Growth

How Canva co-founder Melanie Perkins overcame rejection to build a “truly stunning” startup

Denham Sadler /

Canva co-founder Melanie Perkins famously pitched to over 100 investors when she was on the hunt for seed investment in her early-stage design startup.

Thanks to perseverance and hard work, Perkins eventually secured the funding, and Canva is now a giant of the Australian startup sector.

In an AMA session run by Blackbird Ventures, Perkins described how she dealt with the early rejection and used it to motivate her to make the startup bigger and better.

“Rejection hurts, a lot, but failure was never an option,” Perkins says.

“For better or worse, when I set my mind to something I don’t give up very easily at all. Being rejected a lot in our initial stages just meant that I had to try harder and refine my strategy.

“It wasn’t an option to not start but I had to come to terms with the idea that if things didn’t work out I wouldn’t hate myself.

“Fortunately things have been going very well and we’ll keep on giving it our absolute best to create the company and product that we’ve always dreamed about.”

When pitching to the multitude of investors in the early days, Perkins says she developed her pitch following every single rejection, taking on the feedback that was handed down.

“Every time we were rejected or had tricky questions we’d improve our pitch decks,” she says.

“One of the most important things that we learnt was that to convince investors of our idea they had to be convinced that the problem existed and that the problem affected a lot of people.

“In our earliest pitch decks we talked about our product in our first few slides, but in the end the majority of our pitch deck explained the problem and its magnitude. Now, almost ironically, most of our pitch deck is pretty graphs going up and to the right.

“At every stage of our company there’s been different focuses of our pitch deck.”

According to Blackbird co-founder Niki Scevak, Canva is now a standout among the Australian startup sector.

“Canva is building on of the truly stunning companies we have here in Australia, reshaping an entire industry and opening it up to a vastly wider market,” Scevak says.

The AMA also included a number of other interesting takeaways from Perkins’ startup journey.

Convincing investors to let Canva stay in Australia 

Perkins says it was very difficult in the early days to convince Canva’s investors that the company should remain Australia-based.

“It was seriously hard,” she says.

“A lot of US investors only want to invest in US-based companies. There were three years between meeting our first investor and actually landing an investment.

“There were a couple of things that really helped: Finding our first few amazing engineers in Sydney and the Commercialisation Australia grant.”

Maintaining the startup culture

Canva is now a large tech company, but its founder says the company’s startup culture is still the same as in the very beginning.

“Culture is about creating a company that you want to work in,” Perkins says.

“We had the same culture when we were in my mum’s living room with no budget at all. Culture isn’t about fancy lunches, but about having lunch together as a team. Culture is about how you treat people, which doesn’t cost a thing.”

How to flesh out an idea 

Perkins says one of the most important moments in her entrepreneurial journey was seeing her idea formed by a developer.

“One of the biggest first steps we took was hiring a software engineering company to create the first version for us,” she says.

“It was super scary as while I had a lot of belief in our idea we knew it was going to be a huge mission to build a company that realised that first initial cheque back.

“I think one of the best very first steps you can take after coming up with an idea is to simply scribble it down and start fleshing the concept out.”

This article was first published by StartupSmart. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, TwitterLinkedIn and SoundCloud.

Advertisement
Denham Sadler

Denham Sadler is a former editor of StartupSmart. He was previously a journalist at the publication and has worked as a freelancer for the Guardian, the Saturday Paper and the ABC. In his spare time he likes puns and jaffles.

FROM AROUND THE WEB