Melanie Perkins, an Australian technology billionaire and co-founder of Canva alongside Cliff Obrecht, was born on May 13, 1987. She holds an 18% ownership stake in the business and serves as its CEO. One of the newest female CEOs of a tech startup with a market cap above $1 billion is Perkins. Perkins was one of the wealthiest women in Australia as of May 2021.
Early Life & Career
Western Australia's Perth is home to Melanie Perkins' birthplace. She is the daughter of a Malaysian engineer of Filipino and Sri Lankan ancestry and an Australian-born teacher. She went to Sacred Heart College, a secondary school in the Sorrento neighbourhood of northern Perth. Perkins used to get up every day at 4:30 in the morning to train because she wanted to be a professional figure skater when she was in high school. She launched her first company at the age of fourteen, selling handcrafted scarves at shops and markets all throughout Perth. She attributes the development of her entrepreneurial spirit to this event since "she never forgot the freedom and excitement from building a business."
Perkins attended the University of Western Australia after high school, specialising in communications, psychology, and business. Perkins also served as a private tutor at the time for students studying graphic design. She became aware of the challenges students had when learning design software like Adobe Photoshop, where it frequently took them an entire semester of college to understand the fundamentals of these sophisticated design programmes. Making the design process simpler, in Perkins' opinion, would be profitable. Her plan was to create a design platform that didn't require any technical knowledge. At the age of 19, she left school to start her first company, Fusion Books, with Cliff Obrecht.
Perkins and Obrecht established Fusion Books in 2007. Fusion Books provided a simple drag-and-drop tool with a library of design templates that could be filled with images, graphics, and typefaces so that students could create their own school yearbooks. Perkins initially intended to create software that simplified the entire design process, but owing to competition from big businesses and a lack of funding, she came to the conclusion that "it did not seem the logical thing to do." The yearbook would be coordinated by Perkins's mother, a teacher. Yearbooks were the perfect niche for Perkins to test the idea for Canva because of the high amount of consumer friction and the length of time necessary to design one. In an effort to expand Fusion Books' clientele, Obrecht began making cold calls to schools in Perkins' mother's Duncraig living room. The printing of the yearbooks was frequently assisted by their parents. Over the course of five years, Fusion Books expanded into France and New Zealand and became the largest yearbook publisher in Australia.
Emergence of Canva
Perth served as the initial home base for Perkins and Obrecht. According to Perkins, she was turned down by more than 100 local Perth investors. In order to judge a start-up competition, renowned investor Bill Tai travelled to Perth in 2011. Over dinner, Perkins and Obrecht presented Tai with the original concept for Canva. Other venture capitalists were also in attendance, including Rick Baker from Blackbird Ventures. Although they did not secure any investment, Tai made them a fixture at events for investors and startup founders. In several of these events, Perkins and Obrecht ran upon Google Maps co-founder Lars Rasmussen in Silicon Valley. He showed interest in the concept but advised the founders to "put everything on hold" until they were able to assemble a tech team with the necessary expertise.
Cameron Adams, a former Google employee with the necessary technical knowledge, was introduced to Perkins and Obrecht by Rasmussen, who later took on the role as the company's tech adviser. Adams initially had little interest in working for the company because he was launching his own company, fluent.io, which developed email-disrupting software. Adams received another email from Perkins asking if he wanted to join the company when he was in Silicon Valley attempting to raise money for his start-up. After receiving that email, he decided to join Canva and take the position of chief product officer and third founder. One of the few profitable 'unicorn' start-ups is led by Perkins.
When Perkins learned that many well-known venture capitalists use kite surfing as a method to network with founders, she developed an interest in the sport. She frequently went kitesurfing with entrepreneur Bill Tai.Additionally, Perkins has taken several trips throughout the globe, and she attributes her time in India with having changed her life. Obrecht proposed to Perkins in 2019 when they were on vacation in Turkey's Cappadocia region, which welcomes backpackers. The wedding band cost $30. The duo has criticised consumerism, with Obrecht questioning the purpose of collecting possessions. They've stated a desire to give the majority of their wealth to charity.On Rottnest Island in January 2021, Perkins and Obrecht got married. They signed the Giving Pledge in November 2021, pledging to donate at least half of their wealth to charitable causes.
Forbes recognised Perkins as one of the "Top Under 30 of the Decade" in 2020. With a net worth of A$3.43 billion, Perkins debuted on The Australian Financial Review Rich List in 2020. The Australian Financial Review estimated her and Obrecht's combined net worth as of May 2023 to be A$13.18 billion, ranking them as the ninth wealthiest Australians and placing them on the 2023 Rich List. According to Forbes, Perkins' personal net worth was $9.21 billion (US$6.5 billion) as of January 31, 2022.