7 Insights Into Start-up Success From Tech’s Coolest CEO, Canva’s Melanie Perkins


Valued at US$165 million only two and a half years in, it's fair to say Canva is exploding


Launched two and half years ago by its three co-founders, design software Canva has brought on 60 investors, hired 80-odd staff and facilitated the creation of 52 million designs. Beating out companies like Adobe, 99Designs and Expedia, Canva has taken out Coolest Tech Company for the second year running. And it isn’t just down to the in-house chefs.

“Having cool offices isn’t enough anymore. Ping pong tables and friendly kitchens where employees can have lunch are a given. In order to attract and retain top talent, Australian companies – and especially SMBs – need to provide their employees with a supportive environment on both professional and personal levels,” JobAdvisor and Search Party CEO Ben Hutt pointed out.

“Culture is about creating a company that you personally want to work in,” Melanie has said. Here’s how she built the workplace where everyone wants a job:

Starting niche
Something that I think personally is really good [is] starting niche, then going wide. So you start in a very geographically bound area with a very concentrated problem that you want to solve that really affects a lot of people. Then you can take that much more broadly.*

To build a great company, you need to have people that are absolutely excellent at what they do. And that may be the same thing that you were doing. In the initial stages you wear every single hat in the company. And then as new people start you’re giving them your hats, and they’re able to do a better job because they are not wearing a hundred hats, they’re only wearing a few hats. And that can become thousands of people in the future, and you give out more and more hats to other people.*

Emailing mentors
Rather than giving people the opportunity to say no, you just kind of send them an update and ask for their advice. Then there’s less opportunity for rejection, but more opportunity to build a relationship.*

Funding is often seen as the goal and I think that is not necessarily the best way of viewing it. Because raising funding is like a time bomb. If you raise money then you can probably turn up your expenditure and then you turn up with no company very quickly because you’re growing like crazy.*

Sharing your idea
Now after having been pursuing the idea for eight years I realise that just because someone hears your idea doesn’t mean that they are going to do it. It’s just so hard creating a company, your idea is like the first tiny little per cent and then you have all the challenges of actually building the team, building the product, finding the funding.*

Key to success
[The key to success is] being able to set a goal, set a challenge and then achieve it. The more you can do that, the more resilience you’ll have later on because you’ll actually have a track record of being able to achieve what you set your mind to. That’s something I’ve done since I was very young… So by the time it got to the point that I was trying to do something that I actually couldn’t see whether it was possible all I could do was look back and be like, ‘Well I usually see things through, I usually have the determination to beat whatever challenge is in front of me’. Which made it, not easier, but lessened the impossibility of it.

What’s really important
The most important thread is determination. For many reasons [the media] focus on the highlights but actually I think the exciting part is all the hard work underneath. And all the rejection and all the times you had to pick yourself up and be determined and see things through. They’re the things that are character-building and actually build the company. The other things are great to celebrate but I actually feel that the hard parts are the parts that need the celebration.

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