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From Bailing on College to Billionaire: 5 Entrepreneurial Lessons From Canva Co-Founder Melanie Perkins

Discover how you can design your business to be worth billions.

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Meet Melanie Perkins. At just 34 years of age, she is one of the youngest females to run a tech company valued over $1 billion, has been named the second-wealthiest woman in Australia, and the company that she co-founded, Canva, was recently valued at $40 billion.

Eóin Noonan | Getty Images

So how did she go from selling scarves in a market to creating a multi-billion-dollar empire? Here’s five lessons you can learn from Perkins' success.   

1. Give back

Perkins and her team have always been big on giving, so after its recent $40 billion valuation, Canva decided to give a 30% stake in the business to a charity that aims to eliminate poverty. This equates to a massive $12 billion donation. I feel it's always important for entrepreneurs to use their business to give back. You can start off small — obviously we aren’t all able to give away billions of dollars. Provide time or services to organizations pro bono, and go from there. 

Another idea is to partner with a giving impact platform, and for every product sold or project completed, contribute to a cause. My business partners with B1G1, and every time I implement a new PR campaign, I choose a cause that is relevant to the campaign. 

2. Never give up

When Perkins first attempted to raise money for Canva, she was told no more than 100 times. Trying to raise capital wasn’t easy, especially when she was based in Australia and approaching U.S. investors. For many abroad, Australia is the “land down under” — a place too far away and too risky to invest in. But this didn't stop Perkins. She kept persevering for more than three years until she met investor Bill Tai. Even he didn’t invest in Canva, but he helped Perkins and her partner Cliff Obrecht connect with people who could help them grow their business. 

Changing your perception when you receive a "no" in business can be quite liberating. When I started out nearly twenty years ago with no clients, I would call people from the Yellow Pages to see if they needed any publicity work. I had the mindset that every "no" is one step closer to that client who would say yes. I realized that it’s just statistics: If I call 20 people, one person will likely say yes. This still motivates me 20 years later. 

Related: She Was Told 'No' 100 Times. Now This 31-Year-Old Female Founder Runs a $1 Billion Business.

3. Listen to your customers

As entrepreneurs, we all think we have the next best business idea — and often we're right. But what really solidifies an idea and makes it a great success is listening to your potential customer’s feedback and building solutions that help support them. Perkins started Canva after feeling frustrated that working with design programs was too complicated. Often you would need to engage a graphic designer, which was quite expensive, and there was no other solution on the market. 

Prior to Canva, Perkins and Obrecht had founded Fusion Books, which allows you to create and print your own yearbooks. Listening to Fusion Books customers about what worked and what didn’t allowed them to then go on to build Canva.

We must realize that as entrepreneurs, our business is like a living, breathing being and will continue to grow and evolve over time. It’s your customers’ insights that will help you take your business to the next level. What we initially start out launching will transform into something else, and we shouldn’t be stuck on the original concept that we created.

4. Implement your values within your business

Perkins and Obrecht have strong moral values, and they ensure those values are represented in Canva's mission as well. In fact, it's even written into Canva's user guidelines. Its fine print clause 3.2 states: “Canva does not support and will not tolerate its Service being used to discriminate against others, especially when based on race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, age, disability, ancestry or national origin.”

The company even goes as far as saying: “If we believe in our sole determination that your use of the Service is being used to discriminate, especially if based on race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, age, disability, ancestry or national origin, we may permanently or temporarily terminate or suspend your access to the Service without notice and liability for any reason.”

How many companies can say that they have an anti-discrimination clause in their usage or engagement terms? This is inspiring to see and definitely something that many entrepreneurs can learn from. Publicly sharing the values that are embedded within your business’s culture will not only resonate with your customers but also attract more members to your tribe. 

5. Believe 

Many times, Perkins had to believe that she could make a success of what she was setting out to achieve. At just 19, after putting her college degree on hold, she hit the road to try and raise funding for her big idea, but she was continually rejected. It’s during these darkest times that you need to rely on your self-belief, which will get through no matter what life throws at you.

Entrepreneurs often forget this lesson, and it’s something that we can all do. It could start with a simple daily affirmation or vision board for practicing creative visualization. I used both of these practices in the early days of launching my business — aptly named Believe Advertising & PR — when I had no clients, just a lot of self belief. And let me tell you, this works! 

Don’t ever be swayed by naysayers, because the easiest thing to find in the world is someone who gives you a whole list of reasons why your big idea will fail. Often people are just scared that you’ll achieve your dream when they haven’t fulfilled theirs. It’s time to prove them wrong.

Building a billion-dollar business is no easy feat, but as the saying goes, if you aim for the moon the worst that will happen is that you’ll land on a star. By learning from Perkins’ ways, you too could set yourself up for success and create the next unicorn. Fairytales can come true.

Related: From Down Under to On Top: 3 Lessons From Aussie Companies That Are Making Waves In The USA

Adrian Falk

Written By

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

Founder of international advertising and PR agency Believe Advertising, Adrian Falk generates publicity for entrepreneurs, IT, fashion, luxury travel and beauty corporations across the globe, increasing their leads and sales.