Aussie billion-dollar success story: Canva

Libby-Jane Charleston

Canva CEO Melanie Perkins. Image: supplied

WHEN software company Atlassian made headlines for being the first Aussie “unicorn” company, it was thought they’d be the only one likely to reach the coveted status.

A unicorn company is a private company that’s valued at or over $US1 billion ($A1.3 billion).

While Atlassian is now valued at more than $14 billion, making it more valuable than Qantas, it’s been closely followed by another Aussie start-up, Canva, which recently reached unicorn status too.

Canva, a graphic design app for people who are not designers, is currently worth over $1.3 billion. The app makes pretty much anybody a graphic artist; you can make your own logos, banners and presentations.

Founded by young WA entrepreneurs Melanie Perkins and Cliff Obrecht,Canva is now being used by around 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies across 190 countries, with more than 10 million users.

It’s an incredible feat when you consider it took three years for the founders to land an investment deal; Canva managed to raise $50 million from investors, including the Chinese arm of Sequoia Capital, as well as Felicis Ventures and Blackbird Ventures.

Canva co-founders Cameron Adams, Melanie Perkins and Cliff Obrecht are riding high on their company’s success. Image:supplied

Ms Perkins told there are several factors involved in scaling a business and the most fundamental is solving a genuine problem a lot of people struggle with.

“For too long, graphic design was too complex and expensive for most people, even though almost every profession benefits from beautiful designs. So when we launched Canva, there were already millions of people who needed a tool just like it, so word of mouth spread like wildfire,” Perkins said.

“The most powerful element of Canva’s growth so far has been word of mouth and people sharing it with their colleagues, friends and family. Also enabling Canva to be accessed in people’s native language is core to our ethos of making Canva accessible to everyone across the globe.”

“Just recently we launched in 100 languages which brings us one step closer to making our product accessible to everyone.”


But Canva and Atlassian aren’t the only two growing Aussie success stories. Others are raking in huge amounts of money by honing in on a product the market needs.

• Construction software firm Aconex has been acquired by software giant Oracle for $1.6 billion

• Graphic design company 99Designs is currently generating $60 million in annual revenue

• Online travel agency Webjet — worth $80 million

• Online fashion retailer Showpo — worth $30 million

What sets Aussie companies apart?

When it comes to Canva, Ronsley Vaz from marketing agency Amplify said they’ve succeeded because they know exactly who their clients are and what their clients need.

“Their clients are business owners who want control over their graphics without actually having to learn Photoshop, so they’ve successfully ‘niched down’. What they’ve done is they’ve honed in on an outcome; the outcome is that they can sit there for a few minutes and bang out an image that looks like a graphic designer has made it,” Mr Vaz said.

“So you know the outcome you’re going to get when you sign into Canva and they’ve also added a virtual team, which means they’ve allowed the delivery of the service to go across timelines and that is what allows a global company to be created.”

Mark Baartse, CMO at online fashion retailer Showpo said a key factor in Aussie companies going global is about understanding the local markets and adapting.

“They aren’t just using a different currency, their buying behaviors are quite different. This applies to everything — product, marketing, logistics, etc. As always, there’s an element of luck and timing, but good planning and hard work minimizes that,” Mr Baartse said.

“At Showpo, we’re actively expanding our global reach and looking at new ways to reach customers in those markets.”

Jane Lu is the founder of the popular online fashion store ShowPo. The company is now pushing into new markets. Picture: Richard Dobson

Entrepreneur Stevan Premutico founded the restaurant reservation service Dimmi — a business that began with a few notes scribbled on a napkin and evolved to become a $32 million acquisition from Trip Advisor.

He told we’ve got a long way to go when it comes to producing great Aussie start-ups that compete on the global stage.

“There are three key factors that determine if a start-up is ripe for a domestic or global play — uniqueness, cash and appetite. You need to consider if the idea is truly innovative in foreign markets or are they are already saturated with similar products and services. Does the business have the cash or the access to the funding to launch an international play?” Mr Premutico said.

“It can be very expensive to set yourself up for success and without the capital, you are largely without a hope. And finally and, arguably, most important is the founders’ appetite to go global.”

While Dimmi was a unique idea and the company had access to capital, Mr Premutico said they chose to focus domestically.

“There was so much greenfield opportunity on our shores and we didn’t want to seek global fame and risk the very foundation of the business that we had created in Australia, so we chose to go deep in Australia instead,” he said.

“That was the right call for us, as TripAdvisor came along shortly after and acquired us to fold us into their global play.”

Does success on the world stage ever come down to “right time, right place”? Bede Moore, from TechSydney, believes luck only plays a small part in the success of any business.

“Good fortune always plays a small role but, ultimately, business success is down to a well-thought-out strategy, solid execution and having a great team behind you,” Mr Moore said.

“But what a lot of people don’t realize is the hard work that goes into building a successful start-up. Entering a new market is absolutely exhausting and requires incredible persistence.”

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I'm a journalist and author writing across a wide range of topics, including tech, travel, history, business/startups, relationships, beauty & fashion, British royal history, & local stories concerning Charleston, S.C (where I have a long family history on my father's side: hence my surname! ) Former HuffPost Assoc Ed, ABC TV, ATV Beijing correspondent and many more. Author of "Fatal Females." Mother of three boys: I will love them until the Statue of Liberty sits down.


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