I’m Guy Kawasaki, and this is the Remarkable People podcast. My remarkable guest, Melanie Perkins, has built an enormously successful global company from Sydney, Australia.

To be completely transparent, the company is Canva, and I am Canva’s chief evangelist. In other words, Melanie is my boss.

Be that as it may, she is a remarkable person, and Canva is a remarkable company. People have created over 3 billion designs in Canva since 2013. Approximately 6-7 million designs are created each day in 190 countries. 90,000 schools and universities use it.

Melanie came up with the idea for Canva when she was studying at the University of Western Australia. She was tutoring other students on how to use design programs and realized they were far too complex and expensive. It was then that she realized the future of design was going to be simpler, online and collaborative.

To test out the idea, Melanie and Cliff Obrecht launched FusionBooks, an online design platform for students to create their school yearbooks.

FusionBooks took off in schools across Australia, New Zealand, and France, and soon Melanie was able to prove that her new approach to design was possible and needed.

She then set out to apply the ease of use principles of FusionBooks to a broader audience, and thus Canva was born.

Melanie spent the next several years trying to raise venture capital. She was rejected hundreds of times before she found her first investors. I started working at Canva about six years ago. She found me because my tweets utilized Canva graphics, and the rest is history.

I’m Guy Kawasaki, and this is Remarkable People. And now here is my remarkable boss, Melanie Perkins.

In this episode of Remarkable People with Melanie Perkins:

  • How Canva got started
  • How the Canva team bootstrapped the startup for years
  • How Canva’s freemium model helped build their base
  • Learn about Canva’s culture and how it’s grown with them

Question of the week!

This week’s question is:

Question: If you could add one new feature to @Canva, what would it be? Share on X

Use the #remarkablepeople hashtag to join the conversation!

Where to subscribe: Apple Podcast | Google Podcasts

Learn from Remarkable People Guest, Melanie Perkins

Follow Remarkable People Host, Guy Kawasaki

Guy Kawasaki with Melanie Perkins and Cliff Obrecht [Canva co-founder and Chief Operating Officer] at their first meeting in 2014 in Silicon Valley at Guy’s house.

Guy Kawasaki:
I'm Guy Kawasaki and this is Remarkable People.
My remarkable guest, Melanie Perkins, has built a global company from Sidney, Australia.
To be completely transparent, the company is Canva, and I'm Canva's Chief Evangelist. In other words, Melanie is my boss.
Be there as it may, she's a remarkable person, and Canva is a remarkable company.
People have created over three billion designs in Canva since 2013. Approximately, sixty-seven million designs are created each day in 190 countries. 90,000 schools and universities also use it.
Melanie came up with the idea for Canva when she was at the University of Western Australia. She taught other students how to use design programs, and realized that the software was far too complex and expensive. It was then that she realized the future design was to be simple, online, and collaborative.
To test out the idea, Melanie and her co-founder, Cliff Obrecht, launched Fusion Books, an online design platform for students to create their school yearbooks. Fusion Books took off in schools across Australia, New Zealand, and France. And soon, Melanie was able to prove that her new approach to design was possible and needed.
She then set out to apply the ease-of-use principles of Fusion Books to a broader audience. And thus, Canva was born.
Melanie spent the several years trying to raise venture capital. She was rejected hundreds of times before she found her first investors. I started working for Canva about six years ago.
I'm Guy Kawasaki, and this is Remarkable People. And now, here's my remarkable boss, Melanie Perkins.
Melanie Perkins:
Canva has more than thirty million people using Canva across the 190 countries across the globe. It has been used to create more than three billion designs now. So, it has been growing and growing rather rapidly since we launched in 2013.
Guy Kawasaki:
Now, take us back to Western Australia, Perth, and the genesis of Fusion Books, which eventually became Canva. So what's the genesis of Canva?
Melanie Perkins:
So, years ago, I was in university and I was teaching design programs and students would struggle learning the very basics. It would take a very long time to learn where the buttons were and then learn how to actually design something that look good.
And so I thought that in the future it was so apparent that they should be online, and collaborative, and way simpler than these crazy, complex software.
And so what I wanted to show was to make that happen, but at that point in time, I had no business experience, no marketing experience, no software experience, or any experience that would be somewhat relevant. So rather than trying to tackle the entire world of design, we decided to tackle school yearbooks in Australia.
So my boyfriend became my co-founder, and we took over my mom's living room that became our office, and we set to work, and we created an online design system to create school yearbooks because he teachers often had a really hard time creating a yearbook.
They would get thrown in there. They had no design experience and have to create one from scratch that would be seen by the entire school community. We kept on getting questions from our customers now, like, "Hey, can I use your design in our marketing materials? Our canteen menus and other things." And I'm like, "Surely, it's been done that this other software available that enables easy design”, and it certainly still wasn't the case.
And then, it was a long journey of going to San Francisco and pitching people. It was like three years between initially pitching investors and actually landing investment. But then, we eventually landed investment and we had a year pitching engineers as well, landed engineers. And then a year of development and then in 2013, we launched.
Guy Kawasaki:
When you look back, was the plan for worldwide domination of graphics from the very inception?
And you said, “Well, step A is school yearbooks, but the ultimate game plan is worldwide domination of graphics” or did you create the Fusion Books and then expand your horizons once that was going?
Melanie Perkins:
So, in the very, very early stages, we had wild plans for this crazy feature of lots of different things and areas that we were looking into. A philosophy that I've developed over the years is “start niche and go wide”. I guess that has been exactly the way it's played up, but to start niche at the start was really due to circumstance.
We didn't have the resources and the capital to go wide at the start, but I think that that played a really helpful hand by starting niche, solving the problems of the market really well, solving the problems of the market they were willing to pay for the yearbooks to get delivered to the school really helped to set the foundations. And we've learned how to manage the company in a financially sensible way. We've learned how to grow, how to do marketing, and how to ensure that we were able to expand internationally and it's also a lot of things.
I think that that was all of those really important lessons. We're really only learned because we started niche. So even though we had those well plans at the start, it was really impossible to take on such big companies and such big market. So, it went out pretty well.
Guy Kawasaki:
I would say so.
Now, how many rejections did you get from venture capitalists?
Melanie Perkins:
It was like three years of pitching.
I spent six months in San Francisco until my visa expired. I went there for three months until my visa expired, and I went back the next year again until my visa expired. And in that time, I was pitching just literally anyone that would listen to me.
I remember I had one meeting though, like, "Okay, come down to Palo Alto at seven o'clock for breakfast meeting." I was like, "Okay." I jumped on the train at 4:30 in the morning and went down to Palo Alto for a breakfast meeting. I was doing absolutely anything I could, pitching room full of investors, I learnt to kite surf. To go to a kitesurfing or entrepreneurship conference literally, just doing anything I could to help the news rolling.
Guy Kawasaki:
I don't expect that the people who rejected you told you the truth or at least the full truth, but do you believe that being a woman, being young, being from 12,000 kilometers away, were all these factors?
If you were a man and you were in Silicon Valley, do you believe you would have got funded earlier, faster, or easier?
Melanie Perkins:
I have no idea, and I don't really spend a lot of time thinking about that particular topic.
There were so many reasons people exquisitely rejected us or people would exquisitely reject us for being based in Australia, people would exquisitely reject us for a whole hoist of reasons. We were “too early”, “it was too big an idea”.
One investor said that we couldn't possibly tackle digital products at the same time as tackling physically printed products, that they had to be separated. So there was so many different reasons we were rejected. Some of them I'm sure were reasons, we certainly went the typical mold of Silicon Valley startup for a million of reasons under the sun.
But I think that one of the really valuable things in all of the rejection was that every time we were rejected, we would refine our pitch deck. And so, the pitch deck became stronger and stronger and became more and more sure that this is definitely the future. Every time we got a rejection, we would refine the deck. And the harder the question, the early we'd put it in the deck.
So people would be like, "Oh, you're the same as some other random company." We were like, "We're totally not." So one of the first sides in our deck became a pitcher of the market, and we'd say, "This is a huge gap in the market." And it was literally a big circle.
Another way to say, "I don't understand your industry. I can't possibly invest in design because I don't understand design." And so then, the only page in our deck became all of the industry and this is how the current design process works and how it's really complicated. And our goal is to take this entire design system, integrate it into one page and make it accessible to whole world.
And so, every time we were being rejected, we were refining our deck time and time again. And I think that was really helpful process, albeit rather frustrating.
Guy Kawasaki:
Do you think that, with hindsight, being 12,000 kilometers away from Silicon Valley was net negative or net positive?
Melanie Perkins:
I feel incredibly lucky that we really have the best of both worlds. We now actually have a couple of people over in the US, and we're building out an office in Austin.
But I think that in those days, we were really lucky to be able to tap into the talent pool in Australia and Silicon Valley. There were so many companies competing for talent. I heard some stat that their average retention of an engineer at the time was like fifteen months, so people were jumping around really, really frequently. Whereas in Australia, we're able to build an incredible pool of talent.
And now we've had some crazy number of people apply, 14,000 people apply for our intern and grad program. We've been able to track from all across the globe, all across Australia and really build a very, very solid tech team.
Guy Kawasaki:
This is a very hypothetical question, but if US work visa system were different and you did not have to leave, what might have happened?
Would you have created Canva in Silicon Valley and who knows? And who would be in that morass competing for talent?
Melanie Perkins:
Yeah. Well, I guess one of the good things the Australian government did was they had this matching funding program.
So they would match up to 2 million dollars in any funding that we had. Those are million piece of paper we had to... The huge report and also the things that you'd have to apply to get this Commercialization Australia Grant, but it made it really attractive to stay in Australia because it meant that early funding was then doubled by the Australian government, so that really helped to keep us in Australia with a lot of VCs saying that they weren't going to invest in us because we were based in Australia.
Guy Kawasaki:
Of course, the irony now is that with the pandemic, no one really knows where any one is anymore, and it does not seem to matter, right?
Because if everybody is on Zoom, what difference does it make if the bits are coming from Sidney or from Sand Hill because you are ahead of your time.
Melanie Perkins:
Yeah. I think that's something good that come out of this global pandemic, that is absolutely for sure. But I think that one of the things, it's really accelerated a lot of trends and so I think the fact a lot of talent is being tapped across the entire world rather than in specific geographic balance.
It's going to be really revolutionary. We're going to see a lot more creativity. We're going to see, hopefully, the flow of capital to a lot more far-flung places than before.
Guy Kawasaki:
So, I was obviously involved with Macintosh and when I looked back, I'd say, "Of course, there had to be a better user interface for personal computer” and you would say the same thing about iOS, and I would say the same thing about Canva that, of course, there had to be a better way to give people a blank window with 200 icons around it, but you can't figure out what the hell each one does.
But why at the time did no one else see this?
Melanie Perkins:
I don't know. I was teaching design programs and I would see my students... I sort of had these two lenses.
So one was seeing students struggling learning to use them and the other was knowing the power of being able to use them myself. And so I guess being able to see from these two different perspectives, sort of gave me that interesting insight. Why no one else had that idea, I'm not quite sure. It seemed very brightly obvious to me, I was like, "Why is it run on Facebook and not having to go unlearned for years to actually use these programs, whereas the buttons don't even make sense in these other programs.”
Yeah, I think that was the interesting insight that I had assumed that someone else would have come up with that point in time.
Guy Kawasaki:
How did you get the word out about Canva? Because you weren't buying Super Bowl commercials or advertising on Facebook.
Was it purely word of mouth?
Is Canva proof that cream rises, and word of mouth is highly effective?
Melanie Perkins:
Well, I think that the secret ingredient we just hired the world's best chief evangelist, and we weren't even aware.
Guy Kawasaki:
Can I quote you on that?
Okay, besides that?
Melanie Perkins:
Okay. Besides that, I guess those are few things.
I think one of the most important principles that we believed in really early on was creating a very valuable free product. And so, creating a valuable free product would mean that lots of people could then use that product and then that would help to accelerate word of mouth. I think that was really critical.
I mean, even before that, solving a problem that affected a lot of people was also critical. I think if we solve a problem that affects lots of people and then you give a free product, I think that together creates a very strong channel for word of mouth.
Something else we did in the early days was we needed a lot of people coming to the product and not necessarily know that I could design, that I was scared of... Everyone's told that they aren't creative and so we knew that we only had a couple of minutes to capture people's attention. And so we spent a lot of time refining that onboarding experience so when people came into Canva, within a couple of minutes, they could create design.
In the early days, we had these things called the five starter challenges, where you're doing little things like put a hat on a monkey and change the color to a circle to the color red, just these little things that would help to build up people's confidence. And then, we encouraged them to share it on social media.
So I think between all of these different things… and then it really helped to accelerate word of mouth.
The other thing that we did was we knew that Canva was going to be applicable to our huge wide range of people, but we focused on social media marketers to start with because we knew social media marketers would help to get the word out. They had a really strong need because they had to design really frequently, but they didn't necessarily have the design skills or background.
So, they seem like a really perfect market to help to accelerate Canva's growth but also perfectly break problem that they had that they needed to solve.
All of these things together, I think, worked very well hand in hand, and I guess we've had a really wonderful team over the years that have ensured everything from search engine optimization, so if someone's searching on Google for a business card, they're landing on Canva's business card templates.
And just solving people's problems really effectively has really helped to lay the foundations to the Canva's growth amongst other things.
Guy Kawasaki:
I think that one of the most impressive things about Canva is the company culture.
So describe your vision of the Canva culture, what it means, and how to keep it going as you expand.
Melanie Perkins:
Yeah. From the very early days, we wanted to create a company that we want to work in. And so, a company that we wanted to work in was going to be a company that lived really strongly by its values. It was going to be a company that focused on goals as opposed to red tape, a company that focused on delivering a lot of happiness and empowering our customers and community across the globe.
And all of those principles really helped to ensure that Canva's culture right from the early days, even though it wasn't a focus in the early days, was creating culture that set up the foundations for Canva to grow and to be successful.
So in the early days, we really focused on creating a culture that we wanted to work in, and creating a company that we wanted to work in.
And then over the years, we realized that we needed to solidify that culture and those things that we really valued are actually inner values. So our values are being a good human, make complex things simple, be a force for good, pursue excellence, and empower others.
And these values have become really critical to the way that we live. I guess when you go from just a couple of people to a thousand people, it's really critical that we're not part of every single decision.
And so, ensuring that we are creating the values that everyone can live by and ensuring that they can make decisions based on that framework has been really critical. There has been so many things that we've had to do over the years to live by our values and it's been really critical to the fabric of Canva.
Guy Kawasaki:
One of the things that I've never seen in any other company is your concept of teams.
In most companies, there's the CEO, then the CXOs, then the VPs, then the directors, and that's a very hierarchical structure.
But would you explain how Canva teams work?
Melanie Perkins:
Yeah, absolutely. So, Canva has a number of groups.
We have eighteen groups. And each of these groups have a mission, and a vision, and goals that they're striving towards every season. And then each of these groups have teams that also have a mission and a vision that they're striving towards.
Why we've structured our company in this way is because we have so much to tackle. In Canva, every single button is essentially another industry or is often the size of another company.
And so it's been really critical that we have these teams that are really, really strong on where they're willing to go.
Something that I believe really strongly in is you can't grow bigger than your dreams, and so it's been really critical for every team to be having really big dreams and a vision that I can strive towards. I think that you go from being a startup to an old school like Ikea company when your company is bigger than your dreams.
Most people are in just a single group and so that group, for example, we have a group called Content and Discovery, and they're trying to ensure that all of the world's templates, photos, and illustrations are perfectly there, and we have millions upon millions of them that are then available in an accessible to the entire community across the globe. And so, that group has a very strong vision and mission and goals that they're striving towards every season.
Another group, for example, is Presentations, and one of our goals of Canva is to ensure that we have the most interactive and dynamic presentation format that doesn't put people to sleep with just by PowerPoint. And so, we have a whole group that's really focused on that.
But I guess at another company, a group could be the size of their actual whole company and so it's been really important to set this foundation at Canva that people can have a really strong impact and have the vision and mission that they can really get behind and empower community.
Guy Kawasaki:
I'm obviously conflicted because I'm chief evangelist of the company and you are my boss, but I will tell you that I have never experienced a company where people more relentlessly pursue perfection of their area.
That is, the content people wanted to have, the best content, the onboarding people want the best. The security people want the best. Everybody wants the best.
Usually, there's a company that says, "All right, so we're an engineering-based company. We're just going to make great products and whatever with marketing happens" or, "We're great marketing company so we can take any product that engineers throw at us and we can do it."
But at Canva, everybody is trying to, what I would say, relentlessly pursue perfection.
How did that attitude come to be?
Melanie Perkins:
Firstly, we have an amazing team, and that is without a doubt. We hire amazing people that do have that motivation and passion and personal relentless pursuit of perfection.
I think that the organization was structured to help to facilitate creativity in that desire and drive because people have a lot of ownership over their own area, so they have that mission, and they have that vision, and they have that ownership of that particular area.
So the Presentation group, their mission is to create the best presentation product in the world. And so rather than sort of become like a lot of companies that have this top-down structure that actually the vision and mission gets watered down, people get further and further away from their customer as the company grows.
There are two anecdotes. We were early on and we kind of went from being... There's just a few of us. I think we got to about fifty or sixty people and we're like, “There’s a massive problem here.” A lot of people on having is closer connection with the customer. We weren't achieving as much as we did in our early days because we got sixty people now and we're trying to do things, but there's no people who are owning things.
And so, we then took that group of sixty people and we split them into smaller teams. And each of these teams had a goal that I was striving towards, had a mission that I was striving towards. And then, they had to have a pitch deck that explained what they were going to be doing in the future.
And so I think breaking it up, giving ownership was really, really critical to helping to facilitate that same drive and passion that you have on your little startup as we've grown. And that's still the same philosophy.
When our group gets too big or a team gets too big and they don't have that ownership in the connection with customers, we then have to break it down again, so then they do have that mission and those goals again.
Guy Kawasaki:
Do you think that model will scale to 10,000, 50,000, or 100,000 employees?
Melanie Perkins:
Every time we double in size, we're having to reinvent things.
But I guess at Canva, we really are a mission-and-goals-driven company. And we've just solidified the fact that we are a mission-and-goals-driven company as part of our internal frameworks.
And so, I think that, hopefully, as we are 10,000 people or even more so in the future, I think that it's critical that we stay being true to being a mission-and-goals-driven company.
Because if we don't have a mission and everyone knows what we're driving towards and we have that shared place that we're trying to get and then goals along the way, what point is there?
Guy Kawasaki:
So Canva is Australia's second or maybe most visible unicorn, has that changed things? Is there a positive and a negative to being labeled a unicorn?
Melanie Perkins:
I think if we look back to those early days where we were pitching investors, trying to get anyone to be on the bus, like, "Hey, are you an engineer?" She's so trying to get anyone to join.
And we had a funny anecdote, Lars Rasmussen, who co-founded the Google maps, said that he'd help me find a tech team. What that actually entailed was a year of him to say no to every single person that I brought in, every applicant, but that did mean that we ended up with a very high value team which has been incredibly helpful because Canva is a rather complex beast.
But I guess... what was your question again?
Guy Kawasaki:
Oh, my God, I forgot it too. Holy shit, were we losing or what? I'm sixty-six, I have an excuse. What did I ask?
The problem with this interview is as soon as I ask, I'm thinking about the next question. So... Oh, I know, duh, the impact of being a unicorn.
Melanie Perkins:
Great question, guy.
Guy Kawasaki:
I asked it twice, it's so good.
Melanie Perkins:
So I guess hiring over the years has become substantially easier. In the early days, it was really hard to hire anyone. It is much convincing and pitching as I possibly could. It is a really long and arduous process.
Now, we have an incredible number, thousands upon thousands of applicants, who are trying to get into Canva. “I've had people studying for months and years to get into Canva”, which is kind of cool. But I guess that's the visibility there. It's really helped.
There are so many different aspects of that, but I guess every time we grow in size, we're having to continuously reinvent every single process, every single system because what works today to a thousand people certainly has had to be reinvented many, many times since we're a tiny company.
Yeah, even things like lunch lines, I remember when we were about fifty people. We went from lunch lines, one of the goals for the Vibe team became lunch line's less than two minutes because the lunch lines had started to get like ten minutes, so we have to have a couple of chairs and tables. Those are a few things that we had to do in order to get shorter lunch lines.
But I guess that's a little anecdote of the many, many things that continuously break as we grow.
Guy Kawasaki:
I remember way back when because, believe it or not, I've been with Canva for about six years. I remember when one of my major tasks was, "You guys, identify someone that you really wanted to hire and then I would call them or Skype them or do whatever it took and convince them that I, Guy Kawasaki, was telling you, you should go work for Canva. So just listen to me and do it."
And that was one of the most fun part of the job.
Melanie Perkins:
I really appreciated that, Guy. Those early engineers that we brought on, all those early team members were so critical to Canva.
Setting the foundation and the technical bar across each of our specialties really high. It's been incredibly important, and I thank you, Guy, for that.
Guy Kawasaki:
I think my average was about 70 percent success rate, but those were very fun days.
So I have some questions about the lessons of Canva now.
So, question number one, based on your experience, what's your advice for women with big ideas?
Melanie Perkins:
That's a great question. There's a whole host of things.
I think one is to solve a problem that affect a lot of people, and I think that fundamental starting premise of a company is so incredibly critical because solving a problem that no one cares about is going to be a lot harder to get your first customer. Certainly, it's going to be a lot harder to get anyone to pay for it. So that fundamental premise is really critical and cannot be underestimated.
I think if you have a product that you are able to give away for free or at least to a good amount where we could really get to know your product and get to love it, I think that's also really valuable. That premium model is incredibly important, but I guess we took one step further than just premium and such because we actually wanted to create a free product that was incredibly valuable, that even if you didn't have the financial capacity to pay for a subscription, you could certainly get value out of it.
So, creating a product that you can give away for free to help spread that word of mouth, I think, is a really critical thing as well.
I guess getting started if you look at our journey, there were so many things that would have been incredibly intimidating. Getting started with just taking that first step with Fusion was incredibly intimidating, but I think that if we hadn't taken that step, we never would be here today.
Then, you have to learn the lesson as you go. Every time you take a little step, you can learn something more, you can gain a little bit more experience, and you'll be ready for the next step. And so, it's really critical just to get started. You're going to have to learn everything as you go.
I kind of like the phrase “Just in time learning”, and unfortunately, there's no easy way about it.
Guy Kawasaki:
It's not like 50 percent of the companies that are funded are led by women today. So, they still walk into a venture wall. They do not walk into venture capital firm anymore, but they turn on Zoom to pitch and they look at who's in the room, and it's 90 percent men to this day.
So, what's your advice when you're trying to raise money as a woman?
Melanie Perkins:
I think that if you're trying to raise money, actually regardless of your gender, your ethnicity, whatever, when you live, I think it's really critical to... We pitch hundreds of investors and to not take that rejection personally, I think, is important like... as I've grown really thick skin, I think that if you take the rejection personally, if I blame it on the fact that I'm Australian, that I am woman, that I was not the typical mold of a Silicon Valley startup, I think that would have been really disempowering to me because that would have meant that I was blaming it on a factor that I couldn't control.
I personally blamed everything on, "Oh, my pitch deck wasn't good enough, my strategy wasn't good enough," which was actually, ironically, very empowering because it meant that I could continue to refine my pitch deck and my strategy over and over again until it got to a really good place.
And then, it meant the investors are kind of self selective. So investors that rejected me, it may be for a legit reason, it may be for illegitimate reason, but they rejected me nonetheless, they didn't get to invest in Canva, whereas the investors that believed in our vision and believed in me, invested in Canva and have got to see the fruits of their reward.
But I think that there's so many different investors out there. Finding investors that believe in your vision is so incredibly important, and believe in you. And yes, it may take a while. It certainly did in our case, but it did mean that we ended up with wonderful investors around us that really believed in us, believed in our vision, and they've been with us for a long term, so we've had investors who were around early on.
They're investing all the way up and they're continuing to invest today, like Blackbird Ventures and Felicis Ventures, they were right from the early stages.
And I think it's really wonderful to see, but yeah, I guess it takes a little bit of the self-selection, which works out rather well.
Guy Kawasaki:
The next lesson from Canva, and I don't mean this in a negative or pejorative way at all, but how much of making a company successful is really about faking it until you make it?
Melanie Perkins:
I believe very strongly that you have to be extremely truthful.
So, I have a postings at Canva that you always round down numbers, that you never say anything that is even a little bit incorrect because I think that is a terrible slope. If you exaggerate a little bit, you're saying that I'm sure a number of companies that exaggeration kind of snowballs.
So I think that being incredibly truthful in your number is very, very important.
On the flip side of that, I remember in our early days when we went to Silicon Valley, and Australians have a tendency to not talk out what they have done or achieved, whereas Americans kind of, it's a little more second nature to be a little bit more forthcoming with your accomplishment.
And so that culture difference was a huge surprise and learning curve because people were like, "You're going to actually speak about Fusion and how well it was going," and how all these sorts of things. And so, I guess those sort of things had to become part of that pitch. Otherwise, no one's going to invest in us.
So again, we had to not fake it until we make it, but at least talk about the things that have been going well.
But on the topic of faking it until we make it, I think that it's really critical to see it in your own mind's eye. It's really critical to be able to have that complete vision of where you're going and what you're wanting to achieve and what you're wanting to accomplish.
And so early on, before we had a product developed, before we had anything at all, in my mind's eye, we had paid all the big incumbents, we had created this amazing online design system, and it was really simple and accessible and available to everyone on the whole planet.
So, I think it is really important to see clearly the picture that you're wanting to create ahead of creating it.
Guy Kawasaki:
But did you not tell your investor that you loved kitesurfing even though you had no idea how to kite surf?
Melanie Perkins:
I didn't know. I said I started to learn to kite surf, and so during my traumatic stages of learning to kite surf... Oh, in San Francisco Bay Area, I did. I did pretend to like kitesurfing. That is true. I didn't say that I could kite surf, I said I was taking kitesurfing lessons.
Guy Kawasaki:
Oh, okay. Okay.
Do you have any insight or lessons or advice about running a company with your boyfriend/fiancé and soon husband?
Melanie Perkins:
That is a good question. I think that everything in the startup, in fact everything probably in life, is a constant learning curve, and co-founder-fiancé relationship is nothing to fear.
What I'd say one of the most important things is, I guess, a couple of things. I think being really aligned on your vision, being really aligned on your values is utterly critical. So I think that when you're aligned on where you're wanting to go, then it makes all the small decisions a lot easier.
So I think that's why we believe so strongly in being a mission-and-goals-driven company is once you believe in way you're going together, then you can set goals along the way, and it makes all those small decisions a lot simpler.
I think the key to any relationship is communication, and so you cannot never overcommunicate, or maybe you could but if you push it to the absolute thing, but I think the danger is often undercommunication.
Communicating about every single thing as the way you're wanting to go. The steps that you're wanting to take together is I think is absolutely critical. I think as is everything in life, you're constantly learning, and I think going into it knowing that you are going to be learning together is also critical.
Guy Kawasaki:
Who has been an inspiration for you as an entrepreneur?
Melanie Perkins:
There's so many people. I would have to say there's this incredible lady, Leila Janah. She wrote a book called Give Work, and she started a company called Samasource.
And it's really terrible when we're speaking about her in past tense because she passed away quite recently, and she had such an incredible philosophy about giving people work with a critical ingredient to helping to take people out of poverty.
She had set up centers in refugee camps and also to places across the globe that had a lot of underemployment, and she is the one that I found incredible inspiration in the work that she did, and I know that her legacy will certainly live on. It's a terrible loss to the world that she's not here to live it up, but I guess, as everyone else has welcomed through the work that she has done that her legacy will continue to live on.
Guy Kawasaki:
What keeps you up at night now?
Melanie Perkins:
We have a two-step plan. Step one, be one of the world's most valuable companies and step two, do the most that we can do. And step one keeps me up at night a lot, trying to ensure that Canva is set up on a path to... We had this vision for a really long time empowering the entire world to design. We got over thirty million people but that's not the dream. We have four billion people on the Internet, so we have an incredibly long way to go there yet.
But there's so much more that we need to do, and there's so much more on our product that we need to build up. We often say, "We're 1 percent done." We literally mean that. We got an incredible amount of that product to build up an incredible amount of more people to empower.
But step two is also something that we're giving a lot of consideration to. When I was little, I remember I would travel to the valley for the first time. I was eleven and I was looking at the huge inequality between. I went to a nice school in Australia, I had a nice family that got to put me through have a good education and the inequality that some people weren't being able to go to school and get a good education and people who didn't have the basic rights and opportunities that I had, I thought that that was an incredible privilege and an opportunity that I needed to one day do something about.
And fast forward a few years, I have an even bigger opportunity and responsibility to do something to help the world, and we always think every day about how can we possibly be useful to the world, how can we channel the platform and the resources that we have to have the biggest positive impact and leave this world a little better than we found it.
There's a lot of ideas swirling around our head. Through Canva we've got 50,000 non-profits where we give away our pay product free to help empower those non-profits to achieve their goals, but we still have such a long way to go on every single front, so we still got a lot to do on both steps to the two-step plan.
Guy Kawasaki:
Is Bill Gates and what he's doing now sort of an aspirational model for you?
Melanie Perkins:
Bill Gates is incredibly inspiring. I think that what he has achieved and what he has accomplished is really awesome.
I have this philosophy that there is a lot more goodness in the world. There is a lot more people that are wanting to achieve wonderful things and to help leave the world better than they found it. They're not always able to channel that in the most effective ways, through the current way politics is, through the current way the world is. I would love to see a lot more that we will get to be realized.
So yeah, there's a lot to be done.
Guy Kawasaki:
People often want to know, when I'm interviewing these all remarkable people, asked if they ever make a mistake, what was the biggest mistake? So what was your biggest mistake, Melanie?
Melanie Perkins:
So many things. We make mistakes every day.
I guess that's the thing, like every time you make a mistake, you have to learn from that mistake.
If you make a mistake a couple of times, you probably have to learn a little faster. There are certain things that took so long to get investment, it took so long to find our tech team.
Sometimes there’s part of our vision that were in our earlier pitch deck, we still haven't realized is it a mistake or is it just a hard slog? I think every time you make a mistake, you have to learn a lesson. And hopefully, you accumulate those lessons and make better decisions going forward.
There’s been so many things along the path. It's hard to even call out one specific thing.
Guy Kawasaki:
And the last topic is, because many people always ask me this, so you can tell it from your side, how did you come to find me?
Melanie Perkins:
So, actually, it goes back to our philosophy about finding social media marketers, creating great product design.
So one day, I believe, Guy Kawasaki tweeted a picture that my co-founder, you can correct me if I'm wrong, Guy. My co-founder found on Twitter and realized it was a Canva design. We then had a chat over, was it Skype at that time?
I remember one particular moment. We've been pitching Guy for a little while, and Guy said, "I'm fifty-nine. I've got one last big thing left in me, and this is it." And that was sort of how we ended up getting to work together. And we could not have been more blown away by this huge Chief Evangelist of Apple, amazing incredible person, he was going to come and work at Canva? We couldn't have been more excited.
Even to this day, there's so many people that I hear saying that they heard about Canva through Guy Kawasaki. You’ve been an incredible evangelist for Canva, really helping to get the word out, really hoping people to see why we should care about what we're doing.
And I think that you really helped to put Canva on a bigger stage. I think that was 2014 that we met, is that right?
Guy Kawasaki:
Something like that. Yes, yes.
Melanie Perkins:
So back in those very early days, we're just starting to get the word out about Canva but having Guy's megaphone to the world, having Guy being able to open so many doors for us, was incredibly powerful.
Guy Kawasaki:
I remember those days in LA when we used to just jump for joy when a thousand new people signed up for Canva in a day, like, "How can this keep going on?"
Melanie Perkins:
Guy Kawasaki:
Oh, my God, those were the days.
Melanie Perkins:
And in the early days, when was the weekend we didn't realize, we were like, "Oh my gosh, what's happening to our company? It's going down." And then, we didn't realize that the summer slump in the US, "Oh, my gosh, the holidays. When is it going to ever return” and we just dreamed.
And now over the years, we started to see this really cyclical trends. People using Canva at work, so they might not be using on the weekend. People using Canva when they're working, so they're probably not using it as much when they're on holidays.
So, it's fascinating to see.
Guy Kawasaki:
Oh God, those were the days. I tell you that I tell people this all the time, that I started my career with Macintosh, and I'm ending my career with Canva.
In between, let's just say I made some suboptimal decisions, but what two great bookends, and you've expressed your gratitude to me many times and I just want to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to you because it has been really great fun, a great sense of accomplishment.
And I have had the opportunity to dent the universe twice, and I work for Steve Jobs and Melanie Perkins, I mean, how many people can say that?
Melanie Perkins:
You're too kind, Guy.
Guy Kawasaki:
It doesn't get better than that. So, I think I have more than enough material and, I'll let you get back to work, democratizing design.
Melanie Perkins:
Thank you very much, Guy. Feel free to cut anything.
Guy Kawasaki:
Melanie Perkins:
You're very welcome to cut.
Guy Kawasaki:
You don't have to be afraid of what I cut, you have to be afraid of what I add.
It's time to read some comments and reviews.
This comment is called “What a guy this Guy is.” “Listening to podcasts almost always gave me headaches. How did all these people come up with so amazing stories and did so good in their lives and thanks to you, I could now hear life stories directly from these remarkable people. I can hear their summarized thoughts on what matters a lot to me. Where do they stand in their lives at this moment? Did I do well? Could have I done better? What to do now? Some lessons learned. I can be a good teacher and still feel the test in my class for a number of reasons that do not have anything to do with knowledge. I needed to be well first. It is really important that I did my best even if I didn't turn out the very best. Now, I recharge and move on. And now, the only headache I have had since I listened to each and every one of the interviews that you did is, I hope it's not going to end.” This is a review and comment by jovicj. Thank you, jovicj. And it's not going to end.
One more review. “Great interview with Julie Packard.” Khvgreatstar. “This is my first time listening to one of Guy's podcasts. He's a great style as an interviewer and I love learning more about one of my favorite local heroes, Julie Packard. Well done, Guy.”
Thank you, khvgreatstar and thank you, jovicj. Really appreciate the comments.
If you want me to read your comments on our future episode, just go to the Apple Podcasts app and leave a review and rating. I look forward to reading it.
So there you have it. The inside story of Canva, one of a handful of unicorns from Australia.
For those of you who are not familiar with the term, it means a private company that has a valuation of greater than one billion dollars.
It has been an honor and pleasure to work for Canva, and Melanie, and Cliff. I began my career in tech evangelizing Macintosh. I'm ending my career in tech evangelizing Canva.
It can't get better than this. I've never worked for a finer group of people than the employees of Canva.
I'm Guy Kawasaki and this is Remarkable People. My thanks to Jeff Sieh and Peg Fitzpatrick who are the finest people in podcasting.
Until the next episode, wash your hands, wear a mask, practice social distancing, and listen to doctors and scientists, not necessarily politicians.
Be safe, be well. Mahalo and aloha.
This is Remarkable People.

Canva team with Guy Kawasaki