Canva: Lessons From a Technology Entrepreneur | Macquarie Group
Since it was founded in 2012 technology startup, Canva, has experienced a meteoric rise to become a $US40 billion company, having raised capital from some of the biggest investors in the world. Founded on the principle of helping everyone design anything and publish anywhere few companies have grown so significantly in such a short space of time, so I'm delighted to be joined by Canva's Chief Product Officer and Co-Founder Cameron Adams. Welcome Cameron and thank you very much for joining the Macquarie Technology Summit. Absolute pleasure. Now first I'd like to start at the beginning and ask you what the vision was for Canva in those earliest years.
The vision for Canva was always about empowering the world to design. We passionately believe that design can help people in innumerable ways and they just didn't have access to it. It was really complicated to do design.
It was very expensive. You needed to know these very archaic and complicated software packages. You needed to spend lots of time doing it.
You needed to know where to go to get all the resources that you needed to put into your design, whether that's photos or fonts or layouts. And then you needed to know what to do that with that design to actually get it printed as a business card or a poster. And we knew that we could get that into everyone's hands in the world rather than it just being this very small 1% of the world. And I think over the last ten years, we've seen how powerful it is to actually put design in the hands of everyone. And we've seen amazing results from it.
Wow, that's a great story. And so Canva's story is one of disruption. And now having revolutionised design and the publishing space, do you think of yourselves as disruptors and how have the incumbents been responding to you? We very much think of ourselves as innovators.
We've tapped into this audience who just didn't have anything that served them before and it has really unlocked the capabilities of so many people around the world, whether that's students or teachers or someone starting their first business or someone buried deep within the marketing department of some huge company. Like they've all discovered what design can do, and it's allowed them to do things they couldn't do before. It's given them a path that just wasn't being served. So I wouldn't consider ourselves to be, tackling a competitor or taking market share away from someone. We're creating this entirely new sphere, which Canva is really created and which we've capitalised on and grown and the, the number of areas that design can help out now, it just continues to multiply, and we're astounded by all the different stories that we get of people using Canva and using design in really unique and innovative ways that we never even thought of before. That's amazing, in terms of, you know, the space no one had identified that you've basically gone and created in filled.
Yeah. Now you're the Chief Product Officer. So what's the technology behind Canva's products and what tech innovations are you excited about in terms of the future now and what you're bringing next for your customers? So I think we were very fortunate when we kicked off Canva in 2012, the web had been around for a while, but it was still maturing and particularly the technology base of the internet was just coming into its own. The capability to design something in your browser wasn't possible before 2012. So it was this sweet spot where the, the underlying technology made it possible to actually have a great design experience in the browser.
And we created the Canva product and I think we were really fortunate to start on the web as opposed to an app because the web is an amazing because the web is an amazing platform for sharing and collaborating, which is really fueled can be the growth of the last ten years. And I think being a web native product means that we're primed for the collaboration that you need in 2022, particularly with the shifts that we've seen in the last two years around people working from everywhere and not being in the same room and not being in the same room and having that platform that just makes Canva infinitely shareable and a brilliant team-based product has served us well. Over the years, on top of that kind of core technology, we've also built really powerful engines for localisation, which has again been a really pivotal point for Canva, where we've moved beyond just your traditional English speaking markets of the US, speaking markets of the US, Australia, the UK and now the majority of Canva users are using it in a country where English isn't the primary language, I think it's upwards of 80% of Canva's user base is outside those traditionally English speaking countries. And we, we kicked off that strategy in 2016 of wanting to truly empower the world to design and getting Canva into all these different languages.
We're now in over 100 different languages and in 190 different countries. Oh my goodness. That's only been possible through the efforts of our localisation and internationalisation teams who have not only focused on making the product available in different languages, but also the content and the way that we communicate with our customers.
Content is a really key one because in order to design things you need the content to put into that design, whether that's photos, illustrations, even different fonts you might need for different languages. So the availability of all that content around the world means that someone in Brazil who's running their store there has exactly what they need for their culture, their society and their community. And it's different in every place you go. It's actually fantastic to see the way that Canva is used differently all around the world. That's amazing because, you know, like Macquarie, you started out as an Australian company and now you've completely globalised and we've all had to approach differently how we deliver in each of those markets.
So we were talking a little bit earlier about the offices you have around the world, where you're located and why you chose to and went early on to China. So what do you do in terms of responding with people on the ground and things in terms of your footprint to understand each local market? Yeah, we both think we think both strategically and also reactively. So often you'll see patterns emerge that you hadn't expected before and you need to respond to them.
A good example of that is Brazil, where we hadn't really thought of Brazil as a huge growth market before, but it's now one of our top five countries for usage. So in terms of localisation and translation that has been a massive focus, getting into Brazilian Portuguese has been massive for us. With Brazilian staff you've got? We've got a very small team there. But thinking about the types of people that we bring on and how they can feed into the Brazilian market has been really important. We, our very first office outside of Sydney was in the Philippines.
And again, that kind of arrived organically because this was way back when we were probably five or ten people working at Canva. We needed someone to help out and we discovered someone and they were brilliant. They helped us, you know, fill out a spreadsheets, organise a bunch of stuff, and we asked them where they were from and it turned out there in the Philippines. So we started investigating it more and discovered a brilliant team there who were ready to go. And they became our very first customer happiness team. And Manila has now grown from this team of five people working in a co-working space to now we have an office there that fits 600 people.
They have just opened up again after the pandemic. And it's been brilliant to see people coming back into that space again. And, you know, the world has become much more connected with technology in our working careers. You've talked about the rise of the visual commentator, and I know during the pandemic this has become even more important as we have had to connect remotely. I was just curious from Canva's perspective how you're seeing technology like Canva play a role in the future of work now that we've learned we can work without having to physically be together as much? Yeah, over the last ten years, visual communication has just become so incredibly important and started permeating everything. It kind of started off, I think, on social media, and that was where our foundational user base was.
And you started seeing things like Instagram and Pinterest come to the fore, and I think that moved people from the internet being primarily a text-based communication medium to one that included images and video. And you started seeing people communicating in very different ways. And over the last ten years we've drilled into that as Canva's the perfect platform for that. And we saw immense growth for our presentations product over the last two years. It was growing phenomenally before that, but we just saw it hockey stick once COVID began.
We've actually had over 700 million presentations created on Canva now, and it's primarily because people are looking for new ways to communicate. They need to cut through all the the flood of information that's coming in now and whether that's when you're working at school as a student or a teacher or you're working in a big workplace like Macquarie, you need to communicate your ideas and rally people and get them behind you. And having an awesome presentation is one way to do that, which Canva does in a really unique way. But we're also thinking about things like video. We kicked off a video product a couple of years ago, and that has grown from zero users to over 16 million users now. And we've had I think, 400 million videos published on Canva in that time.
Wow. And it just shows this real shift in the way that people are communicating and how they consume information. And we're seeing that in the workplace, that you're seeing these kind of mash ups between presentations and videos.
We launched a feature called Talking Presentations where you can record yourself giving the presentation and then share that with anyone around the world. And that's had a fantastic response. And it's highlighted to us this blurring of the lines between the traditional ways of communicating. And it's really important now to engage your audience, communicate clearly, create this narrative and a proper story.
And really visual presentations and videos let you do that. And we think that will be an increasing trend in the workplace. Yeah, I'm sure it will. And you know, it's just amazing to hear how you've empowered people from, you know, businesses like ours right through to kids like my daughter in terms of engaging and communicating in this new, digitally connected world. But one of the things that all requires is money of course, you know, being in the financial services sector and I was mentioning at the beginning how successful you've been in raising money from the biggest investors in the world.
But I'm sure early on it was tough and you had a lot of closed doors you had to break through. So interested to hear a bit about that journey and what lessons there are for others who want to pursue this path. Yes, our relationship with investors has changed dramatically over the last ten years. We for our very first round, we pitched to well over a hundred different investors before we actually managed to pull a round together. Family and friends. Yeah, so that was, that included started off in America.
We tried here in Australia, and it was really hard at the time because the venture capital scene was quite immature. You know, funds like Blackbird hadn't even started yet. So we needed to go to the States to find people who were willing to back our vision and understood the type of growth that we were talking about.
Fortunately, we landed a few and that very first investment round, we ended up with about half American and half Australian and Blackbird actually just kicked off right at that time and we're very fortunate to have them come in into our first round. Since then, I think us showing how capable we were at building a product and a company and also the meteoric growth that we've experienced, the relationship we have now with investors is a lot different. We can pick and choose and find the investors who are really fitting with where we want to go and what we want to achieve.
So it's a lot less desperate now. So now you've achieved a decent level of success, I guess you can start looking at the bigger problems of the world and climate change is one of those that I know you and we are passionate about. What are some of the things Canva is looking to do in addressing this, what is really a one of the biggest challenges of our generations? Firstly, I love the focus that you personally have put on climate change. The work that Macquarie's done has been amazing and for us we very much see ourselves as being a responsible citizen of the world in looking after how we can impact it and making sure that our company is running in a sustainable way. I think the last government that we had in Australia was very reticent to take any action on climate change, so we very much saw the responsibility for us as a leading organisation who has a voice to make sure that not only we were dealing with our own climate change impact, but communicating that out and finding solutions for that broader level. within Canva, we set ourselves the goal of being net zero by 2023 and we actually hit that in 2021.
So 100% of our global operations and our print services are entirely offset by 100% verified nature-based credits and we focused a lot on renewable energy. So here in Australia all our operations are powered entirely by renewable energy and we've set up a power purchase agreement to make sure that it is actually coming from the right sources. And we're setting up similar arrangements for offices all around the world. We've looked a lot at our print services which make up a large part of our emissions and we're working with our partners over the next few years to to phase out emissions there as well. We think also a lot about going beyond net zero, so not just about equalising out your emissions, but what can you do beyond that? And we've set up a few schemes to look at the impacts we're having through the projects that we're funding and that's based on three different pillars. We want to encourage regeneration, biodiversity and indigenous livelihoods.
So each of the projects that we back has to talk to those three criteria and make sure that not only are we bringing down carbon, but we're also making the world a better place on all levels. We also encourage all of our staff to come up with great ways that they can be a force for good which is one of our values. So they're constantly thinking about how we can have a greater impact through the decisions that we make. And one of those schemes that came out of that was a print one plant one project. So anytime someone orders a print through Canva, we plant a tree.
And that's actually resulted in 3.5 million trees being planted over the last couple of years. Wow.
That's that is amazing. Very pleased to hear that and really keen to partner with you on doing more in this space. But tell me more broadly in terms of the community technology companies, some of the biggest philanthropists in the world, and it makes sense because technology is having so much social impact so I was just interested in in terms of what Canva is doing there. Fantastic work. But can you tell us a bit more about more broadly what Canva is doing for the community because it's really setting an example? Yeah, we think about that I think on two different levels. There's the community that kind of sits around the different offices that we have in the world.
And then there's the global impact that we can have as a truly global company. We encourage each of the offices that we have, whether that's here in Sydney, or Manila or Austin in the States or Beijing in China, to think about how they can get involved with their community and how the office impacts the area around them. Here in Sydney, we've got this great space called the Canva Space, which is down the bottom of the office and it's open for anyone to come in. They can get a coffee, they can get some food and we have lots of workshops there that invite the community in and teach them not only about design but sustainability, a whole range of topics. And we have lots of community groups that can use that space for their own ends. In Manila, they focus a lot on the rural areas around them, so they often go out for medical drives, vaccinations into villages, and they have an incredible team who always respond when there's a natural disaster in the Philippines.
So when there's hurricanes there, when there's earthquakes, volcanoes, they respond and the Vibe team in both here in Sydney and Manila and everywhere else are always amazing in their response to a crisis. So throughout the pandemic, the kitchen here who obviously had no one to feed kind of turned into a community kitchen that was creating meals for the community here in Surry Hills. I think they put out over 20,000 meals in that time. So we're always thinking about that impact that we can have and the global level is the biggest area where we can have an impact and we're constantly thinking about different ways we can do that. One of those is through our not-for-profit program. So we give Canva away entirely for free to any non-profit anywhere in the world.
And that program now has over 230,000 non-profits using Canva. Wow. Which means that that's 700,000 people who don't have to spend a lot of time thinking about the content they're creating or coming up with the designs they can quickly use Canva get that done, and then go back to thinking about how they're actually being a force for good and the impact that they can drive through their real mission for their non-profit, which might be feeding the homeless, working on human rights you know, curing different types of cancer. So we just want to empower those people to forge on their mission and not have to worry about how they're communicating visually. That also flows through into education.
Education is a massive thing for us. Students and teachers are our biggest cohort of users. And we have Canva for education, which gives Canva away for free to those students and teachers and creates, it gives them a tool where they can learn better and teach better. And some of the stories that we've got from students and teachers, particularly through the pandemic and how they've used Canva to engage their students and communicate their learnings better, has been incredible. Wow.
Another thing I guess we have in common, because we also engage in the community by letting our local teams think about their community needs and empowering them to get on with stuff. But it's so impressive that in such a short life, you know, Canva has grown to having that incredible impact on community beyond what you're doing with the technology and the business. Well, it's awesome to hear that Macquarie is doing that as well. Yeah, 53 years old. So tell me what's next now for, you know, because you've achieved so much, but for Canva, for your technology, what you see doing for your customers, where are the next plans from here? I think we're, we kind of feel like we're only just getting started and we started out with this mission of empowering the world to design, and we know that design can have an impact across so many different areas of the world and different ways of working. And we've only kind of scratched the surface on that.
So Canva is used a lot for marketing, for presentations and now for video, and we're going beyond that now. Into the workplace, into websites, into whiteboarding and collaboration. And that's just rolling out now. And we think that Canva can have a huge impact in the workplace and in institutions like schools and universities by bringing people together and helping them communicate together. Because I think that the key to the future of humanity is collaboration and the ability to take a massive idea, bring people in on it. And have them contribute to this greater good.
And visual communication is going to lead the way in that that's how we're going to communicate and how we're going to get things done. Yeah. We're also thinking about education and how we can leverage Canva to teach in a different way, engage students and give them a model that helps them adapt to this new world that we're going into. I don't think the old models of teaching and education fit us anymore.
The world is changing rapidly, people need to be incredibly resilient, learn on their feet and adapt to the world, and to do that, they need to be driven, they need to be able to communicate what they're thinking, and they need to be able to interact in a much more collaborative way than the classrooms that you and I grew up in. And Canva's leading the way there. Like, the excitement that we see in students who are able to use Canva in the classroom and the enthusiasm that teachers have for teaching in this way, it's just incredible. So I always love going to visit a school and seeing the kids using Canva. - Right, So ten years on, still a startup in early days by the sounds of it. - Very much so.
The world ahead of you. And I guess I had one last question to throw to you, which is in relation to the Canvas of tomorrow, to young people out there that are thinking, well, how do we build something like this? You've certainly shared a lot in terms of the journey and what sort of key things. But are there any view points? I'm sure you get asked this question a lot, do you? I think the one thing I've learned through Canva, not the one thing, but one of the big things that I've leant is you need to have huge ambition.
If you can't set this inspiring vision for people, they're not going to come along with you. So having that vision, daring to dream as cliche as it is, but understanding that you then need to figure out how to take the steps to get there, it's not just enough to have that dream. You then need to practically put it into place. And I think you learn a lot of that by doing it.
If we went to investors with the pitch for Canva and no idea of how to do it. We never would have got any money, but putting in place the team, the skills, the right resources that we needed, let us do that. And Canva started from, from a very small place. It was just three people in a room now with 3000 people around the world. And I think it's possible to do that from Australia and probably to do it from anywhere nowadays.
You just need to inspire people and bring them along on the journey with you. Well, well done because you certainly have inspired a lot of people and it's incredible what three of you early on in the room and now 3000 of you are getting done. So huge congratulations and thank you so much for joining us. Thank you Shemara.