Canva was launched in Sydney in 2012 by Perth native and Canva CEO Melanie Perkins with Cliff Obrecht and Cameron Adams. It now boasts 4.7 million users across the world. We spoke with Melanie about the challenges, and thrills, of taking Canva from a tiny startup to a multimillion-dollar company.
Where did the idea for Canva come from?
At university I was teaching design programs such as Photoshop and InDesign. They were difficult to learn and I realised that, in the future design would be entirely different – that it would be online, simple and collaborative.
What were those first few months like?
When Cliff and I first started, we were two university students sitting in my mum’s living room, so turning this idea into a company was a huge leap of faith. Within the first month, we had more than 50,000 people sign up. It’s been incredibly popular with marketers, graphic designers and small businesses – anyone who needs visual content and struggles with existing tools. We’ve had to learn how to hire talent, raise investment and build and launch a product. Incredibly challenging, but also an incredible adventure.
How did you get investors on board?
After a pitch, I would go through all the factors that made it a success or failure. When I was rejected, I would always see ways I could improve it: explain the market better, articulate the problem we were solving in more detail, spend more time explaining an aspect of our vision. We ended up revising our pitch more than 100 times.
What makes Canva so appealing to its users?
I believe technology should adapt to the user, not vice versa. It's an emotional journey. With Canva, we found that people doubted their own creative ability and were afraid to experiment in case they broke something. We wanted them to realise that Canva is a safe and fun place to create, and that it doesn't take years of learning to create something good. Our onboarding experience includes five starter challenges that let you play with Canva, which in turn has helped dramatically transform people's self-belief about their creative abilities and made them much more likely to recommend it to others.
What advice can you offer aspiring tech innovators?
Listen not only to what your users say, but also to what they do. While we know where we want to take the product, we’ll always test new features to make sure users find it simple to navigate. Sometimes a small tweak to a menu or changing an icon can make all the difference. The most important thing is to get started. For me, that was writing a plan for how an online design platform would work. Only then can you test out your ideas and put the wheels in motion.
A great team is also important. Canva has grown quickly across the globe, so it’s been imperative that our technology could withstand the scale. We have some of the world’s brightest engineers on our team, so we’ve been very lucky not to experience the growing pains that a lot of companies of our size experience.
What's your vision for Canva going forward?
We recently launched Canva for Work, which helps individuals and brands create great branded graphics. Our vision is to enable people to take their idea and turn it into a design as seamlessly as possible, and while we think we’ve made some big steps in this direction already, I think we’re just getting started.