Melanie Perkins and Cliff Obrecht

They head one of the hottest start-ups in Australia and count Google Maps’ Lars Rasmussen and legendary Californian kiteboarder Bill Tai among their backers, along with Hollywood stars Owen Wilson and Woody Harrelson.

However Melanie Perkins and Cliff Obrecht’s road to success  begins back in 2007, midway through their Bachelor of Arts and Commerce degrees, as Melanie helped fellow students using online graphic design platforms.

Perceiving a gap in the market, Melanie and Cliff took out a loan, pulled together a tech team and designed a tool to create school yearbooks (the company Fusion Yearbooks is still going strong today).

Canva, a free graphic design platform, was to follow but not before long months spent sleeping on bedroom floors in Silicon Valley as the pair pitched for funding and a technology co-founder.

They found the latter in Cameron Adams a ‘hard-core Googler’ who is now Canva’s Chief Product Officer, with investors also eventually coming on board.

They haven’t been disappointed. In four years Canva has grown to have more than 10 million users in 179 countries with the company now employing nearly 200 people, half of them at its Sydney headquarters.

Melanie, who says UWA taught her ‘how to learn’, reveals the two biggest things she’s discovered along the way.

“They are quite simple lessons, but they have had a profound impact for me. The first is that it’s hard. It’s hard to achieve anything that’s outside the status quo. The world isn’t made for you to swim against the current. This may sound like anti-motivational advice, but I think it’s incredibly important. I have never met a founder, or anyone who has succeeded at something that has found their journey easy.

"Every ‘overnight success’ story is littered with challenges. For us it’s been 10 years since I first came up with the Canva idea and we still have a very long way to go. Most people are conditioned to believe that if they are rejected from something - they didn’t land that job, or get that meeting - it’s a sign they should stop trying.

"Realising every single person goes through the same challenges and that rejection is just part of the journey doesn’t remove the sting but hopefully normalises it a little. One of my favourite quotes is ‘the reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel’.

"My second piece of advice is that it’s possible. It wasn’t until I met Lars Rasmussen, who co-founded Google Maps, I realised that in my heart of hearts I thought people who created game-changing companies were from another planet.

"I didn’t realise they could be nice, normal people who just tried really hard. Realising that single fact completely transformed what I believed was possible for Canva.

"There have been a lot of things I’ve had to learn to go from being a uni student to running a company with hundreds of people, however, I think these two lessons were foundational to my mindset and helped me dramatically – hopefully they will help others a little too!”

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