University of Melbourne Magazine

Simply startups

  • Cameron Adams (BSc, LLB 2002) Co-founder and Chief Product Officer of Canva

    Cameron Adams (BSc, LLB 2002) Co-founder and Chief Product Officer of Canva

    Cameron Adams (BSc, LLB 2002) Co-founder and Chief Product Officer of Canva

    When Cameron Adams completed a degree in Science and Law in 2002 he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, so he worked as a graphic designer building websites. An interesting career option? Maybe. But given it was his part-time job during university, which later led to a job at Google and a role co-founding design website Canva, it was an inspired decision.

    Adams, 34, found his computer science degree came in handy when writing code and two books on JavaScript, the computer language used for web design.

    In 2007 he “got a call from Google” asking him to work in Sydney with Lars Rasmussen, the creator of Google Maps. “It was a great learning curve,” Adams says.

    Then, after three-and-a-half years, he struck out with a couple of computer engineers to build a startup called Fluent. “It was a futuristic email client but we weren’t lucky enough to land a deal.”

    The Google network threw up a meeting with Canva co-founders Melanie Perkins and Cliff Orbrecht, who had run a successful business called Fusion Yearbooks. Canva takes that concept to a higher online level.

    When his startup fell over, Adams got in touch with Perkins and Orbrecht. The pair were in San Francisco raising money for the site and suggested he “jump on board”.

    They raised $2 million from the US-based funds Matrix Partners and Inter-West and, back in Sydney, attracted funds from Paul Basset, formerly of Seek, Ken Goldman, the CFO of Yahoo, and a Sydney-based startup called Blackbird.

    That was in 2012. Fast-forward two years and the site that allows average Joes to design visuals for their website, blog, Facebook page or Twitter post is going gangbusters.

    “Our aim is to democratise the field and provide tools for anyone to create beautiful design,” says Adams. “If you need a blog image, a business card, a flyer image, or presentation graphics you can do it yourself.

    “As part of the design process you can choose from our massive library of elements; some are free and some are a dollar.”

    When the user is finished, Canva adds up the cost of the chosen elements. The typical charge is about $3. Most users are bloggers, marketers and social media professionals.

    Like any good web-enabled startup Canva reduces the cost of entry into a market, in this case graphic design. “We’re not going to replace really high-level design,” says Adams. “It’s the grunt work that is tedious for graphic designers.”

    Launched in August 2013, the company now has a team of 26 and enjoys revenue and user growth of about 400 per cent month-on-month.

    The ambition of the Canva team is to create a great self-sustaining Australian company. “We are not planning to sell out or get acquired,” Adams says. “We just want to change the world by introducing great design to everyone.’’