Connect with us

Startups

9 Startup Lessons You Can Learn From Canva – Melanie Perkins

Published

on

It seems that everywhere I go people can’t stop saying how they think Canva will be the next billion-dollar company and how everyone loves their online design platform. Canva Co-Founders Melanie Perkins and Cliff Obercht have been able to convince the likes of Bill Tai, Lars Rasmussen and Guy Kawasaki to join their vision for a revolution in online design technology.

Canva only launched on the 26th of August 2013 and they now boast some amazing stats like:

Over 5 million users who have created more than 30 million designs,

– Nothing but word of mouth marketing (until recently)

600k of unique visitors to the site monthly

– Over 14,000 blogs have written about Canva

– More than 2000 videos have been made about the product

If that was not impressive enough, Canva has raised $12.6M USD to date and has gone from 2 million users to 5 million users in just 4 months. The reason Canva has been so successful comes down to a number of points, which Melanie shared with me in a recent interview.

The whole philosophy of Canva is best described by their Chief Evangelist Guy Kawasaki (former Apple Evangelist), who says that they are democratising design the same way Google democratised search.

The fundamental point that I drill into with Melanie is how an earth they were able to convince influential people to support them even when they hadn’t even built a product and Canva was nothing more than a cool idea.

Below are the nine startup lessons that Melanie taught me about Canva’s journey when I interviewed her.

 

1. You must have determination and guts

The strongest attribute Melanie has is determination. It takes a long time to create a company and there is a lot of rejection, failure and times where it would be a reasonable thing to give up. A great example of determination is the fact that it took Melanie three years from meeting their first investor to actually landing the first investment.

Let’s face it, most startup founders would give up after 12 months, but if you keep an eye on what you are trying to achieve and really keep focused on the vision (the vision is what people will rally behind in time), you will eventually break through and come to the right solution.

Canva Melanie and Bill Tai
Not only do you need to have determination but you also need to have guts. Melanie spoke to lots of people about Canva long before a product even existed, which takes real guts and belief in what you’re doing. VISION VISION VSION !!!

 

2. Influence one lighthouse person (the butterfly effect)

One of the sole reasons Canva has been a big success is that Melanie focused in the early days on finding one highly influential person in their space and getting them to help with their startup – stop trying to meet hundreds of people and just concentrate on a few big names.

The first person that Melanie was able to connect with was the very well-known venture capitalist Bill Tai. She met him in 2011 when he was in Perth for an event called inventor of the year and he told her to look him up when she came to San Francisco.

Like any clever entrepreneur, Melanie took action and six months later she arrived in San Fran where she planned to stay for two weeks. After meeting Bill there, Melanie ended up staying for three months. Bill told Melanie that for him to invest in Canva she must find a technical team to build the product because at this stage it was no more than an idea.

After raising the problem, he then introduced Melanie to Lars Rasmussen, who agreed to help find the technical team. One year later they had a technical co-founder that Lars referred to them. The beauty of this whole process was that Melanie was able to get some amazing people to buy into her vision even before she had any product at all.

Canva Investors Bill Tai And Lars Rasmussen

Left: Bill Tai Right: Lars Rasmussen

When I asked Melanie how she was able to influence so many high profile people, she said to me that she has a diagram, which she calls the butterfly effect. The diagram shows once she was able to influence one powerhouse person like Bill, her network followed a butterfly effect and she met everyone else through some sort of link to Bill.

Every single step along the way you could say “if that didn’t happen nothing would have happened” – that’s the butterfly effect. You don’t know what could have happened or would have happened. How do you find people like Bill? The same way everyone else does; through conferences, LinkedIn, email, telephone, along with persistence.

 

3. You don’t have to be a coder

Many startup founders have a limiting belief that you must be a coder of some sort to be a founder of a tech company. First of all, every new startup can be considered a tech startup because almost every product will be connected to the internet in some way.

Secondly, Canva Founders Melanie and Cliff had no coding experience what so ever. With their first startup Fusion Books, they outsourced all the technical part of their business to another company.

This was a great lesson for them because it allowed them to focus on learning how the technology works, educating themselves on product management, and it even helped them to develop project management skills.

They learnt on their second startup Canva that because the product was heavily reliant on technology they would require a technical co-founder. The genius of their startup was that they had a highly skilled person, Lars Rasmussen that was doing the hiring of software engineers.

This resulted in only the best engineers being hired and allowing both founders to focus on their strengths because the technical side was taken care of. When they eventually brought in a technical co-founder, they had someone who had equity in the company and who was then motivated to see the business succeed.

Also, keep in mind that highly skilled engineers are attracted to things that are very challenging and have never been done before so if you’re startup’s vision aligns with this, the odds are stacked in your favour.

 

4. Having a startup track record helps

If you’re attempting to convince investors to invest in you before you have a product, Melanie recommends that it’s preferable that you have some sort of track record in business beforehand. When Melanie and Cliff were searching for investment for Canva before they had a product, they were able to show a track record through their first startup Fusion Books that had already had success.

The beauty of Fusion Books was that Melanie and Cliff were able to start with a small niche, prove their skills, and then go wider with Canva. This is great advice for any startup that is in the early stages of executing on an idea.

Bill Tai wanted to invest in Canva even though there wasn’t a product yet because he was very surprised that Melanie and Cliff were able to build a profitable company beforehand (this is extremely rare). He also loved the vision, which is why he chose to help.

 

5. Don’t be obsessed with the drug called Venture Capital

A lot of startups suffer from the drug that can be venture capital funding. They become obsessed with raising capital and it becomes what they use to benchmark whether they are successful or not. Melanie explained that venture capital funding can be like a time bomb, once you raise, your startup must grow like crazy otherwise if it doesn’t, you will very quickly have no company at all.

The benchmark you should be using to measure your startup’s success is when customers give you their money, which is also a much better way to raise capital. This demonstrates that people other than yourself believe in your startups solution and that it’s solving a real world problem.

If you decide that you must raise venture capital then you should only do so when you know roughly how many people you need, you have a clear execution plan, you know what steps you need to take, and you have a product market fit.

 

6. The problem you solve must be ambitious

A factor that helped Canva stand out from other startups was that their solution was ambitious. The reality is that highly successful people are attracted to ambitious, challenging and world transforming ideas.

Guy Kawasaki Canva Investor And Chief Evangelist (Apple)

Guy Kawasaki

If you want to attract amazing people like Guy Kawasaki to your startup, then your startup must meet this criteria and that’s exactly what Canva did, which is why they attracted great talent. This great talent then attracted more great talent and the success cycle compounded again and again.

Ambitious problems take time to solve and take a long time to build momentum, but when you do solve these types of problems, there will be no shortage of successful people desperate to help you with your vision.

“Solve customer’s problems and make sure that the customer is representative of a large market and then you will have a pretty good formula”

 

7. The pitch deck needs to be all about the problem

Part of the journey whenever you are trying to sell your startup idea to people is to be able to use a quality pitch deck. Given the number of times Melanie had to pitch to investors, I asked her what advice she would give other startups when putting together a pitch deck.

Melanie explained to me that before Canva’s first investment, they had revised their pitch deck over one hundred times. The feedback that Melanie got consistently was that investors didn’t know much about the design landscape so this had to be addressed in the deck.

It’s a good idea to address anything that is tricky or confusing about your product right up front. When you are putting together your pitch deck, you need to start from a macro perspective and begin with the problem you are solving first. You need to be spending 80% of the deck on the problem and only 20% on the solution.

Your pitch deck needs to explain to investors the huge opportunity that exists, the large market for your solution and the macro landscape that exists. Instead of telling your solution right up front, focus on demonstrating its importance first. The other key point is to make sure your solution is a problem that people care about and want to be solved.

“Anyone can have a solution but if no one cares about it, unfortunately, you are not going to have a very big company”

 

8. Understand the risk appetite of the person your pitching

One of the most powerful lessons Melanie taught me is around knowing when to pitch to certain investors based on your startup’s life cycle. Different investors have different risk appetites so as your startup hits each milestone, different investors barriers to risk are removed.

If we look at Canva’s life cycle, they started with a strong vision, then they had a skilled team, then they had a great product, then they had a highly engaged community, then they had very strong performance graphs and now they have a strong monetisation model (thanks to Canva for work).

As Canva hit each milestone, Melanie said that different types of investors wanted to be a part of their vision. In the early stages, the only box that Canva ticked was a great vision and so this didn’t meet many investors risk appetite, although it did interest a few.

The Canva pitch to investors was rejected many times but what Melanie realised was that when investors said no, what the investor was really saying was that the current phase of their startup didn’t meet his or hers individual risk appetite.

“The rejection is often not because of the reasons you think they are rejecting you”

 

9. Regular contact after the pitch is crucial

I think that anyone can get in contact with an influential person at least once, but to keep in touch with someone who is high profile, takes real skill. When I presented this challenge to Melanie, she described how she was able to overcome this.

She explained to me that after the initial contact with an influential person, she would tell them what the next milestone was that Canva was going to achieve, and then when they achieved it, she would let them know.

In-between key milestones she would send influential people a copy of any Canva press to help keep her startup front of mind. The key Melanie says is that when you tell someone you are going to do something then just do it.

If you continue to do what you say you’re going to do, and you’re persistent, it will build up your credibility over time with the influential person. The other key trick is to send updates of your startup every few months – don’t overdo it with weekly updates.

 

***Melanie’s Recommendations***

Favourite Book – Designing the obvious (product design book) – Robert Jr Hoekman

Best Venture Capital Advice – The Venture Hacks Bible (Melanie used this PDF to learn what was involved in raising capital)

Favourite Quote – “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony” – Gandhi

Favourite Startup Tool – UserTesting.com (understand how users are using your site)

Melanie Perkins Canva Founder - Addicted2Success Picture Quote

If you have any of your own startup tips then please comment below and make sure you visit Melanie’s latest creation Canva For Work here.

Tim is best known as a long-time contributor on Addicted2Success. Tim's content has been shared millions of times and he has written multiple viral posts all around personal development and entrepreneurship.You can connect with Tim through his website www.timdenning.net

Advertisement
6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Esther Mellar

    Oct 2, 2015 at 12:34 pm

    Hi Tim,

    What strike me is the following:
    ‘The Canva pitch to investors was rejected many times but what Melanie realised was that when investors said no, what the investor was really saying was that the current phase of their startup didn’t meet his or hers individual risk appetite.
    “The rejection is often not because of the reasons you think they are rejecting you”’
    Do you know Tim, did she actually ask for clarification/guidance, or it was only her positive attitude and belief in herself and her product?
    Thank you!

    • Tim Denning

      Oct 19, 2015 at 11:33 pm

      Esther, Melanie asked for feedback but it was mainly her belief in what she was doing that drove her. Melanie and her co-founder Cliff both had success with their first startup Fusion Books so that helped them have the optimism they needed. None the less, all entrepreneurs need to be able to visualise their vision before it’s real – Melanie did this beautifully.

  2. Lawrence Berry

    Sep 30, 2015 at 9:04 pm

    I love stories where other people kept pursing their dreams until it eventually paid off, and one thing that I have learned is that almost everyone who never gave up on their dream eventually made them come true. You learn from your failures and plant enough seeds over the years, you will eventually plant a fruitful seed. I love this young lady’s advice and her story.

    I agree with her statement that you don’t have to be a coder in order to achieve success with something techy, but you do need to know how to delegate tasks. You want to learn how to hand off the jobs that you don’t know, or are not the best at, but keep this vision intact. This vision and plan will make help you achieve success.

    • Tim Denning

      Sep 30, 2015 at 9:42 pm

      I love these stories too Lawrence. It’s so cool that they didn’t even have a product yet they were able to convince one of the most well-known venture capitalists to invest in them. This just shows you how important a compelling vision is.

  3. denny

    Sep 30, 2015 at 12:36 am

    Great insight on a contemporary path to wild startup success. I suppose identifying a short list of key industry influencers should be a part of early startup planning. Likewise, a focus on clearly communicating the market, the need and the vision to meet that need are all first steps – prior to technical design.

    • Tim Denning

      Sep 30, 2015 at 7:50 am

      Thanks Denny and appreciate you sharing your startup tips with us.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Startups

You Are The Problem With Your Business

Published

on

A great way to screw up your company is to get into the habit of blaming your suppliers, the market, your staff or your product for your failures.

I recently heard a story of a business that had set up a website. They sold various products and services focusing on helping people with psychological issues. The business owner was smart. The product solved a problem.

Unfortunately, the company was making almost no money. They’d hired someone to help them with their digital marketing and it wasn’t working.

Plenty of traffic was coming to the site, users were having a look around and then not buying a single thing. Who’s fault was this?

Well, according to the business owner it was the person running their digital marketing. As a result, they wasted approximately eight months marketing a website that couldn’t make any sales. The reason the business was failing according to the owner was because of the keywords that were being targeted in the marketing campaign. This is a horrible excuse.

The reason your business fails is because you’re blaming someone other than yourself. It’s the quickest way to bankruptcy. Don’t do that.


Your company is a reflection of you.

It took me a long time to figure out that a company is a reflection of its founder.

One of the businesses I had, had a toxic culture and a bunch of people that were rude to customers, arrogant and not nice people. That was a reflection of exactly who I was at the time.

The company was reflecting the flaws of my own life and what I refused to admit.

In the case of the business owner above, what was obvious is that they were good at telling lies to themselves. It was easy not to change as a business owner and insist that the change needed was nothing to do with their vision.

The issue of their company was not the digital marketing strategy but their lack of understanding around what their customer wanted.

The thought that their products were too complicated, not solving a real problem or priced incorrectly was an admission of guilt they wanted no part in. Hence the eventual demise of their company.


Take responsibility and it will change.

When you own the business, everything is your fault.

You have the power to solve any problem you choose. It starts with you being brave enough to admit that there’s a problem, and then secondly, being bold enough to insist it’s your fault and that you can change it.

The problems in your business can all be solved. That’s what it took me a very long time to understand. When I changed as a person and faced up to my hidden battle with mental illness that I didn’t want to talk about, the odds turned in my favor.

Had I have not taken responsibility for my mental illness, I would have never become a leader in a business or started another side hustle. I would have been crippled by the big, bad world that I thought I could control.

Control came from responsibility, and responsibility solved the major problem in my business: me.


Change is a must.

Not with your digital marketing strategy.
Not with hiring new people.
Not with developing a new product.

Changing yourself is the *must* because YOU attract the problems and the solutions into your business”

You can’t find the solutions or stop the never-ending problems until you stop the cause of it all: you. You’re the problem with your business. The good news is that it’s entirely within your control to fix.

Change you.

Not the business.

<<<>>>

If you want to increase your productivity and learn some more valuable life hacks, then join my private mailing list on timdenning.net

Continue Reading

Startups

The Different Ways of Measuring the Success of Your Start-Up

Published

on

startup success
Image Credit: Unsplash

You’ve probably heard people use the term “unicorn” in a business context. This means a privately held start-up whose value has grown to at least one billion American dollars. Think Airbnb, Uber, and so forth. There is no doubt that some start-ups have been major financial successes. And many smaller-scale start-ups are doing great as well, working hard and turning a steady profit. But that begs the question of whether finances are the only way to measure the success of a start-up. As it turns out, they might not be. At least, not always and not on their own.

How to Evaluate Success

As anyone who’s been involved with start-ups knows, you need a fair amount of flexibility to do well in this environment. Take the division of labour for example – rather than strict roles, you’ll often see everyone do a bit of everything. The same principle extends to measuring success. It can be vague and mean different things to different people, and it can change over time.

But amongst all that vagueness, one thing has become clear. Predicting the success of a start-up is very difficult for external observers. As a matter of fact, it’s often impossible. Therefore, in order to evaluate how successful a start-up has truly been, we need to know the goals of its founder(s).

“Success means we go to sleep at night knowing that our talents and abilities were used in a way that served others.” – Marianne Williamson

The Numbers

When people think about business, it’s common to boil matters down to the finances. And it certainly is possible to use numbers to measure and predict the performance of a start-up business. Net worth, gross margin, customer acquisition cost – these can all be indicators of success. But, a start-up can post impressive numbers for a while, perhaps even attract large investors, and still shut down in the end. So does this make it a failure?

The answer to this depends. If the founders wanted to start a lasting business, then yes, they failed to meet their goal. However, that isn’t always the case. If they were looking for a short-term solution and came out with more money than they had coming in, a closed-down start-up needn’t be unsuccessful. It can actually be the opposite of that.

So, looking at the figures isn’t enough, and there are different perspectives to consider. When they start planning their business venture, start-up founders may not have any particular numbers in mind when it comes to profit. Instead, they can judge their success according to some of the following criteria.

1. Happy Customers and Solving Problems

The story of a start-up often begins with a problem. The desire to help people overcome a specific issue can be the spark which ignites the creation of an entire business. And in the end, that may be all that matters to the founders.

This is closely connected to the happiness of the customers. If the resulting product or service has made people happy by helping them solve a problem, that is all that may be required for a start-up to be a success. Now, no business wants unsatisfied customers. But in cases like this, happy customers aren’t the way toward the ultimate goal – they are that goal.

In other words, some start-up founders don’t just use financial reports to measure how much they’ve achieved. To them, the one metric which stands above all others is the quantity of positive feedback they’ve received. The main area of focus is customers who use the start-up’s products or services to solve a problem they were having.

2. Impact

Every start-up founder likes doing well in terms of revenue. But for some of these entrepreneurs, the profit is merely a side effect of what they actually set out to do – impact the world in a positive manner. You can see an example of this line of thought with Elon Musk. He said that back in college, he had wanted to be a part of things that could end up changing the world. The continuation of this philosophy is evident in his electric cars (which aim to reduce pollution) and the SpaceX program (which strives to break down some of the barriers of space exploration).

In both cases, the furthering of mankind is the ultimate goal. Many other start-up founders feel the same, even if they have smaller goals in mind. To these people, there is no greater proof of success than if their company has had a positive impact on society or even a small segment of it. In their view, to make a difference is to succeed.

“The only limit to your impact is your imagination and commitment.” – Tony Robbins

3. Freedom

For some, starting up their own business is less about getting rich and more about gaining the freedom to conduct their business the way they want to. In this case, financial success is just a means to an end. The endgame is to be your own boss.

The fact is, some people don’t do well when they’re constantly receiving orders. They are simply hardwired to be free thinkers and they require an environment that allows them to do things in their own way.

Being in a position where you hold all the cards can be exhilarating. The knowledge that your decisions are final is very empowering, and many strive for such freedom. If a start-up can allow such people to go from being a regular employee to being in charge of making all the decisions, then it has already achieved all the success that it needs to.

4. Time for Friends and Family

As many people know all too well, a job can easily turn into the focal point of your daily life. Instead of being a way to support your lifestyle, your work dominates your time. And when that happens, the time you have to dedicate to your loved ones becomes scarce. Combating this is precisely what some have in mind when they decide to take the leap and start their own business.

Now, running your own company is no mean feat and it will require a lot of effort. But the beginning is the most time-consuming part of the process. Later on, it can be possible to create a system which leaves you with a lot more time on your hands. You can spend this time with your significant other, your children, or your friends. A start-up which gives you this opportunity is perhaps the greatest success of all.

A start-up is an extension of its founders and so are that company’s goals. Some entrepreneurs are in it for the profit, but not all of them. In the end, there is no single way to measure the success of a start-up. It all comes down to the specific aims of those who established it. But if the founders can end their day on a happy note, then the venture is a success even if it doesn’t fit some standard definition of the term.

Continue Reading

Startups

The Problem Is Not Your Website Or Your Product.

Published

on

spend a lot of my time talking to business owners. They focus on their product, their marketing channels and trying to make more profit.

I met one such business owner who was in the plastic surgery business. Their product (boob jobs and nose jobs) was not working. Their website sucked and people clicked off as soon as they visited it.

People would call their office, get put on hold, listen to the on hold message and hang up.

This business didn’t seem all that special. I’ve talked to many businesses and didn’t think for a microsecond that a plastic surgery clinic could ever teach me anything valuable.

I’ve been to Hollywood on holidays and the issues of body image are all too apparent to me. Anyway, this post is not about body image.

I ended up losing this business as a customer — not that I would ever have sold anything to them if it were up to me. I sat down one afternoon and thought about why we no longer did business with them.

That’s when I realized it’s not about your product or your website. All the issues with this plastic surgery clinic and a lot of other businesses I’ve dealt with stem from one thing. Let me explain in more detail.


Your Google Reviews say you’re an piece of work.

I looked up their Google Reviews and their customers said they were assholes.

They spoke down to clients, they didn’t deliver their clients what they wanted, they argued with their staff in front of customers and they treated people like they were nothing more than a dollar sign.

All I had to do was read their Google reviews to see that the problem wasn’t their product or their website.


Your clients tell you every day that you suck.

I asked the plastic surgery what their clients said.

Many of their clients told them that their services sucked and they would prefer to go to places like Thailand where they could get a better product at a much lower price.

The business owner made the mistake of thinking it was their product that was the problem and that a new website will tell clients a different message.

That wasn’t it.


You abuse your staff and they consistently leave.

I spoke with many staff that worked for this business.

Every single one of them hated the company and were not afraid to say what they thought of the business owner.

The business owner would sit outside on a nice sunny day and look across the street at all the yachts and the people boarding them.

They’d sit there and think that every lead they got was going to take them one step closer to owning their very own yacht.

“If only I could deliver more boob jobs, maybe I could have one of those,” they thought quietly to themselves hoping that no one else could hear how ridiculous this sounded.

I can remember multiple times being on the phone to the business owner and having one of their staff burst into tears halfway through the call.

The first time it happened I didn’t think much. After the third time, I got the message. During the short time I dealt with this business, people consistently left. If you made it to the six-month mark, you were some sort of hero and would probably be given a free surgery to say thank you for your work and make you feel worse about your own body at the same time.

It was free noses and boobs in return for daily abuse.

The problem still wasn’t the website all the product.


You don’t solve real problems; you solve your own problem.

A good business solves a problem.

That problem typically affects human beings and solving it is how you make money in business. Solving problems can start out with a problem that affects you, but at some point, you’ve got to start solving that same problem for other people/businesses.

This owner of this plastic surgery clinic was only trying to solve their own problem which was making more money to buy fancy items like yachts.

Only solving your own problem is not just selfish but bad business.

Good business is solving a big problem or lots of small problems for entire strangers who you don’t know thus doing something valuable for the human race.

Solving only your problem will make you poor.

The problem still wasn’t their website or product.


Creating more problems.

Everything this business owner sold created more problems.

They’d film videos to purposely make people feel like their body wasn’t perfect.

They’d write articles suggesting that everyone needs botox to feel young.

They’d take photos of men and women who were supposed to be perfect so that young people would dream of looking like them.

Not only was their business not solving a real problem; it was also creating more problems every day that it existed.

If your business creates more problems than it solves, you’re in real trouble.You need to take a long hard look at the business and become obsessed with doing everything you can to change it — and do so damn fast to limit the whirlwind of problems you’re creating behind you.


The heart of the problem.

It’s the business owner.

The business I mentioned will fail. That part is certain. The problem with the business is not the website or the product.

The problem is the business has no heart because the business owner has no heart.

You cannot focus on your own selfish desires, create really bad problems in the world, treat other human beings like garbage and expect to go buy a yacht and live happily ever after. It just doesn’t happen like that.

Whether you are a plastic surgery clinic like the one I described or a solo entrepreneur, the problem with your business is you.

Fix the problem of YOU. You can’t get away with being horrible forever.
Being horrible is bad business.

Being respectful, kind and valuable is the final answer to the problem with your business.

<<<>>>

If you want to increase your productivity and learn some more valuable life hacks, then join my private mailing list on timdenning.net

Continue Reading

Entrepreneurs

18 Must Read Business Books for Emerging Entrepreneurs and Startups

Published

on

business books

Reading is both relaxation and training for the mind. Who reads, dives into another world. Learning, entertaining and breaking out of everyday life for a short moment. One could go even so far as to say reading is the second most beautiful thing in the world! Whether it is non-fiction or a novel of all the world’s man has created, the book is the most powerful tool. That is also, why we wanted to find out which business book you should undertake in the new year. (more…)

Continue Reading

Trending