Perkins, Green lead modern disruptors

30/07/2019 - 09:31

Before the business she co-founded attained its $1billion ‘unicorn’ valuation, Melanie Perkins hit a point where she thought she had failed her co-founders. Ms Perkins was in the US, chasing investment from Silicon Valley entrepreneur Bill Tai into her online publisher, Canva.

Canva, co-founded by Melanie Perkins, is probably the most successful tech startup linked to WA.

Before the business she co-founded attained its $1billion ‘unicorn’ valuation, Melanie Perkins hit a point where she thought she had failed her co-founders.

Ms Perkins was in the US, chasing investment from Silicon Valley entrepreneur Bill Tai into her online publisher, Canva.

(click here to read a PDF of the full 12-page liftout)

To get Mr Tai’s support, Ms Perkins needed an excellent engineer to join the team.

“But no resumé I brought him was up to scratch,” Ms Perkins told Business News.

“Eventually, after three months of accosting engineers anywhere I could and being rejected more times than I would have thought possible, my visa to the US expired.

“I felt like a complete and utter failure. 

“I’d spent thousands of dollars in the US, and I felt like I’d let my co-founder, Cliff Obrecht, down.”

It was then she was introduced to Cameron Adams, who joined as a co-founder, and together, the three built a business that was recently valued at $3.6 billion.

Although Canva is based in Sydney, the company has a strong Western Australian link, with both Ms Perkins and Mr Obrecht graduates of The University of Western Australia.

A program and grant from the WA Innovator of the Year awards, for which Canva’s predecessor, Fusion Books, was a finalist in 2008, helped get the business off the ground.

Ms Perkins said other major funding sources were a Commercialisation Australia grant, research tax concessions, and a loan from NAB, which she said had supported the business when other banks would not.

“Access to early-stage funding is critical to starting a startup – working part-time jobs, piecing together funding from family and friends, spending all of your savings, eating on the cheap and working from home or a garage – this is the beginning for most startups,” Ms
Perkins said.

The inspiration for Canva had come while she was teaching graphic design programs part time during university.

“I realised that they were incredibly complex to learn, and set out to make them much easier to use,” Ms Perkins said. 

Electric potential

Mr Tai, who is also a visiting professor at Curtin University, played a pivotal role in the story of another Perth success story, Power Ledger, a startup that uses blockchain to track electricity movements on a grid from distributed sources.

Power Ledger is chaired by Jemma Green, who also served as deputy mayor of Perth and worked at investment bank JP Morgan.

At its peak in early 2018, Power Ledger’s crypto token had a market capitalisation of more than $US600 million, and the business won Sir Richard Branson’s global Extreme Tech Challenge award in
2018.

The company’s technology has been used at a property development in White Gum Valley, with a Japanese solar energy provider, and with an electric car charging project in California’s Silicon Valley.

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