Find Out How Melanie Perkins Disrupted The Design World

Leadership

September 19, 2018 | BY Dorynna Untivero

We talk to the Filipina behind the disruptive design app, Canva. Born 2012, Canva simplified graphic design by democratising the process -- through the app, both amateurs and veterans will find something to tickle their fancy and activate their creativity. We talk to Melanie Perkins about the ups and downs of starting the brand and other lessons she encountered along the way:

Back in 2007, Melanie Perkins was a typical hard-working student at the University of Western Australia -- eager to learn, striving to excel. Together with Canva co-founder (and partner), Cliff Obrecht, Perkins came up with the idea of simplifying difficult design programs like InDesign and Photoshop. They believed that there was a strong demand for design as the current tech-savvy world kept growing, creating a bigger demand for good visual content every day. Although she often cites it was not an easy road to get to where they are now (Canva is now noted as the newest Australian Unicorn, in that it has already exceeded the US$1 billion mark), they sure make it look easy!

We got to sit down and talk to Melanie Perkins to ask her just how the company grew, what would be her advice to those who have a start-up in mind, and how she unwinds during a long day. Scroll through to read more: 

In your own words, how do you think Canva changed the design landscape?

Canva grew rapidly because we are solving a genuine problem that affects a lot of people. At Canva, we are making design accessible for everyone, without years of training or expensive, complex software. For too long, graphic design was an exclusive skill that was hard to learn, so giving people the tools to design themselves sparked conversations worldwide and waves of recommendations. Because we want everyone to be able to create beautiful and professional designs, our focus is on creating an entirely new kind of design software, one that is simple and intuitive, rather than focusing on how to replace the existing options. Today we have over 10 million users across 190 countries, our rapid growth is a testament to the problem we’re solving.

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Any tips for people with a startup pitch/idea?

My best piece of advice for any entrepreneur is to solve a real problem. If you find a problem that people care about, then it will make every other aspect of running a business much easier. You want to make sure that the solution you create, solves a problem that people care about.  

What is the most challenging part of creating/ maintaining Canva?

Canva has been full of challenges, and there are new ones every week. At the beginning, it was about facing rejections from potential investors and team members. We were presenting them with a crazy ambitious plan, so I received hundreds of “no” or “not yet” answers for every few that said yes. Today, the challenges are more around how to keep a rapidly growing team of 350 people as happy and productive as possible, working out what should get done first of our hundreds of ideas on how to keep making Canva better and better. 

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Any other passions besides design? Hobbies?

I also love travelling and I try to head overseas each year, to reset and recharge. 

Having found success at an early age, any regrets or things you would've changed if you had the chance?

My job has changed dramatically from when we were just a very small team of a few people to our team of over 350 today. And I expect it will change even more dramatically as we continue to grow. There’s a great analogy from Molly Graham who led Facebook’s early growth, and saw her team jump from 25 people to 125 in just 9 months. She likens it to the feeling of giving away lego as a kid. It’s a fantastic analogy for what it feels like to be working in an organisation that is changing rapidly. Realising along the way, that I needed to pass along my work to other people who can do an even better job at particular things, has definitely been something I’ve needed to get used to. At first that process feels uncomfortable, but I quickly realised how valuable it was and that the only way to build a big, awesome company is to have amazing people working with you towards the same goal. 

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How would you say Canva helps the beginner/ amateur in design?

The idea for Canva came to me when I was in university, tutoring other students on how to use design programs. I realised they were far too complex and expensive; the future of design needed to be online, collaborative, and available to everyone. Until now I think that graphic design has been considered a ‘niche’ market - however, the reality is that almost every single profession today has to create a lot more visual content. Canva offers a simple way for everyone to design anything and publish them anywhere. It’s a drag and drop platform that is incredibly simple to use.

Three tips for success?

One: Solve a real problem that many people experience.

Two: Hire and work with the very best people you can. We’ve been incredibly lucky to build a really strong team.

Three: Just get started!

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Three no-nos to avoid?

I’ve been working towards the vision of Canva and this journey for more than 10 years now, and the most important thing I’ve learned is that the learning never stops. You have to keep evolving alongside your company and your team.

How do you unwind after a long day?

It can be hard to switch off in startups, but it's really important. My boyfriend and cofounder Cliff Obrecht and I love walks, and we'll often go for long walks. I also love yoga, although I don’t get to it as often as I'd like!

 

Most memorable moment in relation to Canva's launch and continuing growth?

One particularly memorable moment for me was meeting Lars Rasmussen, co-founder of Google Maps on my first trip to San Francisco. I had never met someone who had worked on a product that had such a huge global impact, let alone met the inventor of it! I think I subconsciously thought that people who have such a huge impact must be from another planet. He was incredibly supportive of me and my vision and it completely transformed what I believed was possible.

 

Explore your creative side when you visit their website: canva.com.