Melanie Perkins is the co-founder and CEO of online design platform Canva, one of Australia's fastest growing startups that now serves over 10 million users all over the world.
She started working out of her Mum’s kitchen in suburban Perth and went on to attract investment from Silicon Valley heavyweights and even Hollywood actors Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson. She’ll share her lessons on how to take on incumbent Goliaths and building a world-class team from Australia.
Blackbird: This is your second business, how obsessive/crazy do you have to be to start a company?
Melanie: Throughout my life, I've always put a lot of effort into any single thing that I did. That could have been a school assignment, that could have been extracurricular activity, which I did pretty much all of them. I think that's actually a really important thing. If you can put all your mind and effort into something and then you can actually see that that time and effort and determination actually equates to success, it means that you'll get more and more ready to take bigger and bigger risks.
YOU HAVE TO BELIEVE IN WHAT YOU'RE DOING BEFORE ANYONE ELSE WILL
Blackbird: Where did the idea for Canva come from?
Melanie: The idea for Canva came about when I was at university. I was teaching design programs like Photooshop and InDesign, and they were just so complex and difficult, it would take a whole semester for people just to learn the very basics. It became very apparent that in the future it was all going to be online and collaborative and really simple.
EVERY STAGE OF RUNNING A COMPANY HAS SIGNIFICANT CHALLENGES. DEPENDING ON WHICH STAGE YOU'RE AT, THAT CHALLENGE IS THE BIGGEST, HARDEST THING TO OVERCOME EVER.
Fortune 500 companies using Canva
Numbre of Users
Blackbird: Fast forward, how is it going now?
Melanie: We've been launched now for two and a half years. It has been growing like crazy. We have eight million users around the globe who've created 53 million designs, which is just completely mind-blowing. I think it's two designs a second now, which is kind of cool.
Blackbird: What would you say has been the most challenging part?
Melanie: Every stage of running a company has significant challenges. Depending on which stage you're at, that challenge is the biggest, hardest thing to overcome ever. When we were starting our first company, we completely bootstrapped it. We had to become profitable really quickly. If we didn't, we literally would have no company. My mum's living room converted into our office and we ended up with printing presses there, printing year books for schools. We ended up with staff scattered all around the floor, not the floor, like around the room. It was just this crazy time trying to make something out of nothing.
Blackbird: What do you think investors look for in an early stage company?
Melanie: Especially in the very early stages I think investors were attracted to solving a real problem that really mattered and affected a lot of people. That was a thing we could prove in the early stages - that a lot of people cared about design. A lot of people needed to create great content, but didn't have the tools.
Blackbird: Of all the qualities you possess, which do you think has served you best on your startup journey?
Melanie: I'm sure one of the most important things that has carried us through and has got us to where we are today is the sheer determination. I think most people would probably give up before the 100th revision to their pitch before the 100th investor they pitch to. You have to believe in what you're doing before anyone else will. You just have to keep persisting and pushing through. It's not easy. There's nothing about starting a company that's easy. By it's very nature it's going completely against the grain. It's so worth it. If you enjoy a challenge, you don't get a better one than a start up.
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