Big designs

Big designs
From BBC - January 9, 2018

When a 22-year-old Melanie Perkins nervously pitched her start-up idea to a Silicon Valley multi-millionaire she followed a novel if somewhat risky tactic.

The university drop-out had flown all the way from her home in Perth, Australia, to Palo Alto, California, for the meeting with well-known technology investor Bill Tai.

Melanie had read that if you wanted to impress someone you should mimic their body language. So seeking backing for her graphic design website she decided to put the theory to the test.

"It was pretty funny," says Melanie, who is now 30. "He was sitting there with his arm behind his chair, eating his lunch.

"So I am there with my arm behind my chair, trying to eat my lunch, while flipping the pages of my pitch... to sell him on the future of publishing."

Melanie's idea for the "future of publishing" is Canva, an online platform that aims to allow anyone to easily design everything from greetings cards to posters, and websites to calendars.

But while Mr Tai did not seem to notice that Melanie was copying his movements, he also did not appear to be that interested in her business idea.

"I did not think he was liking my pitch at all because he was on his phone the whole time," she says.

Mr Tai was, however, impressed enough to introduce Melanie to a network of other Silicon Valley investors, engineers and developers. And he ultimately invested in Canva himself.

Today Melanie's Sydney-based business is valued at $1bn, after it secured a latest round of investment this week.

The company has 10 million users across 179 countries, and 10 designs are created via its website every second. Not bad for a business that had its genesis in the lounge of Melanie's mother's house in Perth.

This was back in 2006 when Melanie was a 19-year-old commerce and communications student at the University of Western Australia.

At the time she says she was frustrated by how long it took to learn how to use most mainstream design software.

"It could take a whole semester to learn the very basics," she says. "Even the simplest tasks, like exporting a high-quality PDF file, could take 22 clicks."

While most of us would moan about this state of affairs, and then give it no more thought, Melanie spotted a business opportunity.

She decided to try to launch an online design website that would be as easy as possible for people to use.

"I realised that in the future design was all going to be online and collaborative, and much, much simpler."

Deciding to test her business idea in the relatively small scale world of school yearbooks, she and her boyfriend Chris Obrecht founded Fusion Books, a website that allows high schools to design their yearbooks online.

Effectively a prototype version of what would become the Canva system, she and Chris set up shop in her mother's front room, and borrowed money from relatives to pay for software designers to build the platform.


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