Inspiring Women: Melanie Perkins || Canva

Founders 5.jpg

Australia has a couple of start-up businesses that have become unicorns, a term used for a business that reaches a $1bn valuation. One of them is Canva, a company that completely reinvented the way design is done simply and intuitively without the need for complex software or programs. That in itself is extraordinary, but for me the secret sauce of Canva is one of its founders, Mel Perkins.

Firstly, a female founder of a successful start-up is in a (cough) significantly smaller percentage than dude founders, so that is ace and inspiring. One of the other really awesome things about Mel Perkins, is that she beautifully, personally, honestly and transparently documents her experiences as CEO and co-founder. Mel is clearly a born communicator. Her weekly blogs to all staff are things of legend, as is the way the culture at Canva is carefully nourished to ensure as the rapid growth has happened, the business has been able to scale culturally and maintain the fun feel of a start-up.

Mel recently wrote a fantastic post on Medium about the journey of Canva, it was just after their last massive funding round went public, and it is such a tonic to read the real story of what it takes to be successful in a fast growth start up in Australia. Being successful in my opinion is not necessarily an indicator of the quality of the idea or the effort of the execution. There are some wild cards for every start-up of things like timing, market stability, funding availability, that despite best efforts, just don’t line up. Sometimes they can be waited out, other times, they are the valley of death that the bones of many great ideas lie in.

What I especially like about Mel’s post is that she really spells out the ten year overnight success that it takes to establish a sustainable business. In The Good Hustle, I’ve mapped out the start-up journey against the yogic path to enlightenment via Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga. I spent a lot of time covering off on the need for a lot of resilience, egolessness, austerity, renunciation and a clear faith. Mel’s story has all these elements: sleeping on couches and floors of family and friends in the quest for funding; hundreds of rejections by funders and potential key staff; giving up her own mental and physical wellbeing to give this idea everything she had, knowing that the pain would pass, and the results would be totally worth it.

Being an entrepreneur brings with it a particular type of suffering, metered by a drive to keep going that is the hallmark of what ultimately brings success. There are undoubtedly added barriers for women, particularly in a tech start up where the landscape is so gender unbalanced, that opportunities to give up are offered frequently. In founder stories, once the valley of death has been forded and the revenue has started to ch-ching, these moments are frequently glossed over, for the more palatable anecdotes of crushing the market and wowing investors with incredible chutzpah.

The real story, however, is Mel’s: quiet inner strength, growth mindset and determination, humility, acceptance of failure as teachings not defeat, and through this solid integrity filled foundation, the stability and sustainability to create a business that really has impacted millions of users with beautiful simple design. I couldn’t be more proud of Canva being an Australian company, with Mel Perkins as one of its founders. I think they are more Zebra than Unicorn at heart, and I’m beyond excited for all of the other female founders Mel can mentor and inspire with her stories.

Polly McGee