Melanie Perkins, co-founder and CEO of the online graphic-design tool Canva, has a two-pronged plan for success. First, build one of the world’s most valuable companies. Next, do as much good in the world as possible.
The two goals “fuel each other,” Perkins, 36, tells TIME. The philosophy might seem like an odd North Star for a company offering templates for presentations and save-the-date cards, but it’s just one way Perkins is reimagining the modern tech company.
Headquartered in Sydney, thousands of miles away from Silicon Valley, with its reputation as a global arbiter of innovation, Perkins has built a design platform that easily rivals those offered by giants like Adobe and Microsoft, all while keeping accessibility at the heart of its mission.
After launching in 2013, Canva has grown to offer services in over 100 languages, with 125 million users in 190 countries. The company operates on a “freemium” subscription model that includes basic features at no cost, with the option to pay for upgrades. They also provide free subscriptions to educational organizations and nonprofits. The company counts 85% of Fortune 500 companies among its users, but Perkins believes the most salient examples of the company’s impact are in how it’s changed everyday lives—from refugees using the platform to design résumés as they job hunt in a new country, to a woman creating a flyer that helped her track down her birth mother.
In 2018—the year Canva joined the ranks of “unicorn” startups valued at over $1 billion—just 9% of those new companies had at least one female founder. Recent numbers are likewise dismal: in 2021, the number was only 14%.
Perkins has been comfortable going against the grain. “There’s always been forks in the road [where we could] do what every other company is doing, or just do what feels natural. Every time we do what feels natural, it always ends up being the thing that we build on.”
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