Canva is Australia’s first unicorn of 2018, after raising $40 million (AUD$50.9 million) to push the design startup’s value over $1 billion.
According to CEO and co-founder Melanie Perkins, Canva took on additional capital in this investment funding round. Sequoia Capital has teamed up with long-time Canva investors, Blackbird Ventures and Felicis Ventures, in backing the Sydney and Manila-based company. Early backers include Lars Rasmussen, the co-founder of Google Maps.
Uber, Airbnb, Spotify and Dropbox are some of the world’s most famous and valuable unicorns, and are collectively worth over $US100 billion.
So far, the only unicorn success-story Australia has produced is software company Atlassian, which listed on the Nasdaq in 2015 and is valued at more than $US11 billion.
Canva is a popular graphic design app built for people with no design experience. Now available in 190 countries, with over 10 million users, the online design and publishing platform was launched in 2012 by CEO and co-founder Melanie Perkins — now the youngest female entrepreneur to have reached unicorn status.
In Ms Perkins’ words: “Canva is an online design platform which makes it very simple for people with no graphic design experience to create their own designs.”
“It can be used for presentations, pitch decks, social media graphics and marketing materials.”
The young entrepreneur also said her graphic design platform is being used in 190 countries, in 100 languages — and is even being used by 80 per cent of Fortune 500 companies.
But like any “success story”, it came after several years of struggle.
Perkins recalled the early days of the company, before they had over 250 employees, and when investment was less than fruitful. “It was actually quite funny, the other day I was looking through some of the emails from early on and there were so many rejections in the early days, it was such a struggle to get things started,” Perkins said. “That Canva can grow dramatically from this point forth from some incredible investors is a huge vote of confidence.”
“Years ago, I spent six months in San Francisco in two three-month blocks, as my visa expired, pitching every investor under the sun, going to every conference I possibly could and try to get people to believe in this crazy big goal that we had, which was that we could try and storm the world of design and make everything simple and accessible for everyone.”
So how did she first develop the idea for a graphic design app that requires almost no skill to use?
“When I was at university, I was teaching design programs and students would struggle learning things like [Adobe] Photoshop and InDesign, which would take such a long time to learn the very basics.
“I realised, in the future, design should be easier, online, and collaborative — so set to work 10 years ago designing an online design system for school year books.”
That ended up becoming her first business, Fusion Books.
She then realised the technology could do more than just create school year books.
“So that set off a year of going to San Francisco, where I spent six months pitching everyone I could, going to every conference, getting engineers to join my team.
“And eventually, after another year of looking, we landed some investment.”
Canva says that more than 13 designs are created on the platform every second — it’s no wonder their value is on the up.