blog posts coming in in all kinds of languages. Recently we launched localised version for the app for seven languages (French, German, European Spanish, Polish, Italian, Latin American Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese) and this has seen our growth take off in those markets.

Things can be very 24/7 these days, how do you manage to have a good life / work, online / offline balance?

Running Canva is the best job in the world that I could ask for. I love coming to work each day and figuring out how we can achieve the big vision we have for Canva. Being an entrepreneur is an incredible path. It’s challenging, it’s a roller coaster, it’s exhilarating, it’s my dream job. To relax, I like to do yoga, and my partner and cofounder Cliff and I love taking walks together.


If you would like to have your company featured in the Irish Tech News Business Showcase, get in contact with us at [email protected] or on Twitter: @SimonCocking

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