Australia's Canva plans to grow by acquisition

Wooed by Silicon Valley, the Sydney-based graphic design business reached unicorn status this year and is using its stockpile of cash to buy smaller start-ups.
Canva co-founders (L - R) Cameron Adams, Cliff Obrecht, Melanie Perkins
Canva co-founders (L - R) Cameron Adams, Cliff Obrecht, Melanie Perkins

Felicis Ventures director Wesley Chan describes Sydney-based graphic design business Canva as “one of the most valuable private companies in Australia today”. The six-year old company became only the second Australian start-up to reach unicorn status – with a valuation of over $1 billion – when it raised $40 million from Felicis and Blackbird Ventures via a Series C round of funding in January.

Felicis, which has been an investor since 2015, took a punt on Canva when it was being ignored by other Silicon Valley funds. “Australia is a faraway place but when we saw Canva’s pitch we knew there was the possibility of some serious disruption in the market for design tools,” Chan said.

Felicis was right and those that passed up on Canva have come to regret it. “The business has grown rapidly and revenue is soaring,” said Chan, who has a seat on the board. “The ecosystem it has created – on its own platform and on social media – is phenomenal.”

Canva has upwards of 300 staff in offices in Sydney and Manila.

Canva claims that its app has 10 million users in 190 countries across the globe, having added language No. 108 to the platform just this past month. The app has free components for casual users and several paid options for more intensive users – from $1 stock-library photos to monthly subscriptions for business accounts. One of its newest-paid products is Canva Print, a one-click service which allows users to order prints of the designs that they create online.

While the company’s financials are not public, Canva says it has several hundreds of thousands of users paying a monthly subscription. Canva Print is now in 30 countries.

“Our philosophy has been to bring together existing software applications used in the design world, such as Photoshop, Indesign, email and Dropbox, and make them available on one page,” Canva co-founder and chief executive Melanie Perkins told FinanceAsia. “Ultimately there are over 20 different platforms we can bring together to make design easy and accessible for everyone.”

Perkins said the germination of Canva began about 10 years ago when she created an online design tool for school yearbooks. With co-founder Cliff Obrecht, she launched a small book-publishing business called Fusion Books. And then, at the age of 22, she found herself in Silicon Valley – with Obrecht and Cameron Adams – pitching Canva as the next big start-up.

The trio attracted $6.6 million in seed funding in 2013 and moved quickly through two more rounds – raising $21 million in 2015 and another $15 million in 2016, according to figures published by Crunchbase.

“We now have venture capital funds flying out to Sydney to woo us,” she said, noting how Canva hadn’t needed the money when it sealed the Series C funding earlier this year but welcomed being well-funded. “Having a stockpile gives us the confidence to pursue the long list of goals we want to achieve,” she said.

One goal is to grow by acquisition and in April this year Canva used some of its cash to purchase Zeetings – a small Sydney start-up with a product that adds interactive elements such as polls and group chats to traditional PowerPoint presentations. “Acquisitions make sense when the technology has already been built and the product and the people tie in well with your vision,” explained Perkins.

Perkins added that she is currently working on “a few more deals” and likes the flexibility of running a private company as it “allows you to move quickly”.

In her view, if Canva can achieve its goals, the company has the potential to be the size of Microsoft Office. “We have only done 1% of what we know is possible,” she said. 


Canva is one of six Australian startups profiled in the Fall 2018 issue of FinanceAsia magazine. We selected young companies that already have an established customer base and are generating revenue. Each has raised capital in the past 12 months – ranging between $15 million and $80 million – and they have a number of large-name venture capital firms behind them.


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