EP13. From Classroom Idea to Design Empire: Melanie's Canva Tale | Her Venture Talk

Dive into the world of Melanie Perkins, the visionary co-founder of Canva, as we chart her journey from a student in Perth to leading one of the most intuitive design platforms in the digital age.


Hello everyone and welcome back to another exciting episode of Her Venture Talk! I’m your host, Helen, and wow, we’ve been on a crazy ride checking out amazing women entrepreneurs, from those making use of sustainable energy to trailblazers in the tech world. Today, we’re hopping over to Perth, Australia to learn about a woman who’s made it incredibly easy for anyone—yes, even those of us who can’t draw a straight line—to become a graphic designer. Get ready to meet Melanie Perkins, the co-founder of Canva!

Melanie Perkins, who grew up in the sunny land down under, is more than just a success story. She’s a testament to what can happen when you combine vision, tenacity, and a dash of creative flair. Melanie’s early life wasn’t a roadmap to Silicon Valley; it was actually quite ordinary. She studied Communications at the University of Western Australia. Now, university is an enlightening experience for most, but for Melanie, it was a canvas—no pun intended—for her entrepreneurial dreams.

You see, while still at university, Melanie was teaching other students about communications. But what bugged her—and I mean really got under her skin—was how complicated existing design software was. I mean, who hasn’t opened one of those programs and thought, “I need a PhD to use this thing!” Right? Melanie saw her students struggle and realized there was a gap—a huge, glaring gap. This frustration seeded the idea for Canva, a platform designed to make graphic design accessible for everyone.

How many of us have had that moment where we’re complaining about something and think, “Someone should fix this!” But how many of us actually go ahead and DO something about it? Melanie did.

As she nurtured the seeds of this idea, Melanie faced challenges that would’ve made lesser souls crumble. You see, she wasn’t a tech wizard; she was a communications student. But what Melanie had was a knack for storytelling, and she used that to pitch her vision. The initial funding rounds were grueling. Rejection was more common than approval. There were cold calls, colder emails, and the coldest of investor meetings. Yet, Melanie didn’t let any of this deter her.

The interesting thing about Canva is that it started as a simple tool for students but has now become a powerhouse platform with a wide array of design tools. It’s a great case study of how a simple idea can morph into something so much more significant. Now, if you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, especially a woman looking to break into the tech industry, Melanie’s story is a goldmine of inspiration.

It also shows the importance of initial funding methods. You don’t always have to look for the big venture capital names. Melanie and her team started with small funding sources and used the funds to prove their concept before reaching for higher stakes. This step-by-step approach was not just smart but also strategic. And that’s what entrepreneurship often is, a mix of vision and strategy, like an artist carefully choosing the colors for her canvas—again, no pun intended!

Okay, so you might be asking, what makes Canva so special? Well, apart from the user-friendly design—remember, this was born out of a frustration with complicated software—Canva also focused on what users really wanted. And what they wanted was a one-stop-shop for all their design needs. Canva answered this by offering templates, custom designs, and even print services.

In essence, the business model of Canva is pretty straightforward: make design so easy and accessible that people can’t help but use it. And once they use it, they’ll love it so much they’ll be willing to pay for the premium features. It’s this user-centric approach that has propelled Canva to the heights it’s reached today.

Alright folks, we gonna take a short break now. Stay tuned as we delve deeper into the world of Canva, Melanie Perkins’ mindset, and the awe-inspiring success that she’s achieved.

Now, we all have a “why” that keeps us going, right? It’s like a light at the end of a very long, sometimes dark tunnel. For Melanie, her “why” was accessibility. Not just making design accessible, but making it possible for everyone to represent themselves beautifully. Let’s call this the ‘Democratization of Design’. And it’s this vision that has shaped her entrepreneurial mindset.

You see, entrepreneurial success isn’t just about having a killer idea or raising millions of dollars. Those are important, sure, but they’re not the crux. It’s about the mindset: resilience, innovation, and a commitment to a vision. Melanie’s journey is painted with these hues. She wasn’t just setting out to create a business; she was looking to change the world in her unique way. And let me tell you, that’s the strongest propeller for any entrepreneur.

Now, let’s talk numbers, because who doesn’t love a good success story, right? As of today, Canva is valued at—wait for it—over SIX BILLION DOLLARS. And it has a user base that’s as diverse as it is massive: from small business owners and non-profits to major corporations and educational institutions. Everyone’s sipping the Canva Kool-Aid, and guess what? They love it!

But wait, there’s more. Melanie hasn’t just been sitting on this empire of pixels and templates. She’s been garnering accolades like they’re going out of style. I mean, she’s been recognized by Forbes, listed among Australia’s most influential people, and even honored with the title of Australia’s coolest young entrepreneur. How’s that for some resume-building?

So, if you’re an aspiring entrepreneur listening to this, especially a female entrepreneur, what can you glean from Melanie’s meteoric rise? Well, a few things. First, let the naysayers nay while you slay. Rejection is not a stop sign; it’s just a bump in the road. Second, always, and I mean always, stay connected to your ‘why’. It’s your north star, your roadmap, your best friend on this entrepreneurial journey.

And third, be prepared to pivot. Success is rarely a straight line. It’s more like a meandering river full of bends, rapids, and sometimes, peaceful lulls. Canva didn’t just stick to its original student-centric model; it expanded to meet the needs of a broader audience. So don’t be afraid to let your original idea evolve.

Alright, before we take another break, I want you to remember one key takeaway from Melanie’s journey: Your background, your challenges, and even your limitations can become your strengths if you’re willing to view them through the lens of possibility.

Now, every entrepreneurial journey is a classroom in itself, offering lessons that textbooks can’t teach. And Melanie’s story is no exception. So, what can aspiring entrepreneurs, especially women, learn from her? Buckle up, because we’re about to distill some wisdom that could very well be the secret sauce to your future success!

Let’s start with something that often gets swept under the rug: mental resilience. It’s not just about gritting your teeth and weathering the storm. It’s about being nimble, adaptive, and yes, even vulnerable. Melanie was open about not having all the answers at the beginning. Heck, she was a communications student who ended up running a tech company! So, lesson number one: It’s okay to not have all the answers, as long as you’re willing to find them.

Moving on to the aspect of innovation. What separates Canva from other design tools isn’t just its usability; it’s its commitment to user-focused innovation. Melanie once said, “Empathy is at the heart of design.” If you’re solving problems that people didn’t even realize they had, you’re on the right track. Empathy isn’t just good ethics; it’s good business.

And how about commitment? Many startups show promise, but it takes a whole different level of dedication to take an idea from a living room discussion to a billion-dollar valuation. Melanie once had to extend her stay in San Francisco for months, far from home, to get the initial funding. So when you commit, commit all the way—your time, your energy, your sleepless nights—everything.

So, with all this talk about success, let’s not forget about the idea of making a positive impact. Melanie isn’t just about creating a profitable business; she’s about democratizing design. That’s right—making sure everyone, from your aunt who still types with one finger to major corporations, can create visually stunning work. There’s a deep, innate satisfaction in knowing that your venture is changing lives or making things a bit easier for people. That, my friends, is the cherry on top.

Wow, can you believe we’ve almost come to the end of this episode? Time flies when you’re diving into the riveting world of entrepreneurial greatness. But before we wrap up, I’d like to summarize today’s key learnings. From Melanie, we’ve been reminded of the importance of resilience, the magic of innovation that’s rooted in empathy, and the enduring commitment it takes to make a dream reality.

Now, make sure to tune in for our next episode where we continue to explore and celebrate the extraordinary stories of women who are breaking barriers, setting trends, and, simply put, running the world. I’m Helen, and this has been another episode of Her Venture Talk, Season 2. Till next time, keep venturing, keep dreaming, and above all, keep believing in the incredible power of you!

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