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The Story Behind Canva: How Melanie Perkins Founded the Graphic Design Platform

Canva is one of the most popular and widely-used graphic design platforms today, with millions of users worldwide. But do you know the story behind how Canva was created and who founded it?

In this blog post, we’ll take a deep dive into the origins of Canva – from how co-founder Melanie Perkins came up with the idea as a university student, to how Canva was launched and grew to become the intuitive design tool it is today.

Whether you’re a designer looking to learn more about the platform you use, an entrepreneur interested in how new startups gain traction, or simply a Canva user wanting to know the backstory of the tool, this article will give you a fascinating look behind the scenes at Canva and its founder Melanie Perkins.

The Early Origins of Canva

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So who exactly is Melanie Perkins, and how did she come up with the idea for Canva?

Melanie Perkins was born in 1987 and grew up in Perth, Australia. From a young age, she was interested in technology, teaching herself to code when she was just 15 years old.

After finishing school, Melanie went on to study marketing and business at the University of Western Australia. It was here in 2007, while she was just 19 years old, that the initial idea for Canva first emerged.

At the time, Melanie was doing some freelance work designing yearbook pages for various schools. The yearbook design process was quite tedious, requiring her to manually resize photos and position text.

She realized there must be an easier way to design page layouts without needing extensive graphic design experience. That sparked the idea to create a simplified graphic design tool – and the early beginnings of Canva.

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Validating the Idea

Together with her university boyfriend (and now husband) Cliff Obrecht, Melanie started developing the technology for an online graphic design platform.

They validated the market need for such a tool by surveying university students and asking them what they would pay for a simpler graphic design solution. The positive feedback proved there would be demand for this new software.

Melanie and Cliff continued working on building the software throughout the later years of university. Initially, their vision was to create a design platform specifically for universities and schools.

In 2010, Melanie entered the business plan for this early version of Canva into a university startup competition. Her idea won first prize, providing the funding they needed to formally establish Canva as a company.

Launching Canva

Fast forward to 2012 – Melanie and Cliff were ready to officially launch Canva publicly.

Their initial launch focused on making graphic design accessible for non-designers. The software allowed users to easily create professional looking designs by providing pre-designed templates and drag-and-drop functionality.

One of their key innovations was implementing a freemium model. This allowed anyone to use Canva for free for basic designs, while offering paid subscriptions for premium features and content.

The launch generated rapid user growth, with 100,000 people signing up to Canva in the first month. Its simplicity and user-friendly features appealed to individuals and teams who wanted great design without professional graphic design skills.

Gaining Venture Capital Funding

In 2013, Melanie and Cliff sought venture capital to accelerate Canva’s growth. They managed to secure $3 million in funding from venture capital firms Blackbird Ventures and Felicis Ventures.

Additional funding rounds over the next few years raised $6 million in 2014, then $15 million in 2015. With this injection of venture capital, Melanie was able to grow the Canva team and continue improving the product.

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New Features and Functionality

Since its initial launch, Canva has expanded enormously in terms of features, design content and overall scope.

Some of the key developments include:

  • Launching Canva for Enterprise in 2017 – this added functionality for teams and organizations to collaborate.
  • Adding over 60,000 design templates to make designs customizable for any need.
  • Introduction of photo editing features in 2018 to modify images within Canva.
  • Integrations with apps like YouTube thumbnail creator, Google Slides and Dropbox.
  • Educational features like Canva for Education to empower students and teachers to create classroom visuals.
  • With each new feature, Canva has strived to maintain its core mission of democratizing design and making it accessible for all users.

Canva Today and Into the Future

Today, Canva has grown to a company valued at $40 billion and has over 60 million monthly active users worldwide.

It has transformed from Melanie’s university side project into one of the most popular SaaS companies in the world. Canva now offers products beyond its core graphic design platform, including presentation software, video and website design tools.

Under Melanie Perkins’ leadership as CEO, Canva is continuing its incredible growth trajectory. It raised $200 million in funding in 2021, and is expanding its team to over 2,000 employees across Australia, the US and the Philippines.

With its innovative products and intuitive user experience, Canva aims to become the global leader in empowering non-designers to create visual content.

Melanie’s vision is for Canva to change the way teams work together through design, shaping the future of work itself. And with such exponential growth already behind it, Canva has the potential to become as ubiquitous for design as Google is to search.

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Key Takeaways from Canva’s Origins

Looking back at the early days of Canva and its young founder Melanie Perkins, there are some key lessons that stand out:

  • Having a user-focused mindset was critical – even as a student, Melanie identified an audience need and created a solution.
  • Validating the market was important to prove demand before fully developing the product.
  • Leveraging startup competitions and funding opportunities helped turn an idea into reality.
  • A freemium model accelerated user adoption during Canva’s launch.
  • Melanie focused on a clear mission of empowering non-designers and stuck to it as Canva grew.
  • Continuous innovation and new features enabled Canva to expand its scope over time.
  • Opportunity for global scale was clear early on – now with over 60 million users.

The story of Canva and Melanie Perkins highlights that a simple idea to solve a problem can grow into a globally impactful, multibillion-dollar company with the right execution. It will be fascinating to continue watching Canva’s journey in the years ahead.

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Canva has completely changed the way people approach graphic design and creating visual content. What started as a university project by founder Melanie Perkins is now one of the top design and publishing platforms worldwide.

Next time you’re using Canva to create a stunning graphic, presentation or video, you’ll know a bit of the backstory and impressive journey behind its creation. With a clear mission and constant focus on empowering users, Canva is a product we can expect to become even more prominent in the future of visual communication.


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