Perkins was a graphic design student at the University of Western Australia. She was taking classes as well as tutoring other students, and was frustrated that an entire class had to be devoted to something as simple as exporting a PDF. Why couldn’t there be a simpler way to photoshop and design graphics?
Before @Canva there was Fushion Books, a school yearbook publisher that met great success but wasn’t the limit for Perkins’ and her partner Cliff Obrecht’s vision. The duo took what they learned building Fusion and created Canva, which at this point Perkins had dropped out of school to focus on.
Canva is a graphic design SAAS with a simple user interface for those who aren’t professional designers and can’t afford to hire one. The platform provides pre-designed templates with easily modifiable options. Users can create Instagram posts, blog covers, brochures, resumes, programs, flyers, and just about anything else they need specific dimensions for.
Developing a great product, the team listened to user feedback and testing over and over again. With the help of tech co-founder Cameron Adams, a former Googler, Perkins and Obrecht built a team of designers, developers and artists to grow the company to 250 employees in 10 years with over 10 million users.
Building Canva took a lot of learning on the job. Perkins faced challenges finding funding as a college drop-out female entrepreneur, and her social customs from Australia provided additional challenges. At 22, she was pitching her idea to multi-millionaires in Silicon Valley. In Australia, it is frowned upon to brag about yourself, but Perkins had to overcome that cultural difference to sell her magnificent company to investors.
It took Melanie three years and borrowing money from relatives before she got any investment and was able to move business operations out of her mother’s house, but in 2013 Canva was launched, backed by $3 million. Perkins’ Sydney-based business is now valued at $1 billion after it secured another round of investment in 2018.
The website’s basic service is free to use; it makes its money by charging a subscription fee to access its more advanced tools. In the financial year 2016-17, Canva’s revenues grew from $6.8m to $23.5m. However, the company saw overall a loss of $3.3m, and has actually not yet made a profit as it has instead focused on rapid expansion, including offices in three different countries. The $1 billion price tag comes from the private investors and venture capitalists who are backing the private company.
Perkins remains in the main CEO, and Obrecht, her boyfriend, is the COO. The couple also still owns Fusion Books, but have appointed a team of managers to run that business.
At 30, Perkins is one of the youngest female CEOs to be leading a $1 billion startup. Just 2.7% of venture-backed startups have female CEOs, which you can read more about here.
Perkins is a role model success story of the college drop-out who made it big with brilliance and drive.