CNBC Disruptor 50

4. Canva

Founders: Melanie Perkins (CEO), Cliff Obrecht, Cameron Adams
Launched: 2012
Headquarters: Sydney, Australia
$560 million
Valuation: $40 billion
Key technologies:
Cloud computing
Enterprise technology
Previous appearances on Disruptor 50 List: 0

Persephone Kavallines

12 years ago and far away from Silicon Valley, the married couple behind graphic design software maker Canva made a valuable connection in their home city of Perth that continues to pay off.    

CEO Melanie Perkins and her husband Cliff Obrecht met prominent California venture capitalist Bill Tai on the west coast of Australia at one of his kitesurfing retreats for start-ups and investors. They pitched him, and Tai soon became an early investor and cheerleader, as did lead backer Bill Bartee of Blackbird Ventures in Sydney.

What won them over is Canva's simple-to-use software design and the charm and persistence of the Australian co-founders.

Keeping pace with a new generation, Canva regularly updates its graphic design features, such as adding social media including TikTok to its templates. Last year, Canva launched a suite of video creation products to make it easier to edit and publish videos. Its presentation software also was refreshed to bake in video elements, so that customers can, with one click, convert their presentations into videos, and vice versa. This feature works for pitch decks, holiday cards, photo editing, and the like.

Such progress has led the Canva community to grow to more than 75 million monthly customers worldwide. The company, now based in Sydney, has localized its design content, translated into 100 languages. Last year, Canva acquired two European start-ups, visual AI platform Kaleido in Austria and product mockup generator SmartMockups in the Czech Republic.

Canva lures in subscribers with free trials for 30 days, and aims to convert them to a premium or Pro level for $12.99 monthly. Currently, Canva counts 5 million Pro customers. The addition of an Enterprise level two years ago priced at $30 per person monthly has attracted major customers such as Marriott, PayPal, Salesforce, American Airlines – and last year, Zoom (also backed by Tai).

It may seem incredible — especially in the current market which has hit public and private software company valuations hard — but last September Canva snared $200 million in funding at a $40 billion valuation. At this rate, this upstart stands to disrupt some traditional big players. Think well-established Adobe, which grew up during the dotcom era, and offers full-scale design subscriptions and packages. Other competitors are software design specialists such as Crello in animated graphics, Figma for web designs and Visme for presentations.

The graphic design market is sizeable, at $43.3 billion globally, and projected to continue to see a steady rate of increase. As a fairly young company, Canva is nimble, priding itself on being profitable and it was on pace to reach a $1 billion annualized revenue run rate in late 2021. Canva has expanded to 2,500 employees, with 1,350 starting last year, including in the U.S. a base for 100 staffers.

From the start, the founders' focus on brand image has been a profile raiser, customer magnet, and an award winner for design and strategy.

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