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Kevin Garber: [00:09] You're listening to episode 75 of the "It's a Monkey" podcast. We are not broadcasting a live podcast this week due to the Christmas season, but we are going to play for you an interview that I did with Melanie Perkins who is the CEO and co-founder of Canva. We spoke to her in July, 2014.

[00:25] Canva is an Australian startup that is doing amazing things, and Melanie has taken it from start on this incredible journey. We're going to play you this interview, and we'll be back in the next couple of weeks with a live podcast, so we hope you enjoy this interview with Melanie Perkins from Canva.

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Kevin: [00:53] You are back with the It's a Monkey podcast. You are listening to Kevin Garber. I am the CEO of ManageFlitter and the co-founder of ManageFlitter based here in Sydney, Australia with customers all over this wonderful planet of ours. I've got a very special guest in the studio.

[01:10] Now, we often have guests from the States, Silicon Valley, New York, Israel, you name it, but the Sydney startup scene has been taking off and really been compounding. I'm very excited to have the CEO of a fantastic startup called Canva, and they're just down the road from us in Surry Hills, and with me is Melanie Perkins.

[01:31] It's a real pleasure to have a guest studio for a change, not a Skype guest. Melanie, thanks very much for joining us.

Melanie Perkins: [01:37] Thank you so much for having me on.

Kevin: [01:41] Canva is a great story that's not only just a great Sydney tech startup success story but a tech success story in general. Just tell us a little bit about Canva, tell us a little bit about your journey, and give us the background to the product.

Melanie: [01:58] The journey of Canva actually started over seven years ago. I was actually at university and teaching design programs like Photoshop and InDesign, and students really struggled to learn the very basics. It took so long to learn how to use the programs and so long to actually design even a very simple design.

[02:14] So I realized in the future design would become much more simple, it would be online and collaborative. That was really when the idea for Canva was born, and then I took this concept and applied it to the yearbook market and started my first company, Fusion Books, with Cliff Obrecht.

[02:29] That became the largest yearbook company in Australia, and launched in France and New Zealand, which was really awesome. We were getting such positive feedback, but people kept saying, "Why can't I use this for other products like my newsletter, and my marketing materials, and my blog graphics?"

[02:44] So eventually we decided that we were going to take on that big battle of trying to enable everyone to create beautiful design. Over two years ago now, we started the journey of Canva. My journey took me kiteboarding in Hawaii, trying to learn how to because there's this huge conference where a lot investors go, and so I had to learn to kiteboard in order to get to go to this conference.

[03:07] Then I went to San Francisco and spent many months there learning about everything to do with startups. I didn't even know what a VC was at the time, and eventually we found an incredible tech co-founder. Cameron Adams joined us, and that became the foundation of Canva. Now, 10 months in, we are going really strong. We've just hit 550,000 users and it's been an incredible journey since.

Kevin: [03:29] 550,000 users in 10 months, that's really incredible. I mean, you must be buzzing.

Melanie: [03:39] Yeah. It's really incredible. The feedback that we get through our social media channels, through emails, we're getting fan mail everyday saying how much Canva has improved their ability to design and to actually do their job, which has been really incredible. It's a lot of fun.

Kevin: [03:53] We are a little bit further in the journey from you but not much more, and I can tell you, you never get tired of that feedback. Whenever we see tweets, you know, "Since I've used your product, it's brought my Twitter account to life," and this, and that, it's just our way of adding value to the world. It's a good feeling. Well done.

[04:16] Melanie, there's a lot of talk about Sydney being not San Francisco and not New York, and here you are building a global company. You've raised money from, I'm I correct in saying both local and international investors?

Melanie: [04:35] Yeah, absolutely.

Kevin: [04:36] So you've raised money and it's early stage, I mean, it's seed plus, sort of series A type money.

Melanie: [04:43] Seed round, yeah.

Kevin: [04:44] Seed round of money, so that's early stage. People who are saying, "You can't do it in Sydney. You've got to go to The Valley." What would you say to that?

Melanie: [04:53] I think for us, we've really been able to get the best of both worlds. I've spent a lot of time in San Francisco, which has meant that we've been able to build up great networks over there. It's been really great for business development, for investors, but then here the engineering talent and the team we've been able to build here in Sydney has been absolutely incredible.

[05:10] I don't think we could have done it anywhere else in the world.

Kevin: [05:12] It's interesting you say that. You couldn't have built up your engineering team anywhere else in the world. I mean, that's an unusual thing to say about Sydney. I know there's great talent here, but that's a big call.

Melanie: [05:25] I spent a lot of time in San Francisco. I spent over a year trying to find a technical co-founder, and the technical co-founder happened to be in Sydney, and then the team that we've built. One of our investors is actually Lars Rasmussen who founded Google Maps and Google Wave in Sydney.

[05:40] A lot of his team members have actually joined our team now. This incredible caliber of engineers are now part of our team, and so I definitely think our engineering team is second to none.

Kevin: [05:53] Lars is very well known globally for Google Maps. You got a coup, as well, earlier this year, that Guy Kawasaki joined your team. I mean, he doesn't rack up at the office at 8:30 AM, though. I mean, he's...

Melanie: [06:09] He works incredibly hard, so he's talking to us at all sorts of hours. We're often having a conversation at midnight, his time. He's doing an incredible job, really helping to, as his title is Chief Evangelist, and he's been evangelizing Canva incredibly well.

Kevin: [06:24] Does he spend much time in Sydney?

Melanie: [06:26] He's actually coming to Sydney next week.

Kevin: [06:28] Terrific. So it's one of his portfolio of roles, I would imagine?

Melanie: [06:35] He's full-time at Canva.

Kevin: [06:37] He's full time at Canva.

Melanie: [06:37] Yeah.

Kevin: [06:37] Wow. How did that happen? I mean, Guy is very well known for his work at Apple and some other products. How did he land up...? I mean, I'm sure there are many companies that would have loved to have Guy working full-time for them.

Melanie: [06:51] Yeah. He's been pitched many times over the years, I'm very certain. He actually had created a design with Canva and posted it on Twitter, and someone said, "Is that a Canva design?" and we picked up on that in our social media feed, and then Cliff, my co-founder, just emailed him.

[07:08] We had a few Skype calls, jumped on a plane to San Francisco, had a few chats in person, and he was as passionate about what we were trying to do as we were, so it seemed like a perfect match.

Kevin: [07:15] Fantastic. Melanie, you're really living proof of, if you do stuff and you push out there, life often meets you halfway.

[07:30] [laughter]

Kevin: [07:30] There's luck in everything, but there's also hard work in everything.

Melanie: [07:35] Absolutely. I think that the only thing that you can control is your inputs, and if you keep persisting at something for years and years on end, eventually it has to pull through, surely. [laughs]

Kevin: [07:44] It has to, you know. One thing that always impacts me when listening to entrepreneurs in their journeys, it's always different except there's one element that I find the same, and that's tenacity and hard work.

[07:57] Some of them come from money, some of them don't, some of them degrees, some of them aren't, some of them are tech, some aren't, but that tenacity, that sticking to it is something that if that element is not there, that's an important piece of the puzzle.

[08:20] I'm always hesitant to ask this question because the fact that I have to ask this question may represent that there is a problem with the world/industry. Being a female CEO of a tech company and a co-founder of a tech company, what are your thoughts around the whole Sheryl Sandberg, "Lean in," that there's women in tech...? Is there a problem? Is there not a problem?

[08:47] As a man, it's very difficult to know what the other side, what's really happening on the other side with respect to female tech co-founders and females in the industry. I think, as I've said, it's really good to have that balance and in New York, I was just astounded at how many amazing tech female super smart co-founders and investors they are.

[09:15] I think it's great for everyone to have a bit of balance. What are your thoughts as someone who's living it?

Melanie: [09:20] My personal view is that, for me, I see problems that I have to solve, and for me, being a female is not one of those problems. You've got hiring problems, investment problems, all the problems that you have along the way and then you solve. Being a female is just part of who I am. It's not something that I dedicate a lot of thought to it.

[09:39] I think absolutely diversity is important for any industry.

Kevin: [09:40] Sort of side-tracking, when you hear that question asked to you, honestly do you think, "Oh, gee, there's that question again." Does it irritate you? Do you think we have to move past actually even asking that question, the fact that we even ask that question?

[10:01] It's sort of like Barack Obama is the first black president. I mean, we shouldn't have to highlight that. He's a person, first and foremost, but at the same time, it is significant that we're moving past a landmark of just white presidents. So what's your view on the actual question?

Melanie: [10:22] That's a very good question. I like to talk about entrepreneurship because talking about being a female seems kind of a strange question. It's like talking about your gender, "What's your gender like, Kevin?" At the same, I appreciate the statistics are astounding. I don't know. It's something that I'm still figuring out.

Kevin: [10:43] It's an interesting one, but I think diversity and balance in the industry is good for us all. So where to for Canva? I mean, your growth is amazing, but before you answer that, let me ask you another bread and butter question. What's your business model? You've got all these users. Are you making money from some of them?

Melanie: [11:09] Yes. In Canva, we have a library of over a million images of stock photography and illustrations that people can put in their design and then they can export it. It's only then that they actually pay a dollar for the image that they've used, and we're getting a huge number of people who are starting to use these images.

[11:25] Every month, it's growing phenomenally, so yeah, we've got a lot more things yet to unveil which we'll be unveiling later on this year, but for now, stock photography and illustrations are where people can actually pay for Canva if they want to, otherwise they can use it for free.

Kevin: [11:41] You are hiring. Tell us about, if someone is listening to the podcast and they're loving what they hear, what's the type of positions you're hiring for?

Melanie: [11:51] We're hiring for almost every position at the moment. We're hiring incredible designers, incredible developers, front-end carriers, back-end carriers.

[11:59] We're hiring on the marketing side, so if you're an incredible person who just is really passionate about what you do, really loves our vision of being able to enable everyone to create beautiful design, we'd love to hear from you. Email us at jobs@canva.com.

Kevin: [12:14] All the roles need to be based in Sydney?

Melanie: [12:17] We are predominantly hiring in Sydney, and if you are overseas, Sydney is a beautiful place to come.

Kevin: [12:22] It's ridiculously beautiful.

[12:24] [laughter]

Kevin: [12:24] It's not just beautiful. It's ridiculously beautiful.

Melanie: [12:29] If you're looking for some beautiful summertime beaching and all sorts of wonderful things, it's a really beautiful city to come and spend a couple of years and help us to achieve a world dominating, hopefully, mission. [laughs]

Kevin: [12:43] You're well on your way. Is that the aim, world domination, of helping people design on the fly, quick and easy, in the cloud?

Melanie: [12:53] Yes. We have a view of the way design should be, and at the moment, it's super complex. We feel like we're taking steps towards making it a lot simpler, but we really feel like we're just getting started. We've done one percent of, I think, what Canva is really capable of.

Kevin: [13:10] Give us your top three tips. If there's someone listening that maybe wants to give it a go, and they may be in a place that's not Silicon Valley, not New York, what are the three things that you wish someone told you four years ago that you know now?

Melanie: [13:29] Number one, find a problem that you feel passionately about, because you'll be following that problem and finding that solution for such a long period of time that it's something that you really need to believe you want solved. That's number one.

[13:45] Then, just having the determination to see it through. Once you've got an idea that you would like to pursue, it just takes a very long time and you have to try the same thing many, many times, from every single different angle in order to actually come up with that solution.

[14:00] Every single stage has new challenges, whether you're trying to find technical co-founders, or whether you're trying to find team members, or whether you're trying to get the first dollar in the door, or find investors. There's a whole bunch of things that you need to figure out on the go.

[14:16] That brings me to the third point which is really, just get started. There are so many things to learn that you can't possibly know them all beforehand. You just have to take the first step and then you'll eventually learn everything as you go. Speak to people, get out there, just start doing it.

Kevin: [14:31] Fantastic. Melanie, I'm embarrassed to say I only heard about you guys last week, which I don't know how that happened, but I'm incredibly...the rest of my team all know about you and they're the real smart ones, I just pay the bills. [laughs] I'm really excited that a company like yours exists in Sydney. I think you guys are going to be great for the Sydney ecosystem.

[14:56] I'm looking forward to tracking your success. I think this is only the beginning just for you guys, and I wish you really all the best luck, and I look forward to doing some work with you.

Melanie: [15:09] Thank you so much, and thank you so much for having me on.

Kevin: [15:11] Thanks for your time.

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