28 March 2024

From Frustrated Teacher to Design Disruptor: The Canva Story


Imagine struggling to teach graphic design with complex software that left your students lost. This was the reality for Melanie Perkins, a graphic design teacher in Perth, Australia, in the early 2000s. Frustrated by the lack of user-friendly design tools, a seed was planted in Melanie’s mind: there had to be a better way.

This frustration became the spark that ignited Canva, a design platform that’s now estimated to be valued at over $6 billion (as of March 2024). That’s a significant increase from the $3.2 billion valuation in October 2019, showcasing Canva’s impressive growth trajectory. But the journey from frustrated teacher to design disruptor wasn’t a solo mission. Let’s dive into the story of Canva and the innovative minds behind it.

Founding Trio: Perkins, Obrecht, and Adams

Canva co-founders Cameron Adams, Cliff Obrecht and Melanie Perkins.

Melanie Perkins wasn’t alone in her design software woes. She confided in her then-boyfriend (now husband) Cliff Obrecht, a software developer. Together, they saw the potential for a user-friendly design platform that could empower anyone to create professional-looking visuals.

The missing piece came in 2012 when they joined forces with Cameron Adams, an experienced developer with a passion for building intuitive interfaces. This powerful trio – Melanie, the visionary teacher; Cliff, the tech whiz; and Cameron, the interface maestro – became the founding team of Canva.

The Early Days


With a clear vision and a talented team, Melanie, Cliff, and Cameron got to work. Their initial prototype was a web-based design tool focused on simplifying social media graphics.

They knew the key to success lay in a user-friendly interface, drag-and-drop functionality, and a vast library of free templates and design elements.

The early days were filled with challenges. Securing funding was a hurdle, with investors hesitant about a design platform targeting non-professionals. But the team persevered, focusing on building a strong product and a passionate user base.

Design for Everyone

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Canva’s core philosophy resonated with users worldwide. Here’s what made them stand out:

  • User-Friendly Interface: Canva’s interface is incredibly intuitive, making it easy for anyone with no design experience to create stunning visuals. Drag-and-drop functionality and a clean layout make the design process simple and enjoyable.
  • Freemium Model: Canva offers a free plan with access to a vast library of templates, fonts, and design elements. This free tier allows anyone to experiment and create basic designs, while premium features cater to more advanced users and businesses.
  • Global Appeal: Canva is available in multiple languages, making it accessible to a global audience. This inclusivity has been a major driver of their user base growth.

These factors fueled Canva’s meteoric rise. By 2014, they had surpassed 750,000 users, and the platform continued to attract millions more each year.

Strategic Acquisitions 


Canva’s growth strategy wasn’t just about user acquisition. They recognized the need to expand their offerings and capabilities to become a true all-in-one design platform. This led them to make some key acquisitions that strategically bolstered their feature set:

  • Pixabay and Pexels (2019): These free stock photography platforms were acquired by Canva in 2019. This was a game-changer for Canva users, giving them access to a vast library of high-quality images directly within the platform.

  • Zeetings (2018): This acquisition in 2018 significantly improved Canva’s presentation creation tools. Zeetings’ user-friendly platform allowed Canva to offer a more robust set of features for crafting impactful presentations.

Beyond Strategic Acquisitions


Canva’s commitment to growth goes beyond just acquiring complementary businesses. They’re heavily invested in research and development, constantly innovating and adding new features to their platform. Here are some exciting developments that showcase Canva’s dedication to innovation:

  • Video Editing and Animation: Canva has expanded its horizons beyond static visuals. They now offer user-friendly video editing tools and animation features, allowing users to create engaging video content and bring presentations to life.

  • Social Media Marketing Tools: Canva understands the importance of social media in today’s digital world. They’ve integrated social media marketing tools directly into their platform, allowing users to create, schedule, and track their social media content performance all within Canva.

Keeping Up the Momentum: The Affinity Acquisition (2024)

Affinity Photo

Canva’s most recent acquisition, finalized in March 2024, was a big one. They acquired Affinity, a well-established company known for its professional-grade design software suite (Affinity Designer, Photo, and Publisher). This strategic move strengthens Canva’s position in the design industry by:

  • Attracting Professional Designers: Affinity’s software is popular among professional graphic designers, web designers, and photographers. By integrating Affinity’s tools and functionalities, Canva can cater to a wider audience, attracting professionals who might not have considered Canva before.

  • Enhanced Design Capabilities: The acquisition brings powerful design tools under the Canva umbrella. This could lead to the integration of advanced features from Affinity into Canva’s platform, ultimately benefiting all Canva users.

  • Market Leadership: The Affinity acquisition solidifies Canva’s position as a major player in the design software market. It demonstrates their commitment to offering a comprehensive design suite that caters to both beginners and design professionals.

This recent move shows that Canva is not resting on its laurels. They are constantly looking for ways to improve their platform and expand their user base.

With their focus on innovation, strategic acquisitions, and a user-centric approach, Canva is well-positioned to continue its impressive growth trajectory and empower even more people to create visually stunning content.

The Future of Canva

Canva co-founders Cliff Obrecht (left), Melanie Perkins and Cameron Adams (right) at their Surry Hills offices in 2015.

Today, Canva boasts over 80 million active users worldwide. From students and social media enthusiasts to small businesses and marketing teams, Canva has democratized design, putting creative power in everyone’s hands.

The future of Canva looks bright. They continue to expand their offerings, fostering a vibrant online community of designers and creators. Their commitment to user-friendliness, innovation, and accessibility paves the way for even greater success and empowers the world to create visually stunning content.

Canva’s story is an inspiration for aspiring entrepreneurs. It highlights the power of a clear vision, a talented team, and a relentless focus on user needs. By removing the barriers to entry in the design world, Canva has democratized creativity and empowered millions to express themselves visually.

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