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Canva: How a 32-year-old turned a high school yearbook idea into a $3.2 billion business

Updated : January 23, 2020 03:13 PM IST

Melanie Perkins has always been ambitious. As a teen, the Australian entrepreneur and her boyfriend, Cliff Obrecht, dreamed of taking on the Microsofts and Adobes of the world.

I guess our goal was to take the entire design ecosystem, integrate it into one page, and then make it accessible to the whole world. No small feat!

It’s a vision that would see her travel to Silicon Valley and pitch over 100 investors, fake an interest in kitesurfing, and even – she says - stalk future employees.

Five years after starting the company in 2013, it was valued at $1 billion, making her one of the world’s youngest female tech unicorn founders at just 30.

Now 32, the company is worth $3.2 billion, and she says she’s only just getting started.

Melanie is the co-founder and CEO of Canva, a free-to-use online design platform whose celebrity backers include Hollywood actors Owen Wilson and Woody Harrelson.

She and Cliff started the business here in Australia in 2013 in a bid to make design accessible to all, be it for logos, flyers or even presentations.

And in six short years, the platform has helped create close to 2 billion designs in 190 countries.Today, the couple is worth over $900 million.

It was a market that hadn’t been touched by new companies for a long time. It was ruled by some big players like Adobe, and Melanie had this vision to take this market and change it.

The idea struck in 2006 while the couple was studying at university in Perth.
Melanie would spend her spare time teaching design programs to other students, but she grew frustrated with the unnecessarily complex process.

People would have to spend an entire semester learning where the buttons were, and that seemed completely ridiculous.

I thought that in the future it was all going to be online and collaborative and much, much simpler than these really hard tools," she said.
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