Canva CEO Melanie Perkins On Creating A Multi-Million Dollar Company

She predicted the future... then created it.

15/09/2016 10:08 AM AEST | Updated 15/09/2016 8:50 PM AEST

Canva co-founders Melanie Perkins, Cliff Obrecht and Cameron Adams.

At 19 while studying her communications degree, Melanie Perkins grew frustrated with the lengthy time it took to do simple graphic design tasks, like creating a marketing brochure.

"I was giving other students lessons in these programs outside of class and found myself writing long instruction manuals to do the simplest things. It seemed insane to me that it took 22 clicks to export a high quality document," Perkins, Canva founder and CEO told The Huffington Post Australia.

It was around the time Facebook was taking off and Perkins noticed the ease with which everybody was jumping online and using the social network without any instructions.

"These design tools were developed before the internet and I knew that in the future they would no longer satisfy the needs of the workforce, but an accessible online platform would," Perkins said.

Fast-forward a decade and Perkins' idea for an easy-to-use online tool, Canva, is now fully off the ground with the Sydney-based company revealing on Thursday it has doubled its valuation in less than a year. The company is now worth an incredible $458 million.

I've never met a company that's had overnight success. For us, it was three years between meeting our first investor and actually landing investment.

The university dropout still has a semester left to go in her degree ("it's actually due to expire in six months!") though with backing by the likes of Google Maps co-founder Lars Rasmussen, and Thursday's announcement they've raised over $42 million, we can assume tutorials and exams are a kindergarten memory.

With more than 10 million users across 179 countries, Canva has allowed people of any skillset to create compelling designs and is becoming a major disruptor across all industries as the need for workplaces to communicate visually increases.

HuffPost Australia chatted with Perkins from her Sydney office about her journey from starting a business out of her mother's lounge room to CEO of a multi-million dollar company, the virtues of taking one step at a time and not comparing your behind-the-scenes with everyone else's highlight reel.

Canva headquarters are based in Sydney with teams in Manila and also investors in San Francisco.

Start niche

Instead of taking on the entire design world as a 19-year-old uni student, Perkins decided to tackle a smaller problem by developing an online design platform for the school yearbook market.

"We would send out envelopes and sample books to every school, our families helping us pack them. I remember when we got our first cheque for $100 -- it was the most exciting thing -- because it meant someone actually wanted to pay for the software we developed," Perkins said.

Within five years it became Australia's largest yearbook publisher, expanding to France and New Zealand.

Get uncomfortable

"I remember when I had my first meeting with Bill Tai [Canva's first investor] in Perth and I was so incredibly nervous. I remember thinking 'if I even get to this meeting, I'll give myself a tick'," Perkins said.

That meeting led to Perkins' first trip to San Francisco, where she was introduced to Google Maps co-founder Lars Rasmussen who would later invest and become instrumental in Canva's success.

"Lars was the first person I'd met who had created a world-changing company," Perkins said.

"It completely blew my mind that he was this nice, normal person and it really changed my perspective on what I believed was possible," Perkins said.

An example of a Canva template design created by a non-designer (journalist). Pretty, huh?

Overnight success is a lie

"I've never met a start-up that's had overnight success," Perkins said.

Canva has been 10 years in the making with many trials and tribulations including two trips to the States with scarily close shaves with Perkins' visa expiry.

"It was three years between meeting our first investor and actually landing investment. We launched in 2013."

Since then, they've launched an iPhone app and made Canva available in 11 languages around the world including Spanish, French, German, Russian, as well as Indonesian bahasa and Malay.

A quote Perkins' often references is one from Steve Furtick. "He said, 'The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else's highlight reel.'"

Keep it simple

"It's really important that the entire team has buy-in about our vision and what we're trying to achieve as a company," Perkins said.

"Even when it was just Cliff [Canva co-founder] and I in my mum's living room we'd have inter-department meetings about accounts, marketing and grants on a document we could both access -- and that remains the same -- though now we have more than 120 staff who are across the document," Perkins said.

"When everyone is aligned on the bigger things it makes a lot of the smaller decisions easier."

'When everyone is aligned on the bigger things it makes a lot of the smaller decisions easier.'

But also, keep it fun

"I've always wanted to create a company that I wanted to work in -- something that was very casual and very fun -- where people are motivated to do incredible things."

"Because everyone does want to achieve incredible things at work, and if you can create an environment and a culture that enables that, well it puts everyone in a great position," Perkins said.

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