Forget about today, imagine tomorrow

She launched her first startup business at the age of 19, her second at 24 and now her Australian graphic design app has raised US$27m for further expansion. 

In 2012 Melanie Perkins, a university student at the time, started Canva with Cliff Obrecht and Cam Adams. The app allows users to create professional graphic designs for an array of both print and digital outputs such as posters, invitations, presentations and social media posts.

The app follows a simple search and drag format, users can search through Canva’s gallery of photographs, graphic elements and cut-out images then drag and drop to create their personalised design.

With so many of her customers printing the designs they create on the Canva app, Perkins chatted with Australian Printer and offered some gems of advice for those in the print industry.

“So many printable designs such as posters, fliers, brochures and business cards are created on Canva every month,” Perkins tells Australian Printer.

“A really fun and valuable activity that I recommend to people wondering about their industry’s future is to forget about today and try to imagine what your industry will look like in the future.

“Whether it is five, 10 or 50 years forward, you need to work on imagining. This helps you come up with all kinds of insights you could not during the immediate challenges of everyday life.”

Perkins was still studying at university and working part time tutoring other students to use existing design software suites when her lightbulb moment came to her. She watched her students struggle to feel confident in using the technology, even when creating simple designs.

She says, “I realised the future of design was going to be simpler, online and collaborative and that is when the idea of Canva occurred to me.”

But Canva was far from an overnight success, and almost two years after coming up with the idea Perkins still did not have the initial venture capital and technology team she needed in order to turn her dream into a reality.

“My co-workers and I were university students, we had no money, and we had no engineering or business experience. We just had a problem that we wanted to solve and an absurd amount of determination,” she says.

In a lesson for all business owners or those looking to start one, Perkins says her perseverance eventually paid off big time.

“Starting Canva took almost two years and literally hundreds of rejections. There is always a lot of rejection for entrepreneurs in their early days. But every time we faced a hard question or a reason why people would not invest, we stayed focused on what we would change,” Perkins explains.

“I revised our pitch after every meeting which was more than 100 times in one year to answer the questions or fix the reason for rejection from the last time.

“You just have to keep going. The normal thing to do after your 100th, 80th or even 20th ‘no’ would be to stop, but you just have to persevere.”

Since succeeding, the Canva app has rocketed to 10 million users and is now available in English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, Italian and Polish. 

In July, the company launched its Canva iPhone app which was downloaded 330,000 times just two weeks after its debut.


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