Australia’s most successful female founder expands her business to Germany


Even at 18 years old, Melanie Perkins only did what she felt like. With her boyfriend Cliff Obrecht she traveled for weeks with a backpack through India. A few months after returning to their hometown, the Australian metropolis Perth, she told her mother she would drop out of school. Together with her boyfriend she wanted to start her own business. The idea: Graphic design software, which – unlike, for example, Photoshop – is so easy to understand everyone can use it.

At university Perkins had given several lectures for design and found that the programs offered were too complicated. The students took several hours to only understand the basic functions.

In early 2007, several months after Perkins 20th birthday, Perkins and Obrecht started their first startup called Fusion Yearbook. Users could easily create yearbooks with texts and images via drag-and-drop and download the finished design for print.

Today, the founder is 29 years old – and can hardly believe how her life has developed in recent years.”When we started, there was not even the word startup” Perkins told us in an interview in Berlin. “We had no idea how to proceed. We just started to play and never gave up. ”

With a small loan from the bank and several part-time jobs Perkins and Obrecht were kept afloat in the early years. Somehow they kept Fusion Yearbook running. The number of schools that made their yearbooks using Perkin’s program rose steadily. Today Fusion is the market leader in Australia. But that was not enough. Perkins and Obrecht also developed the idea for the now world-famous program Canva that was built initially using Fusion as a basis. With Canva users can create any graphics for various purposes, such as Facebook, flyers, business cards or presentations.

Perkins and Obrecht initially pitched their idea in front of many investors – with only moderate success. Perkins continued to work on their pitch deck and traveled for months to Silicon Valley to raise money. Finally, after several conversations she won business angels and the launch of Canva took place in August 2012. One of the most important angels: Lars Rasmussen, co-founder of Google Maps.

The big bang happened this past year, three years after the start: Canva collected a total of 15 million US dollars in Series A financing – with a valuation of 165 million US dollars. Among the investors: The Samwer brothers through their holding company Global Founders Capital, as well as the Hollywood actor Owen Wilson. Perkins says: “We met Owen Wilson through a mutual friend. Actually he doesn’t invest in startups, but he somehow liked ours.”

Canva has more than 100 full-time employees and with freelancers, almost 160. Half work in Sydney, all others are in the Philippines. “A part of my family comes from the Philippines and we have managed to build a great tech team there,” says Perkins.

More than ten million people from 179 countries use Canva today. The number of designs that have been created with Canva can be seen live on the site: Currently, there are well over 75 million. For a created image users have to pay in most cases only one euro, while some features are free. Perkins doesn’t want to say the exact sales. “We are growing like crazy, that’s all I can say” she admits. And smiles.

With the collected millions the employees are now preparing for international expansion. The software of Canva should be available in 16 languages by the end of the year. Canva already has a German site but it does not really work yet.

In Australia Canva is known for its team culture. “We try to get the team to always have lunch together,” says Perkins. “At first I brought what was left in my mom’s refrigerator. Today there’s a cook every day and they prepare the food for the whole team.” It’s also okay if some people come late to the office because they go surfing in the morning, says the founder. The result is what matters.

For Perkins and Obrecht, after eleven years of being together they’re still happy. The strategy for their companies rarely develop in the office: “We love to take long walks and to discuss the company,” says Perkins. “We’re not so into the usual strategy meetings.”

Melanie Perkins keeps doing what she likes.

This article was originally published on Gründerszene.

Image: Hannah Loeffler / Gründerszene