Melanie Perkins conceived the idea for her business and built her software design company on her mother’s living room couch in Perth, Australia when she was just 19 years old. The company, Fusion Yearbooks, was so successful that she dropped out of her university altogether.
Nine years later, 28-year-old Perkins has founded another multi-million dollar graphic design company, which is why it may come as a surprise that Perkin’s major wasn’t graphic design while she was in college. However, after taking a first-year class in digital media in 2005, the soon-to-be entrepreneur fell head over heels. She was a hardworking student who picked up on the subject quickly and found herself teaching graphic design workshops to other students. While teaching, Perkins noticed that many of them struggled to grasp the basics of the choppily designed software.
That was when Perkins had a light bulb moment. She recalled to the Daily Mail:
“It was really complex and difficult, and it would take the entire semester to just learn where the buttons were on the software.
“At the same time Facebook was taking off, and it was so easy to use and everyone was on it.
“And I just had this belief that in the future it wasn’t going to be as complex to do design work.”
Two years after taking her first digital media class, Perkins set out to create a user-friendly graphic design software that allowed schools and students to make their own yearbooks.
Perkins believes that her inexperience gave her an advantage to starting her own business. Unaware of the challenges and difficulties involved, Perkins was confident that starting a company from the ground up was going to be relatively easy.
She and her boyfriend, Cliff Obrecht, started the company together back in 2007 with a bank loan and tax rebate of $5,000. She said of the experience:
“My boyfriend became my co-founder and we started in my mum’s living room.
“Our naivety in some ways helped us … If we knew at the time all the things I didn’t know it would have been intimidating.”
The co-founding couple used the money to advertise online and sent sample yearbooks to schools. They made their first sale to a French school in Sydney the following year:
“When we got our first $100 check, it was the most exciting moment ever, knowing people were prepared to pay for what we had built.”
Their client list grew as they sold to 15 schools in their first, 30 in their second, and 80 in their third year of business. According to Perkins, their business was never funded by outside investors:
“We never took on external financing but we kept putting every cent back into the business.”
A life-changing moment occurred when Perkins and her boyfriend attended the Innovator of the Year awards in Perth to showcase Fusion Yearbooks.
The young entrepreneur met MaiTai founder and San Francisco investor Bill Tai, who invited her to meet with him if ever she found herself in the Golden Gate State:
“He was the first investor I’d met who had insights into the whole world of technology and venture capital. It was a window to another world.”
A year later, Perkins traveled to the U.S. to meet with Bill Tai and Google Maps co-founder Lars Rasmussen and pitched them the idea for her second company. She envisioned a free online tool that would allow people to design anything from web graphics to posters, invitations and business cards.
Her three-month trip in the U.S. consisted of multiple meetings with investors and software engineers regarding her idea. In early 2013, Perkin’s second company, Canva, closed its first funding round of $3 million and was launched in August of the same year. Canva reached one million users by October 30, 2014 and 4 million users last month. They have since raised $12.6 million in investment.
The company employs 70 people from both Sydney and the Philippines and offers perks such as chef-prepared meals everyday, an office bar and a “vibe team.”
“We have a masseuse come in now and again and we have yoga.
“The chef comes in every day and cooks lunch and breakfast, we have decks in the office and a bongo in the office and it’s just a fun place- it’s a very casual place people enjoying hanging out in.”
Perkins also gives her employees freedom and flexibility in setting their own schedules. She told the Mail:
“Anyone can work the hours they want- we hire really smart people to manage themselves.”
According to Perkins, workers are invested in the company since:
“They’re all on salaries and have equity in the company, so as Canva does better, so do they.”
Perkins’ advice to budding entrepreneurs:
“Find a problem you believe passionately about, something you really want to solve.
“Once you’ve done that just literally get started.”
She urges others to take advantage of their inexperience:
“You don’t need to know all the things you need to know in advance of starting.”