Melanie Perkins, the 36-year-old founder of Canva, is one of Australia’s richest women

Melanie Perkins, the 36-year-old founder of Canva, is one of Australia’s richest women

On a small square, in the heart of Shoreditch in east London, amidst brick houses, the building signifies: Canva’s seventh campus, the Australian unicorn of design software. Its facade is fully glazed from the ground floor to the third floor. And if we pay a little attention, on the second floor we read: “MEL” written in yellow, pink and blue sticky notes, pinned to the window. A way for about 80 employees to welcome their CEO from Australia.

Although there are now four partners, including two co-founders, it is the face of Canva. Smiling, friendly and personable. Mel wants to ’empower’ people, says Duncan Clark, co-founder of Flourish, which was acquired by Canva in 2022 and is now partner and group director for Europe. The English word translates (poorly) into French as “to enable” or “empower” someone. In short, she’s trying To make a positive impact by allowing them to create their own content and design. insist. she has “Natural Driving” Who gets on the plane immediately, everyone. This former data journalist from the Guardian insists: “She is a real visionary!”

How can you not believe it when you know that Melanie Perkins created her first company at the age of 15? A company of handmade scarves sold in the markets of its hometown, Perth, in South Western Australia. “Ah yes, it is true that I did too!…” She laughs modestly when we talk to her about her early entrepreneurial beginnings.

Trade fair start

In Canva’s Storytelling, the story begins five years later, in 2007, when at the University of Western Australia she met Cliff Obrecht, co-founder of the company and, incidentally, her future husband.

While she was studying, the daughter of a Malaysian engineer (himself of Filipino and Sri Lankan descent) and an Australian teacher, she began giving some design lessons in her spare time to struggling students (using mainly tools from the Adobe Suite—a competitor she never named during an interview).

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The young teacher then considers that these tools are not beginner friendly as well as fragmented (one allows you to edit visual content, another allows you to make a resume, etc.). Each of them has its own functions, little cross-country ability between programs. Then I started dreaming of a focused tool, accessible to everyone, especially to hobbyists.

She and a friend designed Fusion Books, a kind of demo version of Canva designed specifically for students. This program, in which we grab, slide, drop items, allows them to create their own school guides—not unlike Mark Zuckerberg’s controversial beginnings with Facebook.

The Perkins’ living room is then turned into an office, and Obrecht’s parents help with the printing. And family efforts are paying off. The instrument triumphed: within five years it had become the reference in Australia, exported to neighboring New Zealand, but also … to France. “Since the beginning we’ve had this connection with France, which is very special. And to say that it was only due to the fact that we had an expatriate from the start in our squads… He stayed by our side today, it’s crazy!”

Melanie Perkins wants to go further. She, with her now boyfriend, profiles Canva and knocks on the doors of over a hundred investors… who all refuse to fund them. A hard blow for the young woman who left the university to devote herself 100% to her project.

The third co-founder changed everything

Thanks to a series of dates, roundtables, and Australian investor events, a pair of entrepreneurs in 2011 ended up meeting Google Maps co-founder Bill Taye. The person who bets on TweetDeck or Zoom does not seem interested in investing himself, but he opens his address book to them, the doors of Silicon Valley but especially his kitesurfing club.

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The Mel and Cliff sailed, not really sporty but ready for anything. Even if it meant putting herself in danger: One day, Melanie Perkins says she drifted all the way around billionaire Richard Branson’s private islands Necker and Mosquito, injuring her leg because of the reef. The 26-year-old woman had to wait hours for help.

But no regrets. It was through this famous kitesurfing club that he met Cameron Adams, a former Google startup entrepreneur in Sydney. A year later, struggling to set up his own email protection software, he accepted an invitation from Melanie Perkins and became the third co-founder of Canva.

From left to right, the three founders of Canva: Cameron Adams, Cliff Obrecht, and Melanie Perkins.doctor

The following year, the sky is looking clear on the investment side. In its first fundraiser, the small family business raised $3 million from American venture capitalists. The change of scale was marked by the abandonment of the “Fusion Books” name, which is too simplistic in regards to their ambitions. In 2013, Canva has already conquered no less than 600,000 users and has accumulated over 3.5 million online creations.

Ten years later, at balance sheet time, the numbers have exploded. Canva is calling for 10 fundraising rounds totaling more than $560 billion. For 2022 alone, the turnover is estimated at $1.4 billion. The company claims it has been profitable for six years. Over the past five years, Canva has bought five European companies (including Flourish and Pixabay). Canva employs more than 3,500 people around the world, spread across seven offices around the world (Sydney, Melbourne, Manila, Beijing, Wuhan, Austin, and thus London).

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Canva's offices in London are the first of their kind in Europe, but the seventh

Canva’s London offices are the first of its kind in Europe, but it’s the seventh “campus” in terms of the company. At the top right we can read in the window: “MEL” written in Post-it.MS-R.

The company’s valuation is currently estimated at $ 40 billion, which places it since 2020, according to Forbes magazine, among the richest people in Australia, with an estimated fortune of $ 3.6 billion.

3.6

It’s the billion dollar net worth of Melanie Perkins.

The web app is actively used by 135 million people, including 14 million paying users and 10 million French (1 in 13 users), according to company figures. The only shadows on the board: Two massive data leaks, in 2019 and 2020 (over 143 million user passwords stolen). Today, the CEO who posits her own non-technology profile at the tech fund wants to be reassuring, highlighting her team of more than 90 people dedicated to security.

Work (again) in progress

Since the beginnings weren’t so easy, since she comes from a middle-class family, she repeats it over and over during the (timed!) twenty-minute interview: “I measure the amazing luck you have had!” In order to give back, Canva says it’s committed to donating 30% of its funds to its foundation and making its premium version available for free to some 400,000 NGOs and associations. Despite the millions, the couple didn’t seem to be all about the money. Cliff Obrecht’s engagement ring for “Mel” cost only $30.

Otherwise, what do you do when you’re not working? There dry up. Before issuing a brief response: I walk. No more kitesurfing. Nothing else will be known about his personal life – intrinsically linked to his work. But we understand that a thirty-year-old does not have time. Canva remains a priority: “We are only 1% of everything we still want to do…”

Milestones

First and last name: Melanie Perkins

Age: 36 years old

Studies: Equivalent to Australian Baccalaureate, dropped out of college all the way

Position: CEO

Nationality: Australian

Work location: Sydney, Australia

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