Beverley Head
December 1, 2017

The importance of being Canva

StartupLand

The importance of being Canva

Guy Kawasaki: Apples and Canvas don’t come along too often

It took Guy Kawasaki 30 years to find another company as interesting as Apple and when he did it was based in Australia.

Mr Kawasaki was Apple’s chief evangelist during the Macintosh years, and he’s now chief evangelist with online design company Canva – so his comments need to be viewed through that lens.

As a secular evangelist he’s paid to convert people.

“It’s so easy to evangelise good stuff and so hard to evangelise crap,” he said during a visit to Sydney this week. “Apples and Canvas don’t come along too often.”

Before he took on the role he was a Canva user, adding images from the site to make his Tweets stand out. Mr Kawasaki, who is no fan of President Trump, said; “Contrary to what you may think Twitter can be used constructively.”

Indeed Twitter got him his current gig, when Canva reached out through a tweet and invited him to join the company four years ago.

He says that just as Apple sought to democratise computing with the release of the Macintosh in 1984, Canva seeks to democratise design.

The Canva design platform is free, as are some images – but most cost $US1 each to use, with premium content available to Canva for Work users.

Canva launched in 2012, is available in 42 languages and 179 countries, and has 10 million users who create 33 million designs globally each month according to co-founder and CEO Melanie Perkins.

She and Cliff Obrecht had previously founded Fusion Books together, and with Cameron Adams the three created Canva, and still helm the company between them.

Canva’s first $3 million investment was secured in March 2013 from a range of investors including Matrix Partners, InterWest Partners and 500 Startups, along with angel investors including Bill Tai, Lars Rasmussen, Ken Goldman, and Seek co-founder Paul Bassat.

It’s had several more investment rounds injecting a further $24 million into the coffers of the company, which was valued at $US345 million in September 2016.

The company currently has 250 people working for it, and by early 2018 will have a 100-strong engineering team, Ms Perkins said. This week it launched the Android version of the product securing 100,000 installs from the three day soft launch – there are 7 million users of the iOS version already.

Ms Perkins credits former Google employee and investor Lars Rasmussen for “transforming what I thought was possible for a really normal person who worked really really hard.”

The hard yards are paying off.

Based in Sydney’s Surry Hills, Canva still feels like a startup, albeit a rather well-mannered one.

Its warehouse headquarters are anchored by a funky events space that can be rented out, which is also home to Canva’s kitchen and canteen led by company chef Chris Low. Besides feeding Canva employees breakfast and lunch, he turns his hand to bigger events such as the media dinner Canva hosted this week to provide an update on the company’s progress.

Ms Perkins said that demand continues to rise – from 350 designs using Canva each month in the first year of operation to the current run rate of ten designs a second.

It has also rolled out Canva for Work giving Adobe a run for its money, and Canva Print (now in 29 countries) which turns designs into printed materials. It also has a 16,000-strong not-for-profit program.

What it hasn’t yet done is float as a public company. No-one’s saying when or if it will.

But there’s a definite twinkle in Guy Kawasaki’s eyes that’s not just the jet-lag.

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