Why one of Canva’s “ambitious” goals is to be a trillion-dollar company


Canva founders Cliff Obrecht, Melanie Perkins and Cameron Adams.

What’s better than $1 billion?

Well, according to Canva co-founder Cliff Obrecht, first it’s $100 billion, and then it’s $1 trillion, and then, presumably, world domination.

While Obrecht’s company Canva is in no way an overnight success, the Australian-born business is one investors haven’t been able to keep their hands off in recent years, with the startup’s significant growth and promising product leading it to obtain a coveted billion-dollar valuation earlier this year.

For founders Obrecht, Melanie Perkins, and Cameron Adams, that’s all well and good, but they ain’t spending any time on it. Speaking to StartupSmart, Obrecht said while the team did celebrate the milestone internally, they mostly view it just as another step in the journey towards loftier goals.

“When we started out, it was about how we could build a $100 million company, and then once we hit that, it became about building a $1 billion company,” he says.

“Amazon just hit a trillion dollars, so I think about what it would take for us to get there, though I think about the future more incrementally where [co-founder] Mel thinks a lot bigger. There’s a lot of steps to a trillion dollars, so I look at what Amazon’s revenue is, and what it would take for us to get to that level.”

“It took Amazon 16 years to get to $1 trillion, so we’ve got some time to look at where to start and what to achieve as the company grows.”

Obrecht isn’t one to rest on his laurels when it comes to Canva’s growth, saying that even when the company reached the rare unicorn status, for him it was just another step in the journey, and one the founders tried not to dwell on it too much.

“After achieving that goal it became about how to achieve our next three goals, or adding new goals to the list that are more ambitious than our previous ones,” Obrecht says.

More ambitious is an understatement, as $1 trillion dollars is a milestone hit by precisely two companies ever: Apple and Amazon. One notable feature of both trillion-dollar companies is their status as publicly listed companies, but Obrecht says Canva has no current plans to follow suit — although the company “never says no to exploring new possibilities”.

The co-founder also says Canva isn’t in need of any additional funding or cash injections; the company is profitable and well-capitalised, and hasn’t touched any of its most recent $50 million round of funding.

Canva, the best place to work

Canva also recently secured the number one spot on Australia’s annual best places to work list for companies with between 100 and 999 employees. Obrecht is pretty chuffed to have nailed the number one spot this year, with Canva coming in the top five in previous years.

In terms of how the company managed to pinch the top spot, Obrecht says one of the “mantras” Canva uses is fairly straightforward: is this someone I would want to work with every day?

“It makes the decision easier if you think about in the sense of, ‘would I want to sit next to this person every day, or are they an arsehole?’” he says.

“Winning the award this year was a great milestone and a testament to the hard work our internal Vibe team puts in everyday. Mel and I set out to create a company we’d want everyone one to come and work at everyday, and I think we’re on the way to achieving it.”

Imposter syndrome still prevalent

In the early days of Canva, it wasn’t unusual to see Obrecht or Perkins regularly penning company updates or speaking to local publications about Canva’s growth. However, as the company’s size increased, the public profile of the founders has moved into a different gear, as more and more time is poured into the business.

Obrecht says running Canva has “certainly not been easy” for him, admitting there’s been times he’s felt the pressure of being behind one of Australia’s golden children of tech. It’s the biggest company Obrecht has even run and the co-founder says he’s constantly being challenged and surprised by the company.

“We view it as an opportunity to learn, and we’re not ones to look at Canva as emerging, we don’t really think about the external view,” he says.

“I think our constant dissatisfaction makes us strive to be better and better, and we’re pretty proud that complacency isn’t one of our strong skillsets.”

But despite his confidence, Obrecht admits that, much like Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes, the feeling of not being qualified to run a company like Canva is a feeling he sometimes finds hard to shake.

Obrecht says co-called imposter syndrome affects everyone who finds themselves in a position they’ve never been before.

“You ask yourself, ‘am I equipped to run a company of this size?’, but my view is, who else would be in a better position to?” Obrecht says.

“I think everyone in a huge role questions themselves, and if you look at Mel and I’s resumes, we don’t look seriously equipped to take on the positions we’re currently doing.”

But the founders were supported every step of the way by a raft of mentors, investors, and new hires, who Obrecht says were imperative to Canva’s current success. No founder can do it from first principles without that sort of support, he says.

“But it takes a lot of learning.”

NOW READ: How startup unicorn Canva turned its first “pretty terrible” pitch deck into one that impressed investors

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