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How Unicorns are Launched: Canva

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September 13, 2023
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min read

Within the sphere of digital design, one name often rises to the forefront: Canva. This easy-to-use design tool has made graphic design accessible to millions, turning a once professional-dominated domain into a playground for everyday creativity. This installment of our "How Unicorns are Launched" series delves into the birth and growth of Canva, a company that started from a simple concept and evolved into a billion-dollar business.


Canva was brought to life in 2012 by co-founders Melanie Perkins, Cliff Obrecht, and Cameron Adams. Melanie and Cliff, a couple at the time, had previously founded Fusion Books, an online design tool for school yearbooks. The trials they experienced with Fusion Books, coupled with the inherent complexity of mainstream design software, ignited the idea for Canva.


Canva's CEO and co-founder, Melanie Perkins, has become synonymous with tenacity and resilience. Her journey to secure funding for Canva involved three years and countless rejections before finally achieving success. Her co-founders, Cliff Obrecht (who is also her partner) and Cameron Adams, brought a rich mix of business acumen and design expertise to the table, complementing Melanie's vision.


The inspiration for Canva was born out of Melanie's teaching experience at the University of Western Australia. She noticed that students were often more challenged by learning how to use design software than the design process itself. This sparked a belief in Melanie that a better, more intuitive approach to design was needed, planting the seed for Canva.


Canva's MVP was a simplified version of its current product, focusing primarily on basic design tools and a user-friendly drag-and-drop interface. The goal was to test the market appetite for an intuitive design tool aimed at non-professionals.


Before finding its product-market fit, Canva embarked on a series of iterations informed by user feedback and market observations.

Initially, they believed users would value having access to a variety of templates, as this could speed up the design process and offer design inspiration. The team added a collection of templates and closely monitored engagement levels, which indeed rose significantly, validating this hypothesis.

The team also considered that users might want seamless integration with other platforms to enhance their overall design experience. As a result, they introduced features enabling direct posting of designs to social media, and integration with stock image libraries for easy access to quality images.

Finally, the Canva team needed to identify a sustainable monetisation model. They hypothesised that users might be willing to pay for advanced features, leading to the introduction of Canva Pro - a subscription-based model offering additional functionalities. The positive reception of Canva Pro among users confirmed that a premium tier could be successfully integrated into their otherwise free tool.

Product Market Fit and Beyond

Canva found its product-market fit within a demographic that comprised non-professional designers seeking a user-friendly design tool. This was a pivotal realisation that defined Canva's direction moving forward.

Today, Canva is a widely recognised entity within the design industry, with a valuation standing at a staggering $15 billion as of 2021. Its mission to democratise design continues, as it equips users across the globe with the tools to create stunning, professional-quality designs with simplicity and ease.