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She Rules

How this 30-year-old College Dropout Created a Tech Unicorn in Australia

Canva's Melanie Perkins shares the journey of her $1 billion business
How this 30-year-old College Dropout Created a Tech Unicorn in Australia
Image credit: Entrepreneur Asia Pacific
Former Features Editor, Entrepreneur Asia Pacific
3 min read

 

Melanie Perkins was 22 when she flew from her home in Perth, Australia, to the Silicon Valley in the US to pitch a startup idea to a multimillionaire. Although Bill Tai, the famous technology investor, initially didn’t pay much attention to the college dropout’s “future of publishing” idea, he did introduce her to other investors, engineers and developers — and ultimately, he himself invested in her brainchild, Canva.

Today, Canva, an online platform that allows anyone to design everything from greeting cards to posters, and websites to calendars, is worth more than one billion dollars, available in over 100 languages and used by people across the world.

The Other Story

The shaping of Canva started when Perkins was at the University of Western Australia. Then 19, she used to teach students how to use a design software. It was then she realized how long it took them “to feel remotely confident while designing something basic.” The idea behind Canva was to make the future of design simpler. Along with her partner, Cliff Obrecht, Perkins decided to test the idea by launching Fusion Books.

“It was the idea of Canva, but for the very niche market of high school yearbooks in Australia,” she says. Securing funding, however, was a big challenge. It took her three years from her first conversation with an investor to get her first cheque. “I even woke up at 4am to catch the train to Silicon Valley for a breakfast meeting. I heard the words ‘no’ or ‘not yet’ many, many times but whenever I did, I listened to their questions and made our pitch deck stronger,” she says.

Perkins believes being a female entrepreneur in a male-dominated world can be difficult, but one must always stay focused to one’s vision.

“We want Canva to be the place you can go to by default, and so we’ve made it free to use. You can upload your own images or choose from our library of images and illustrations which cost $1 when you publish,” she says.

Building a Unicorn

According to Perkins, one of the most important things to remember when building any successful startup is to get started. “If I listened to all naysayers, knew the stats about how many startups fail or realized everything I would have to learn to make Canva work, I never would have got started.”

She adds, “Solve a real problem that many people experience. If you find a problem that people care about, then it will make every other aspect of running a business much easier.” And finally, go niche before you go wide.According to Perkins, one of the most important things to remember when building any successful startup is to get started. “If I listened to all naysayers, knew the stats about how many startups fail or realized everything I would have to learn to make Canva work, I never would have got started.” She adds, “Solve a real problem that many people experience. If you find a problem that people care about, then it will make every other aspect of running a business much easier.” And finally, go niche before you go wide.

(This article was first published in the March 2019 issue of Entrepreneur Magazine. To subscribe, click here)

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