Melanie Perkins is an ambitious creative who is making a transformative impact on the world of graphic design. She is CEO and co-founder of Canva, launched in 2014.
Kochie’s Business Builders editor Cec Busby unravels the truth behind Canva’s overnight success in this interview with Perkins.
Start at the beginning
Melanie Perkins’ passion for design has been present throughout her life. At the University of Western Australia, she taught design programs despite studying psychology and commerce.
It was her students’ experience that led Perkins to realize the counterintuitive nature of design programs as they struggled to learn the basics.
“You shouldn’t have to take an entire semester to learn where Photoshop’s buttons were,” she explained.
“You also shouldn’t have to learn another tool for everything you wanted to make. You should be able to jump in and start using it.
This experience left Perkins with a desire to make a change. She dreamed of a suite of design tools on a single platform, with easier tools to use and collaboration. It would provide simple templates and end users would no longer struggle with the basics of editing and creating.
However, with little knowledge about starting a business, Perkins had to learn through experience as she took her idea to reality.
From running a small business to a behemoth
Canva’s popularity and success may seem like it happened overnight, but the learning and development process took more than a decade.
Her first company, Fusion Books, was the testing ground. Since she started the business, she juggled everything herself and learned along the way, but it gave her valuable experience when she founded Canva.
“I did customer service, quality assurance, all product management and marketing,” says Perkins.
As the company grew, she was able to let go of more responsibility.
“Every time a new person starts, it’s like giving away another hat and then another hat. And then you think, how on earth did I do all these things? she said.
From a solo operator to a co-founder of a digital company, Perkins still had a lot to learn.
“We had to figure out how to hire people for the first time. We had to figure out how to work with people, set up an office, all those kinds of challenges that I could never have imagined,” she said.
The experience of starting from scratch and growing a company with over 1500 employees meant that agile working was essential.
“It’s a continuous process of letting go,” she revealed, “because you’re doing everything yourself in the beginning.”
Canva’s big, bold goal
The years leading up to Canva’s release to the public helped Perkins figure out what was fulfilling her business goals and the impact she wanted to make.
“Having great purpose is essential to my being. If I don’t have a big goal, I feel lost. I always like having a big goal that I’m working towards,” she said.
The motivation to set goals is ingrained in her business,
“I think having one of the values we’ve explicitly stated at Canva is to set crazy big goals and make them happen. And I happen to be very inspired by crazy big goals,” Perkins said.
“We have a two-step plan at Canva. Step one is building one of the world’s most valuable companies. No biggie. Just a little one. Step two is to do the best we can do.”
She believes Canva is making small progress toward these goals, but there is still a long way to go. She moves on and explores how she can use the platform and incredible community to help achieve the world’s goals.
Perkins’ plan to become one of the world’s most valuable companies has proven successful as Canva is now available in 190 countries and 100 languages.
“You can now print your design on paper in 44 countries. You can print your design as a t-shirt. You can turn your design into a website. There are all sorts of things you can do because we want to empower everyone to design,” she said.
Perkins has faced many obscure challenges to make Canva available in these countries.
She revealed that in order to make the platform accessible in Arabic, Hebrew and Urdu languages, they had to go through the tricky process of flipping the program from right to left.
“That was a huge initiative and also a considerable technical effort. But now we can really empower the whole world to design,” she said.
“That has been our philosophy from the start. So it’s cool to see it happening, but there’s so much more we need to do.
“There are many people, and then of course millions of customers. So we have to think of them in everything we do.”
- This story was first published in March 2022 on Kochie’s business builders. You can read the original here.