When you think startups, you tend to think of the latte-sipping elite of Silicon Valley, right? Yeah, me too. Most people do. And yet, Canva, one of the most successful startups going around is a homegrown venture.
For those of you who don’t know, Canva is a free, easy-to-use graphic layout web app. It let’s users make business cards, posters and a heap of other templates. And the thing is, they’re all really, really pretty. Even the free templates and images are gorgeous. And if you want to get even fancier, premium design elements are going for next to nothing – around about a dollar.
Canva is the brainchild of 28 year-old millennial Melanie Perkins and was conceived in 2007 while she was teaching graphic design students how to use more complicated (and costly!) programs like InDesign and Photoshop. Perkins and her partner Cliff Obrecht approached and won over Cameron Adams (who had been lead designer of Google Wave) in 2012. Adams used his connections to hook the infant company up with Bill Tai, a kite-surfing enthusiast who hosted a (wait for it) Kite Camp for ‘entrepreneurs, innovators, and athletes’. Perkins was invited to the camp and got to pitch her concept to a bunch of Silicon Valley heavyweights. Next thing they knew, they had a $3 million seed investment from the likes of Facebook’s Director of Engineering and former Google Maps Co-Founder Lars Rasmussen, Yahoo CFO Ken Goldman and Seek Co-Founder Paul Bassat. With that, they launched Canva in 2013. Three years later, Canva has 10 million users over 179 countries.
From such humble and well-intentioned origins, the company hasn’t stopped growing and is now worth almost 500 MILLION big ones. And the thing is, this growth has predominantly been organic, based on word of mouth and content-marketing rather than traditional digital advertising. Funding comes from all areas (including the actor Owen Wilson), though the most recent cash injections came from Silicon Valley-based firm Felicis Ventures and Australian VC firm Blackbird Ventures. But the thing is, Canva doesn’t burn through a lot of this capital to market itself, unlike a lot of Sil Valley brands. In fact, it hasn’t even spent last year’s injection of approximately $20 million. This, combined with this year’s capital, gives Canva around $40 million in the bank to do pretty much whatever they want with.
Perkins has credited the success of Canva in part to the federal government’s Commercialisation Australia grant which she claims is the reason the company could keep their team Australia-based (their office is in Sydney). Governmental encouragement isn’t super strong, but with incentive like this, and the fact that more and more investors are looking to Australia for the Next Big Thing, means that Australia’s startup culture is really starting to take off.
Another Aussie company, Culture Amp (who make a staff survey tool and analytics platform) recently closed a $13.5million round of funding with big name US and Aussie investors, including Felicis Ventures. Australian companies are investing too and the rise of crowd-sourcing means that anyone with a good idea can take action to turn it into a reality.
With the maturing of Australia’s startup culture, numerous world-class startup incubators and accelerators have arrived on the scene – predominantly in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Places like Little Tokyo Two in Brisbane, AngelCube and Blue Chilli in Melbourne, StartMate and Muru-D in Sydney are fostering the growth of Australian ideas and Australian businesses. For entrepreneurial types, the money is there, and so is the support.
Savvy entrepreneurs are findings ways to develop their companies and find success here and abroad. Indeed, our start up sector has the potential to contribute $109 billion to the Australian economy by 2033. While some may bemoan the Australian Government’s entrepreneurial support and mock Malcolm Turnbull’s Ideas Revolution, it looks like the proof is in the pudding. Those hungry enough for it will find a way.