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A $1bil Technology business for 32-year-old woman

SYDNEY: When a 22-year-old Melanie Perkins nervously pitched her start-up idea to a Silicon Valley multi-millionaire she followed a risky tactic.
The university drop-out had flown all the way from her home in Perth, Australia, to Palo Alto, California, for the meeting with well-known technology investor Bill Tai.
Melanie’s idea for the “future of publishing” is Canva, an online platform that aims to allow anyone to easily design everything from greetings cards to posters, and websites to calendars.
Tai was impressed enough to introduce Melanie to a network of other Silicon Valley investors, engineers and developers. And he ultimately invested in Canva himself.
Today Melanie’s Sydney-based business is valued at A$1bil (K2.5 billion), after it secured a latest round of investment this week.
The company has 10 million users across 179 countries, and 10 designs are created via its website every second. Not bad for a business that had its genesis in the lounge of Melanie’s mother’s house in Perth in 2006 when Melanie was19-year-old commerce and communications student at the University of Western Australia.
At the time she says she was frustrated by how long it took to learn how to use most mainstream design software.
“It could take a whole semester to learn the very basics,” she says. “Even the simplest tasks, like exporting a high-quality PDF file, could take 22 clicks.”
While most of us would moan about this state of affairs, and then give it no more thought, Melanie spotted a business opportunity.
She decided to try to launch an online design website that would be as easy as possible for people to use.
“I realised that in the future design was all going to be online and collaborative, and much, much simpler.” Deciding to test her business idea in the relatively small-scale world of school yearbooks, she and her boyfriend
Cliff Obrecht founded Fusion Books, a website that allows high schools to design their yearbooks online.
Effectively a prototype version of what would become the Canva system, she and Cliff set up shop in her mother’s front room, and borrowed money from relatives to pay for software designers to build the platform.
Over the next few years, Fusion grew into Australia’s largest yearbook publisher, before expanding to France and New Zealand. The business was so successful that Melanie decided to leave university to focus on it full-time.
Realising that Fusion could be applied beyond yearbooks, it was in 2010 that she flew to California to pitch the idea for Canva to potential investors, including the fateful meeting with Tai.
Melanie says that Silicon Valley was a big culture shock, due to what she says is the vast difference between Australian and American attitudes to self-promotion.
“In Australia, people really talk down their accomplishments, in Silicon Valley, where you’re trying to raise funds or get an engineering team, you have to actually be able to speak about your accomplishments,” she said.
It took Melanie three years before she got any investment from Silicon Valley. But in 2013 Canva was launched, backed by $3m (K9.3 million), and with former Google executive Cameron Adams joining Melanie and her boyfriend Cliff as a co-founder.
“It was three years between first pitching to an investor and actually landing investment,”
“This is an incredibly long period of time, and we had hundreds of rejections along the way.”
“That process was really helpful for us, it meant that we had to refine our pitch, and get our strategy down before we started. So when we landed that investment we were able to execute quite quickly and effectively.”
Subsequent rounds of investment have seen Canva raise $82 million (K256 million) in total. While the website’s basic service is free to use, it makes its money by charging a subscription fee to access its more advanced tools.
Today, more than 200 people work for Canva, which has headquarters in Sydney and Manila, and an office in San Francisco. – BBC
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