At the age of 20, Melanie Perkins (36, Perth, Australia), taught graphic design at her university and hoped that the tools to do it would be a little simpler. In 2008, there were only complicated programs, which required skills that almost no one had. Thinking of solving a small problem, she launched, in the living room of her mother’s house and with her then-boyfriend-now-husband-Cliff Obrecht, a very successful collaborative online yearbook design company. in Australia. But her dream was yet to come true. She led over a hundred no’s from Silicon Valley investors until she made the big break in 2013, when she raised the capital to launch Canva. A decade later, 130 million people use her technology every month to make posts for social networks, birthday cards, resumes, edit photos and videos or create a web page… A list that continues to grow within the graphic design platform all in one most popular free in the world. The latest novelty is the integration of the Flourish data visualization tool.
With more than 15 billion designs produced from 190 countries, the company known as the golden child from Australia and with a strong presence in America, wants to consolidate itself in Europe. 16% of its users are on the continent and they plan to double this figure in the coming years. Canva has not been able to escape the economic recession that affected technology companies last year —it has lost 44% of market value— and, nevertheless, it has resisted the wave of massive layoffs that companies such as Meta, Paypal or the Spanish Glovo. “We have been profitable and continue to grow rapidly. We have made sure to have a free product and a paid but affordable one. As the macroeconomic climate has changed, people have turned to Canva. This has allowed us to continue investing in our team and make it grow in a very conscious way over the years”, Melanie Perkins tells EL PAIS in the recently opened office in London.
Perkins is, in many ways, the exception. First, because she is one of the few women who leads a technology company. Second, because this company has a market valuation of around 24,000 million euros, according to the venture capital firm Blackbird. And besides, she has achieved it before the age of 35. Until last year she was also the second richest woman in her country and she has promised to donate her fortune. Although many analysts attribute Canva’s success to her leadership, she doesn’t usually blame it on herself, and she doesn’t like to talk about gender either. When asked if she has been underestimated for being a woman, she nods in agreement, but she resists saying the word “yes”. She prefers to answer the questions in the plural and give credit to the team, their experience, their exciting way of doing business and a long-term strategic vision. “We have been investing in artificial intelligence for several years,” she says.
Ask. Canva was already betting on artificial intelligence (AI) before the boom. Have you seen this impact coming in the creative sector?
Answer. Our big goal is to allow people to have an idea, turn it into a design, and not struggle between those two points. This has been our mission for the past decade. Now we can integrate all these different things into one platform and make it accessible to everyone. AI obviously has been a very important part of us for many years. For example, to remove the background of a photo with one click, which has been used 1.8 billion times around the world. Being able to use more of the world’s best technology, which is rapidly accelerating and integrating, opens doors for good results.
“We have received a lot of rejection. I can’t attribute it to a specific thing [como ser mujer]but in reality I did not fit the profile”
Q. Many of the content creators or designers are scared with the speed at which generative artificial intelligence is taking hold. What would you tell them?
R. One thing we had in our investor presentations over ten years ago was that with new technology, the industry has been transformed every few decades. That has been going on forever. And just as typewriters, typesetting, and copy-paste came into existence, as desktop publishing and desktop computers came into being, so did desktop publishing. And then with the Internet, a new way of creating was born. Now, with artificial intelligence, we enter another era. Every time technology comes along, we have to adapt. We have to learn to navigate it, use it to help us achieve our goals. So I think it’s important to try to embrace the latest technology and ensure that it becomes part of our workflow, that allows us to be more productive and gives us more power.
Q. Is the AI revolution similar to the previous ones?
R. Yes. And we must continue to embrace the latest technology to continue to be able to empower our workforce.
Q. Has the arrival of ChatGPT affected Canva’s plans?
R. The pace of acceleration in the industry has been spectacular, but it has been on this trajectory for a while. So looking back, it’s been exciting to see that pace in the AI spaces, and generative AI. And for us, it just allows us to empower our community.
Q. What is your position on regulation?
R. In our approach we have been careful and cautious, and, in fact, overly cautious. We have a trusted and secure team and have made sure that topics like politics, medicine and other areas cannot be addressed within Canva when it comes to Magic Write [herramienta de generacion de contenido a traves de comandos]. There are many things to discover at this time and that still remain to be resolved. In a way, we prevent those things within our product. There are other companies getting started in that space, but we want to make sure that doesn’t happen in Canva.
I like to believe that most people want to live on a planet where everyone has access to basic human rights and access to health care.
Q. You have shown that you do business with passion and a human touch. How not to lose that when a company like yours grows in size?
R. I feel like along the journey, there’s always a fork in the road: do something that feels authentic or do something just like another company. The more we bring our passion, our values, and things that feel authentic to it, the better it will be. We’ve had our little road. Was there a bit of silliness? Yes Was it peculiar? Yes. And it was fun. The more we do it as a team, the more we will dream together and then make it come true.
Q. Is it difficult to maintain authenticity when thousands of employees and their families depend on the company?
R. It is essential to put people first. When you look at big numbers, you can get lost in them. For me, when it comes to products, I always reflect on whether they are good enough for my family and friends. If it’s not good enough for them, it won’t be good enough for anyone. In addition, we want to create a company that we want to work for. So it’s also been very important to try to make sure that every decision we make is in line with that.
Q. As a woman, have you ever felt that your capabilities have been underestimated?
R. We have received a lot of rejection. I can’t pin it down to one specific thing, but I didn’t really fit the profile.
Q. Is it more difficult for women to succeed in the world of technology?
R. The rejection was important to me, because it helped me feel very, very sure about what I wanted to do and it made me very convinced of our vision. Having our first company, founded with our own resources, was essential because it meant that we would have to be profitable. We put ourselves in all roles, marketing, sales or customer service. Going through that whole process was extraordinarily valuable.
Q. Have you considered that it would have been easier if you were not a woman?
R. Some investors may have looked at entrepreneurs from the past and thought about the profile that this entrepreneur must have. And I think the success of Canva has changed what that means. The appearance that the founder of a company must have, where he must come from, or what is his trajectory. I hope the boxes where we didn’t fit have been narrowed down.
Q. What is your advice for girls and women who want to be part of the technological world?
R. It is important to find a problem that you care passionately about. We always dream of the future that we want to exist and we work very hard to achieve it. It is important on a personal, team, company, even country level. The basic formula of the dream that can become your existence is vital and I think that many people do not carry it out.
Q. With the integration of ever more powerful artificial systems, are you afraid of losing the human perspective?
R. I like to believe that everyone, at least the majority, wants to live on a planet where everyone has access to basic human rights, can afford to eat, and affords a roof over their heads and access to health care. That is the future that I want to work to build.
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Source: EL PAIS