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Melanie Perkins has always been ambitious.
All the way from my Year 2 assignments, I've always been like, "I want to make this a good assignment."
As a teen, the Australian entrepreneur and her boyfriend, Cliff Obrecht, dreamed of taking on the Microsofts and Adobes of the world.
I guess our goal was to take the entire design ecosystem, integrate it into one page, and then make it accessible to the whole world.
No small feat!
It's a vision that would see her travel to Silicon Valley and pitch over 100 investors, fake an interest in kitesurfing, and even – she says - stalk future employees.
I took his photos from his Facebook profile, and I created this hilarious fairytale that told him about the amazing adventure he was going to have if he was to join our company.
And her hard work has paid off.
Five years after starting the company in 2013, it was valued at $1 billion, making her one of the world's youngest female tech unicorn founders at just 30.
Now aged 32, the company is worth $3.2 billion, and she says she's only just getting started.
Melanie is the co-founder and CEO of Canva, a free-to-use online design platform, whose celebrity backers include Hollywood actors Owen Wilson and Woody Harrelson.
She and Cliff started the company here in Australia in 2013, in a bid to make design accessible to all, be it for logos, flyers or even presentations.
And in six short years, it's helped create close to 2 billion designs in 190 countries.
Today, the couple is worth close to $900 million.
It was a market that hadn't been touched by new companies for a long time.
It was ruled by some big players like Adobe, and Melanie had this vision to take this market and change it.
The idea struck in 2006 while the couple was studying at university in Perth.
Melanie would spend her spare time teaching design programs to other students, but she grew frustrated with the unnecessarily complex process.
People would have to spend an entire semester learning where the buttons were, and that seemed completely ridiculous.
I thought that in the future it was all going to be online and collaborative and much, much simpler than these really hard tools.
So, the couple, who were just 19 at the time, set to work creating a simple school yearbook design tool to test out their idea.
My mum's living room became my office, and my boyfriend became my business partner.
We started enabling schools to create their yearbooks really, really simply.
So the whole school could collaborate and design their profile pages and articles.
And then we would actually physically print them and deliver them to schools all around Australia.
The business was a success — and remains active today — but they never lost sight of what Melanie calls her "crazy, big dream" for a one-stop-shop design site.
So she began chasing investors.
There was an investor called Bill Tai, who was over from Silicon Valley in Perth, and I met him after a conference.
I spoke to him for five minutes and he said if I went to San Francisco, he'd be happy to meet with me.
So I jumped on a plane to San Francisco and, true to his word, he met with me.
I had brought this paper pitch deck - I didn't realize that, you know, that wasn't cool – but I pulled out my paper pitch deck on the future of publishing.
At that point in time, 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.
But then I got home and realized that he was actually introducing me to a few people.
That meeting set the wheels in motion.
The legendary venture capitalist invited Melanie to Mai Tai, his unique retreat for investors and kitesurfing enthusiasts.
I think the kind of person that's drawn to a start-up likes to believe that they can control the forces of nature.
Bill had hosted this kitesurfing and entrepreneurship conference.
So every time he would say, "How was my business going?," he'd also be like, "How's your kitesurfing going?"
So I kind of needed to learn to kitesurf.
Oh wow!
Never done it before.
I had not done it before.
And, to be honest, it's not something that I would normally, naturally try.
But yeah, decided to give it a go because when you don't have any connections, you don't have any network, you just kind of have to wedge your foot in the door and wiggle it all the way through.
It wasn't long before the young couple was pitching to scores of Silicon Valley investors.
And even personalizing their decks to win over talent, like top tech engineers from Google.
If you search 'bizarre pitch deck' on Google, we are the number one search result.
So you can see that pitch there.
Claim to fame.
But they still lacked one crucial ingredient: a technical co-founder.
So Bill hooked them up with Lars Rasmussen, the co-founder of Google Maps, to lend them a helping hand.
When I met with Lars, we had an incredible conversation and we talked about the future of publishing and the future of the world.
And he said he'd become our tech adviser.
But what that actually entailed was a year of him rejecting every single person that I brought him.
Sending him resumes, sending him LinkedIn profiles, bringing him physical people, and he was just like, "No, they're not up to scratch."
Which was incredibly frustrating at the time because I just wanted to get started!
All that grit and patience paid off.
They eventually discovered a co-founder in Cameron Adams and a tech developer in Dave Hearnden, who were both from Google.
Months later, at the close of their first funding round, the company was oversubscribed.
That initial $1.5 million investment was even matched by the Australian government in a bid to keep the company on Australian shores.
I'm Rick Baker, I'm one of the partners at Blackbird Ventures.
We're a venture fund here in Australia and one of the first investors in Canva.
We invested in it when it was just an idea and now the largest investor in Canva.
I think, really, what attracted us to the founders was this very clear vision of what Canva was going to be.
Six years on, the company is now a darling of Australia's start-up scene.
In October 2019, an $85 million funding round led by Silicon Valley investor Mary Meeker gave the company a valuation of $3.2 billion.
Valuation, as an investor, is of course important.
It means that our investment is growing very nicely.
But I think, more importantly, it's a recognition by investors who really look into the company closely and an indication of how the company's going.
What is amazing, really, is the growing usage of Canva.
Their business is a wonderful, profitable business, and that's quite a rare thing.
If you look at a lot of the big tech companies, the venture-backed SAAS companies in the U.S., a lot of them are burning millions of dollars a month to drive their growth.
And the amazing thing Canva's been able to do is to do that in a really profitable way.
The milestone also makes it one of the world's most valuable female-led tech start-ups.
Today, less than a third of tech and healthcare start-ups have at least one female founder.
I know Melanie doesn't like to play the female angle, but it really is an inspiration to women.
And it isn't a responsibility Melanie is taking on lightly.
She says she'll use the funding to continue to prove her leadership prowess, expand her team of 700 across Sydney, Beijing and Manila, and build out new revenue streams with the company's paid services, Canva Pro and Canva for Enterprise.
That strategy will bring Melanie the closest she's come yet to competing with the professional design tools of top tech giants like Microsoft and Adobe.
But with 85% of Fortune 500 companies already using the platform, the young founder says she's up for the challenge.
I think I've always put a lot of pressure on myself.
And I think that sort of internal locus of control has been pretty strong.
So while the expectations around our company and what we're expected to do is sort of increasing, that's nothing on what I've got on myself!
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She founded a unicorn by 30. Now she's taking on the tech giants | Make It International

555 Folder Collection
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