Now leading a $1 billion startup, Australia's Melanie Perkins has some advice

Now leading a $1 billion startup, Australia’s Melanie Perkins has some advice

Melanie Perkins
She’s breaking all the stereotypes on what it means to be leading a giant tech company.

Canva CEO and co-founder Melanie Perkins is Australian, female, Sydney-based, and still only 30 years old.

With Canva last week announcing a $40 million funding round, Melanie is also now leading a $1 billion startup company, with some publications even suggesting she’s currently the youngest female CEO to do so.

Melanie co-founded Canva in 2014 with Cliff Obrecht, to create a tool for non-professional graphic designers. It now has more than 10 million users globally, with 250 employees based in Sydney and the Manilla. Being valued as a ‘billion dollar startup’ also earns it the title of being Australia’s latest unicorn company.

Melanie’s also incredibly generous with her time, penning a lengthy and technical post on Medium, answering 21 questions from the startup community on her startup’s journey until now, offers some lessons, details the ups and downs, and outlines how she deals with the pressure.

In the post Melanie shares early pitch documents (including some she now finds embarrassing), pictures of her brother holding anti-motivational quotes, and photos from her working with her co-founder and small team (including family members) on Fusion Books, the year book business that ultimately led to Canva. She even shares a pic of her in a daggy suit, conceding she was “trying to look professional”.

Melanie also shares the first asks she made to potential investors, and notes how far she went in order to secure meetings. Her stories highlight the dogged determination required to build a significant business. Melanie’s previously revealed she faced more than 100 rejections before they were able to obtain finance.

At one point, she says she was even learning to kitesurf, because Silicon Valley VC Bill Tai was running a conference called MaiTai — involving entrepreneurs and kitesurfers. “Kitesurfing scares the hell out of me, and learning to kitesurf in the dreary, cold, shark-invested waters of San Francisco was far from enjoyable. But I wanted to get Canva off the ground, so it was just a small inconvenience. It also gave me another reason to email Bill,” she writes.


She also offers some of the key “growth lessons” Canva’s learnt as including the need to create a product that solves a real problem, offering a free tier on their product that offers a lot of value, ensuring great onboarding for staff, learning to love data and structuring the entire company around their goals.

Asked how she deals with the pressure of such high profile expectations with Canva, Melanie shares words from a letter she recently wrote to herself:

I don’t think anyone truly appreciates the power that they have to shape this world, it’s certainly not their fault. When you think we’re on a planet with seven billion other people, it’s very easy to think that surely someone else has more experience, more knowledge, more power to help improve this world. But it’s a pretty frightening realisation that we are on this planet with seven billion other first timers — that are all just giving this thing called life a crack.

She adds that she believes there’s a huge opportunity to be useful in this life, and that she hopes she can live up to that opportunity.

“In order to have wild dreams, a strong sense of character, wisdom and a sense of justice — cherish the challenges you face, the things you don’t have, the things you are afraid of, falling down and making mistakes,” she writes. “It’s this gap that inspires us.”

And asked how she personally looks after herself, her strategies are simple. She says she writes, ensures she gets enough sleep (aiming for at least 8 hours, 20 nights a month), takes holidays and enjoys quiet time.

Melanie’s an incredible entrepreneur. The post is a must read for anyone building a business — or who simply wants to see just how hard people can work and the lengths they will go to in order to make their vision a reality.

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