When Melanie Perkins was younger, she traveled to Bali for the first time and saw a problem she wanted to solve.
“I saw the complete inequity between what I had as a child growing up—like with a good education and all the rest of it—and seeing kids on the street and being like, ‘okay, that’s something I’d like to help solve at some point,’” the Filipino-Australian told entrepreneur and angel investor Jason Calacanis in his podcast, This Week in Startups. “I feel that there’s enough good will in the world, there’s enough money to solve all of the problems in the world. We just need a little help in how to re-orient society.”
Perhaps that aspirational and global perspective has helped her and her company earn massive success today. She is the CEO of the graphic design platform Canva, a company she started with her fiancé Cliff Obrecht in 2012 after dropping out of university in Perth. The platform’s value is in its simplicity, turning intimidating graphic design apps and programs into something friendlier and more accessible. “One of our philosophies is click minimization,” Perkins explains. “So the idea is trying to ensure you have the least number of clicks to get the maximum amount of value to move toward your goal as quickly as possible.”
Just last year, the company estimates that around 15 million people around the world—including 500,000 pro subscribers—use it to churn out everything from business cards to social media posts. Those figures look to have increased amid the coronavirus pandemic as digital design has become an essential part of work from home setups. Today, the company has around 600 employees, services 50,000 schools across the globe, is used by 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies, and is valued at around USD 6 to 8 billion.
Perkins’ personal finances has practically doubled from last year, and stands at about USD 2.6 billion. This makes her the third richest woman in Australia and, at 32 years old, its youngest billionaire.
How to achieve the kind of success she’s earned? We binged on every Melanie Perkins interview we could get our hands on to get a glimpse of the mind of the young woman behind the wheel of one of the world’s fastest growing techno unicorns.
On where to start:
“Do you have a problem that you feel very passionate about that you want to see solved? Once you have a problem that you want to solve passionately, there’s going to be so many barriers… every barrier that you can possibly imagine. But I think that once you’ve got a very crystal clear picture of the problem that you want to solve, that’s step one.”—from 60 Minutes Australia.
“The most important thing is to set your vision and get a really strong idea of what you think the future of an entire industry will look like and once you’ve got that really clear focus of what you’d like to do, you’d have to try absolutely everything under the sun to make that happen.”—from Sana Qadar on YouTube
On creating a nurturing workplace culture:
“Right from the earliest days, we really wanted to create a company we wanted to work in. So every decision that we’ve made has really been around that. So, for example, we’ll have lunch together every day, and that’s a really important part of that culture because it means you’re getting to know people outside those that you are working with. You’re getting to know actual people which is pretty cool, and really important.—from KochiesBiz on YouTube
“Years ago, when I worked in a PR company and I remember having lunch by myself, and feeling a little lonely. And I wanted to ensure that at Canva people don’t feel like that.”—Nine News Australia
“The challenges that 600 people bring are remarkably different to when you’re just a couple of people around the table. And so we think of how to best structure our company to make sure that everyone’s still setting crazy big goals.”—KochiesBiz on YouTube
On solving problems, both from work and of the world:
“Every single day brings new challenges that you would never expect. But I think that part and parcel of having a startup is that you have to figure out the next problem, figure out a solution. And that just happens on a daily basis. Everyday just brings new challenges, and I really like solving problems. The harder they are, the more inspired I am to solve them.”—KochiesBiz
“In my theory, is that to solve the world’s problems we actually need governments and companies and non-profits and entrepreneurs and venture capitalists and everyone to work together to reach these goals. So, I think there need to be a lot more collaboration and a lot more voice given to goals that we all have. Because we all want a better world. I think there’s definitely room for improvement across the world.”—This Week in Startups on YouTube
On being female and being a founder:
“For me, personally, it’s not something that I’ve given a lot of consideration to. And I think it’s really been helpful for me because I think if I had blamed getting rejected from an investor on something that I couldn’t control, it would really take the power out of my hands. Whereas, if I had blamed it on my pitch deck not being refined enough, or my strategy not being refined enough, it meant I could continuously refine the things, and make it better and better and better until eventually we land an investment and found people that supported me and my vision and what we’re trying to do.”—Sana Qadar on YouTube
“I don’t really like distractions. I like getting to build a company. And I feel really fortunate to be able to build that company without too much distraction.”—This Week in Startups
“I think that’s one thing that’s really critical as a founder is like we always try to undersell numbers, we round down if we have a number. It is really critical to make sure that the truth is a very, very strict line in the sand and you don’t ever cross that. Managing expectations is a slightly different kettle of fish because you are needing to get people to understand your vision of what you’re trying to do and achieve. But it’s also critical for people to know where you are today, and not be shifty.”—This Week in Startups
On comparing herself to others:
“It’s been 10 years now to get to this point. There’s a quote that I really like, which is ‘the reason we struggle with insecurities is because we compare our behind-the-scenes footage with everyone else’s highlight reel.’ And I think that is so true. I think the thing that needs celebrating the most is all those times that you’re really struggling, facing a lot of rejections. I think that one of the most important things is to know that rejection is really normal and part of the process. Because once you get used to that then you can pursue anything until you actually succeed.”—Sana Qadar
On what she would have told her younger self:
“I think I’ll just give it a couple of words: ‘it’ll be okay.’ A lot of the journey, you just don’t really know, kind of like walking down a dark, dark tunnel, and being like, ‘I think this is the right way.’”—This Week In Startups
On what to do next:
“Everything concerns me. We’re one percent done. We still have 99 percent to go. I think as a founder, our job is to continuously focus on the things that need to be improved, which kind of gives you a slightly warped view… I don’t often sit there and say like, hey this is all working out, like things are set. It’s always, oh my god we haven’t done a thing. Like, this was in the business plan years ago. Or, this shouldn’t be happening, we need to make this better and faster and more efficient or whatever it might be. And that’s just continuous.”—This Week in Startups
“It’s really about us executing and delivering upon our community’s needs and building up this platform that we’ve always been dreaming about. I sort of went through a really strong phase of just being able to purely service and work with our community.—This Week in Startups
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On keeping things simple:
“We really look for investors that really believe in our vision and what we’re trying to do. It’s kind of fun. It’s sort of a self-selection process. The people who believe in us and our vision invest and people who don’t, don’t. It kind of works out well because it means you’re surrounded by amazing people.”—This Week in Startups
“We have a two-step plan. Step one, build one of the world’s most valuable companies. And step two, do the most good that we can do.”—This Week in Startups