Food and toilet paper helped Canva become a tech unicorn

Security may not be on its list of attributes, but the company's co-founder and chief product officer assures all systems are now secure.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

Team building through shared meals; keeping a "healthy tension" between business, design, and engineering needs; creating a company culture around six core values that resulted in Canva taking a closer look at reducing its toilet paper footprint; and continual innovation were some of the attributes that laid the foundation for the company to achieve unicorn status, according to Canva co-founder and chief product officer Cameron Adams.

What he failed to mention though, during his keynote at the Gartner Application Architecture, Development, and Integration Summit on Tuesday, was the company's approach to security, an area that recently landed the Sydney-based startup in hot water. 

In May, the data of roughly 139 million Canva users were stolen when the company's graphic design service was hacked by infamous hacker GnosticPlayers. 

Stolen data included details such as customer usernames, real names, email addresses, and city and country information, where available.

Despite not mentioning security as a piece to the puzzle of how the company achieved unicorn status, Adams assured ZDNet that all systems at Canva were now secured. 

"Mandiant came on as consultants, and our own internal security team have been fantastic in plugging all the holes and figuring out any other vectors that need to be looked at. They've done a whole audit of our entire system, thankfully there hasn't been too much we've had to fix up," he said.  

"But [security] is definitely a strong focus now -- not that it wasn't before -- but there's now an extra layer of due diligence."

Three days prior to the breach, the company raised $70 million in a Series-D funding round, and is now valued at $2.5 billion. 

Canva also recently acquired two of the world's biggest free stock content sites, Pexels and Pixabay. 

Read: How to make your product photography shine (TechRepublic)

During his keynote, Adams added that the company is currently working on releasing Canva for Enterprise, which builds on its existing Canva for Work platform that's aimed at small-to-medium businesses. 

"Enterprise have totally different design needs but they'll be able to control things, work with their brand assets, and work with teams around the world where they need to have this peculiar mix of control and creativity, and they need to find a sweet spot for that," he said.

"We're in the process of recombining a bunch of elements to create this new product."

Adams also spoke about the challenges the company has faced from starting as a four-person team to becoming a company with a headcount of 600 people and approximately 50 different teams. He pointed to how Canva was forced to move from using coupled to decoupled software to "make sure each team can work independently but still feedback to the core solution". 

As part of a one-and-a-half year process of rewriting its platform and rolling it out in the last year, Canva is now able to build new features and products in half the time it previously could, Adams said, adding that security is key feature of that new platform.

"It becomes a really complex systems. You build up a lot more services and tools you're using and we just need to be more aware of those dependencies and make sure we've locked them down as much as possible," he told ZDNet. 

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