How Melanie Perkin built Canva
Melanie Perkins, born to an Australian mother and a Malaysian father, Melanie has had a multi-cultural family. Her parents belong to engineering and teaching backgrounds. Melanie had an entrepreneurial spirit since her childhood. She started her first business around the markets of Perth, where she sold handmade scarves at the age of 14.
For most of Melanie’s childhood, she attended Sacred Heart College. Melanie pursued her career in communications, psychology, and commerce from the University of Western Australia. As part of her major studies, she also taught basic computer design. This was when she realized that students struggle to work in technical and complex platforms like photoshop and illustrator. At the age of 19, she dropped out of college to pursue her dreams of being an entrepreneur and business career.
The idea that would go on to become Canva began in January of 2012 in Perth, Australia. It was then that Perkins, Obrecht and a third co-founder — Cameron Adams — saw a market that was in desperate need of being filled. The company began simply enough: They wanted to “make design accessible to all.” It didn’t matter what you actually needed those design services for — logos, business cards, presentations, or something else entirely. When Perkins and Obrecht were studying in college in Perth, the duo would earn side income by teaching other students various design programs. After determining that some of the platforms offered by companies like Microsoft and Adobe had too much of a learning curve, they decided that there had to be a better way. But when they couldn’t find it, they decided to create that “better way” themselves.
The duo — now a couple — started an online school yearbook design business, that was then called Fusion Books. It is a platform that allowed students to design their yearbooks of school by using simple tools like drag and drop, illustrations, fonts, etc. She started working on this platform at her mother’s place where her parents helped Perkins to print these yearbooks. She started connecting with people in colleges and universities to get new clients for her business. Very soon, it started to grow and become the largest yearbook company in entire Australia. The business was a success, but the pair didn’t want to stop there. They wanted to go bigger, and they had ideas on how to do it.
It was the time when Fusion Books was performing very well but Cliff and Melanie were running out of funds for growth and expansion. They wanted to take assistance and help from venture capitalists but no one agreed and believed in the idea. During this period, Fusion Books became Canva Inc. In the beginning, it was very challenging for Melanie and Obrecht to get funding from investors. They had an opportunity to visit a prominent investor Bill Tai. They didn’t receive any funding from Tai but were regularly invited to kite-surfing gatherings where many other tech investors joined too. A few of these gatherings were held at Silicon Valley, where Melanie and Obrecht touched every single opportunity they could, but still couldn’t get any help.
One fine day they met with a former Google executive who after years of struggle came as a blessing. Cameron Adams joined the team and also supported Canva to get funding for the brand to grow.
In 2013 the company was officially launched after two rounds of seed funding where Melanie was announced the CEO of the Canva, Obrecht as the COO, and Cameron Adams as the CPO of the company.
In its first year after launching, Canva had more than 750,000 active users. Now focused on marketing materials, its revenue increased from an already impressive USD 6.8 million to an enormous USD 23.5 million during the 2016/2017 fiscal year alone. Just one year later, in 2018, the company had raised more than USD 40 million from various investment firms and was already valued at USD 1 billion.
Even with just a little diversification outside Australia, Melanie got popular in Silicon Valley and among the tech businesses of the United States. In 2016, she was named the Forbes’ 30 Under 30 in Asia List.
In August 2021, Canva raised USD 200 million and the company’s valuation went up to USD 40 billion making Melanie the richest woman in Australia with a net worth of USD 6.5 billion.
Solve customer problems and make sure that the customer is a representative of a large market and then you will have a pretty good formula.
― Melanie Perkins