Ambitious Woman success story: How a 32 year old turned a high school yearbook idea into a $3.2Billion Business

Canva is the ultimate startup success story. However, it was only after 100+ rejections that Melanie Perkins secured investment!

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Melanie is the 32-year-old co-founder and CEO of Canva, a free-to-use, with buy ad ons available- online design platform.

This is how Canva co-founder Melanie Perkins overcame rejection to build a truly stunning startup:

Melanie started Canva in Australia 2013 with the goal to make design accessible to all. Logos, business cards or presentations and more! Within five years, she made headlines as one of tech’s youngest female CEOs, at just 30. She said “Our goal was to take the entire design ecosystem, integrate it into one page, and then make it accessible to the whole world”.

Melanie was just 19 when she was first struck by the idea in 2006 studying at university in Perth. She would earn a little income on the side by teaching other students design programs but students found the platforms offered by the likes of Microsoft and Adobe “crazy hard” and she thought there must be an easier way. “People would have to spend an entire semester learning where the buttons were, and that seemed completely ridiculous,” Melanie told CNBC Make It. “I thought that in the future it was all going to be online and collaborative and much, much simpler than these really hard tools.”

With few resources she started small and created an online school yearbook design business called Fusion Books. She launched a website for students to “collaborate and design their profile pages and articles.” 

Taking her idea further, the Canva co-founder famously pitched to over 100 investors when she was on the hunt for seed investment in her early-stage design startup.

In an AMA session run by Blackbird Ventures, Melanie gives us insights on how she dealt with the early rejection and used it to motivate her to make the startup bigger and better-

Melanie: “Rejection hurts, a lot, but failure was never an option” 

“For better or worse, when I set my mind to something I don’t give up very easily at all. Being rejected a lot in our initial stages just meant that I had to try harder and refine my strategy. 

“It wasn’t an option to not start but I had to come to terms with the idea that if things didn’t work out I wouldn’t hate myself.

“Fortunately things have been going very well and we’ll keep on giving it our absolute best to create the company and product that we’ve always dreamed about.”

“Every time we were rejected or had tricky questions we’d improve our pitch decks,” “One of the most important things that we learnt was that to convince investors of our idea they had to be convinced that the problem existed and that the problem affected a lot of people”.

“In our earliest pitch decks we talked about our product in our first few slides, but in the end the majority of our pitch deck explained the problem and its magnitude. Now, almost ironically, most of our pitch deck is pretty graphs going up and to the right”.

Melanie says it was very difficult in the early days to convince Canva’s investors that the company should remain Australia-based. “It was seriously hard,” she says. “A lot of US investors only want to invest in US-based companies. There were three years between meeting our first investor and actually landing an investment. “There were a couple of things that really helped: Finding our first few amazing engineers in Sydney and the Commercialisation Australia grant.”

Melanie’s Top Tip for start ups:

 “I think one of the best very first steps you can take after coming up with an idea is to simply scribble it down and start fleshing the concept out.”

Today, Canva has helped create close to 2 billion designs in 190 countries and won celebrity backing from the likes of Owen Wilson and Woody Harrelson.

In October 2019, an $85 million funding round led by Silicon Valley investor Mary Meeker’s Bond Capital gave the company a valuation of $3.2 billion.

Perkins said she plans to use the additional funding to expand the team of 700 across Sydney, Beijing and Manila, while also building out the company’s paid services, Canva Pro and Canva for Enterprise. Canva is valued at $40 billion making the founders billionaires BUT instead of hoarding their wealth, they have pledged 30% of it to charitable causes!! 

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