Startup News & Analysis

Canva snaps up presentations startup Zeetings to end “death by PowerPoint”

Dominic Powell /

Canva Zeetings

Zeetings founder Rob Kawalsky and Canva co-founder Melanie Perkins. Source: Supplied.

Australia’s newest unicorn, graphic design startup Canva, has made its first acquisition, picking up Sydney-based presentations startup Zeetings for an undisclosed amount.

The acquisition will mean Canva will expand further into the presentations space, as Zeetings offers an interaction-focused PowerPoint-like presentation software that allows viewers to interact and provide feedback on presentations via their smartphones.

Zeetings founder Rob Kawalsky tells StartupSmart he developed the idea for the startup back in 2014 after attending endless numbers of presentations at his previous jobs as an accountant and portfolio manager. While PowerPoint revolutionised the old-school transparent sheet in the early 90s, Kawalsky says little had been done to improve presentations since.

“It’s still someone standing up in front of a slide and talking at a group of people, the same thing I’ve observed in many presentations. This is a format that hasn’t changed for decades despite tech changing around us,” he says.

“Everyone in the room has their own device, and at best those devices don’t serve a purpose, or at worst they become a distraction. We wanted to make those devices part of the experience.”

After launching in 2015, Zeetings raised around $2 million in seed capital from various angel investors and proceeded to clock up “tens of thousands” of users. The startup also boasts big-name customers such as Westfield and Deloitte, and Kawalsky says its software is used in two-thirds of Australian universities.

Canva will continue to run Zeetings alongside its existing offerings but will work with Kawalsky and the startup’s other two employees to continue to innovate and develop more features into both the Zeetings and Canva platforms.

What it’s like to be acquired

The acquisition process for Kawalsky and the Zeetings team was a “bit of an emotional rollercoaster”, the founder says, but lots of fun at the same time. The conversation began somewhat organically, as Kawalsky had known Canva co-founder Cliff Obrecht for a number of years prior.

“One of the really positive things about the Sydney startup environment is that everyone knows each other, so there’s a constant flow of information. I’ve known Cliff for a couple of years and we always stayed in touch,” he says.

“As Canva got larger and larger over the past six months, those conversations between us took on a more formal manner, and then it all happened really quickly. We discussed the acquisition formally only just in February — often these things can drag on for months.”

Having your relatively young startup acquired by one of the country’s most promising unicorns is likely the dream for many ambitious startup founders, but Kawalsky says an acquisition or exit was never his goal.

“Getting acquired was never the objective. The purpose of starting Zeetings was to transform presentations as I could see it as an area that needed to be innovated on,” he says.

“The prism I looked at it through was not about an exit at the end, but about if it helps us achieve the mission we set out to do. With Canva, I knew we could reach far more people than we ever could have alone, and with the two teams together we can innovate even further.”

In a statement, Canva co-founder Melanie Perkins and recent SmartCompany Smart 30 Under 30 listee said the two companies were keen to work together and “put an end to death by PowerPoint”.

“In an age where the prevalence of mobile devices continue to grow, more and more people expect to use their devices as a medium to connect. Contrary to popular belief, smartphones, tablets and laptops are not distractions; they can actually be used to encourage audience participation,” she said.

Stay open and transparent

Throughout the acquisition “rollercoaster”, Kawalsky says he was most concerned and focused on how his team would feel about the acquisition, and how they would fit in with, and feel about working with, the Canva team.

However, it was never an issue, with the Zeetings team happy to start working with the graphic design giant.

“That was the most fulfilling thing for me personally. My engineers coming to the Canva environment is such a great opportunity for them to flourish while working with the best engineers in Australia,” he says.

For other founders being circled by potential acquirers, Kawalsky says the best thing you can do to ensure a swift and smooth process is to be as honest and as transparent as possible.

“We were really upfront, honest, and transparent right off the bat. Form that trust early on even if not every deal discussed happens. Put your cards on the table,” he says.

“For me, this wasn’t the end of my journey, it’s the start of a new chapter, so it’s important to know the people you’re considering are the people you want to work with.”

NOW READ: Here’s how Canva uses tailored employee challenges to make sure it hires the best people

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Dominic Powell

Dominic is the features and profiles editor at SmartCompany.

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