AU$3m stealth startup Canva primed for first coat of paint

Five years in the making and AU$3 million in investment, the Australian startup that has been unable to say what its idea is has finally begun to open its doors.

Ask most clued-in entrepreneurs, and they'll tell you that although a good idea is important, it's all about how you execute it, so there's no point in hiding it. The exception to that is Canva, which co-founder Melanie Perkins kept under wraps because she didn't want to count her chickens before they hatched.

Earlier this year, Perkins secured AU$3 million from Australian and US investors such as ex-Googler Lars Rasmussen, Yahoo CFO Ken Goldman, Seek co-founder Paul Bassat, and renowned angel investor Bill Tai. Although it attracted such large industry heavyweights, Perkins had worried that going ahead with a large announcement about what Canva is, prior to it being ready, could work against its success.

Canva's three founders (L-R): COO Cliff Obrecht, CEO Melanie Perkins, and chief product officer Cameron Adams. Image: Canva

"We wanted people to be able to experience it with their own hands. We didn't want there to be a big lag time between explaining about this revolutionary product and then being able to actually use it. That's why we're now showing it at the same time as being able to get people on to the platform," Perkins told ZDNet.

As such, this is the first time consumers have really had a chance to look at the platform, which began its launch today and is free for anyone to use.

It is aimed at letting anyone create professional designs without the need to hire a designer or a photographer, manage subscriptions to multiple image libraries, or have the necessary expertise to use industry tools like Adobe's InDesign and Photoshop creative packages. The end result is a web application that allows users to simply drag and drop from image libraries — similar to an advanced kind of WYSIWYG editor.

Although they've been keeping it out of the public eye, Perkins and her team have been busy for the past five years, working with design studios, photographers, and other creative professionals. This has included enticing certain creative professionals on board to ensure its customers are served with the best content.

"What we've actually done is head hunted the leading stock photographers themselves around the world, and so they've contributed directly to our library."

As for timing, Perkins said that now is the only time that all of the creative industries, as well as the technology, have converged, allowing Canva to exist. It has been part of the reason that the startup has been under wraps until now.

Although Canva is open to anyone to use, Perkins expects to catch the attention of public relations agencies, creatives, and designers. But those professionals aren't the only ones taking an interest.

Since securing her seed round, Perkins said she has had to close the doors to investment, but still has many others knocking on her doors, keen to part with their capital.

Perkins started Canva from Perth and moved to Sydney recently, which may have a personal part to play in why it is only launching in Australia and the US initially. When ZDNet spoke to Perkins earlier this year, there were concerns over how competitive it would be to get engineers, as they were facing heavyweights like Facebook, Google, and the large number of startups also looking to poach talent.

But staying local has played well to Canva's needs. Although the startup plans to have a marketing presence in the US as well as Australia, Perkins said that engineering will remain local.

"We've chosen to stay in Australia, because we've been able to get such great engineering talent, we've been able to get such great support from the local community, from investors, from everyone here."