The Australian startup that is just 'so Macintosh'

One of Australia's fastest growing startups, Canva, has taken its place as a member of a digital design pedigree that includes PageMaker, Photoshop, and Macintosh, according to Apple's former chief evangelist, Guy Kawasaki.
Written by Leon Spencer, Contributor

Australian online graphic design startup, Canva, is growing so fast its lunch desk is filling in as a temporary workspace for its influx of new employees. That is, at least, until the company moves from the inner-Sydney office space it has grown out of over the past few months and into its new premises just a few blocks away.

After raising millions of dollars in funding, doubling the size of its workforce over the past year, and working to hire more local talent due to a massive user surge, Canva co-founder and CEO Melanie Perkins has a lot to be excited about — not least the recruitment of Apple's former chief evangelist , Guy Kawasaki.

Kawasaki, who is in Sydney this week spruiking his involvement with the local startup, came on board as Canva's chief evangelist in April after discovering that his social media partner, Peg Fitzpatrick, had been using Canva’s services to create image designs for online posts.

For Kawasaki, Canva's online graphic design platform has done for design what Macintosh did for personal computing — make it easy and accessible for anyone to use.

"Mac was the first killer product I worked with," said Kawasaki, at a media event in Sydney today. "MacPaint was the first killer app that really showed what Macintosh could do. The second killer app that Apple came out with was MacWrite. This was something that took people away from daisy-wheel printers, and the third killer app I was involved with was PageMaker.

"This revolutionised publishing, because you didn't have to own an offset printer to become a publisher of books magazines and newsletters. This app, I think, Saved Apple. Were it not for desktop publishing, I don’t think Apple would exist today.

"Then Adobe came out with Photoshop, which started the process of democratising design, and now, I'd put Canva in the same category," he said.

Canva's platform combines over a million images with hundreds of free design elements and fonts, along with a host of editing and online collaboration tools. It boasts over half a million users and more than 870,000 jobs per month — a far cry from the little yearbook design company, Fusion Books, that it started life as in Perkins' mother's living room back in 2007.

For Kawasaki, what sets Canva apart from other design platforms in the digital marketplace is its user interface and ease of use — not to mention is capabilities.

Kawasaki puts Canva's design and construction on par with the design prowess that gave Apple's flagship Macintosh computer its defining edge.

"It's just so Macintosh with everything," he said. "It's so WYSIWYG, there's no programming, it's just a beautiful, beautiful thing. So I came out of semi-autonomous retirement and now I’m a full-time employee of Canva. Canva is my life right now."

Having Kawasaki on board is undoubtedly a boon for Canva, but the company was already gaining substantial recognition both at home and abroad prior to Kawasaki's involvement.

Since Canva's launch in August last year, its co-founders, Perkins. along with Cliff Obrecht, and Cameron Adams, have been courting investor interest locally and in the United States. The trio has already secured over AU$3 million in funding, and it is likely that more will follow, as potential investors continue to show increased interest in the startup.

In fact, Kawasaki says that it was Canva's existing momentum that convinced him to work with the startup. For an industry in which over 90 percent of new businesses are expected to fail, momentum is the one defining feature for which to determine an startup’s success.

"It's not a science, you just look for momentum," said Kawasaki.

He should know. He’s been involved with a series of well-known success stories, including Pandora, TripWire, The Motley Fool, and of course, Apple.

While Kawasaki concedes that the tech startup landscape is crowded compared to how it was in the 1980s, the tools now used by startup hopefuls are ubiquitous and low-cost compared to 30 years ago, making it easier, cheaper, and faster to launch, prosper, and even fail in startup land.

"If you gave me a choice of a world that was constrained by large startup costs, and therefore fewer startups, versus lower startup costs but with more competition, I would pick the option with much more competition," he said.

In Canva's case, however, Kawasaki is convinced the local startup will go the distance, despite the competition.

"I think Canva is truly going to change the world," he said.

According to Perkins, exciting things are on horizon for Canva; the company has willing investors on the line, and is expecting to open a US office in the next 12 months.

"We've got a lot in the pipeline at the moment," she said. "We've been working on a number of projects for the last eight months, that we'll be launching in the next few months. This year is very foundational for Canva, there’s a lot of big frontiers we’re about to announce, some within the next couple of weeks."

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