For Melanie Perkins, the decision to offer a design product that would rival tech giants was not her original intent.
But as the CEO of Canva, the popular online-design platform that’s a simpler alternative to Adobe Photoshop and other design software, she managed to do just that and more.
Perkins is also one of the youngest women CEOs in the tech startup field at 32 years old, and is the second-richest woman in Australia.
Being one of the top women in startups has demonstrated there’s better ROI associated with women-based startups.
This is her story, and how her design software Canva went from just an idea in a yearbook to one of the top design software tools for businesses.
Her Early Inspirations
Where did she get the inspiration from?
Perkins was the daughter of an Australian teacher and Malaysian engineer. She attended Sacred Heart College located in the suburb of Sorreno, in Perth.
Initially, Perkins wanted to become a professional figure skater, but her knack for business slowly took over. By 14, she was selling scarves at shops in Perth, making it her first business. She attributes her scarf sales as her first entrepreneurial experience, where she found the love and fun of building a business.
She enrolled at the University of Western Australia, where she majored in communications, commerce, and psychology.
Her inspiration for Canva came from noticing the difficulties students had when learning Adobe Photoshop, where even after a semester of university they still struggled with the complex program. It created a business opportunity, creating a design platform that didn’t require experience.
She then began her career at Fusion Books, which allowed students to create simple yearbooks with a drag-and-drop function.
Originally, she wanted to create design software to made it easier for users, but after analyzing whether it would be viable, she decided otherwise.
But she used the information she learned to test out Canva, and in 5 years, Fusion Books became the largest yearbook company in Australia.
In 2011, Bill Tai, a prominent investor, visited Perth to judge their startup competition.
There, Obrecht and Perkins pitched Canva to Tai over dinner. While they had no funding, Perkins was invited to other gatherings hosted by Tai along with other investors. He was fascinated by her idea.
Although Perkins at first said,” I thought that he didn’t really like what I had to say. He was on his phone, and I thought that meant he wasn’t really engaged in what I had to say about the future of publishing,” Tai offered her the opportunity to connect with his network.
At the gathering in Silicon Valley, Perkins Met Lars Rasmussen, who was the co-founder of Google mMaps. There, he was interested in the idea, but they had to “put it on hold” until they had the proper tech team.
Rasmussen then introduced Perkins and Obrecht to Cameron Adams, who was not interested in joining the business since he was focused on fluent.io and was in Silicon Valley to raise funds for his startup.
Perkins persisted though and sent him a follow-up email offering him a chance to join the business. Perkins soon became the CEO of one of the few successful unicorn startups.
Before long, Perkins and Obrecht were winning over plenty of investors and soon became one of the fastest growing tech teams for a startup.
Today, Canva now has almost 2 billion designs and have even been backed by Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson, and the company currently has a valuation of $15 billion. Perth plans to use the funding from Mary Meeker’s Bond Capital to build more paid services including Canva for Enterprise and Canva Pro, along with expanding their team across more and more countries.
Perkins is one of the top women in startups, and she plans to eliminate bias in hiring to provide ample female representation at the company as well.