Canva CEO Melanie Perkins on Learning, Leading, and Self-Care


The Canva journey began in 2007 when Melanie was at the University of Western Australia. Photo courtesy of Canva


November 26, 2019

Melanie Perkins was studying at the University of Western Australia when she dropped out to build her first company. She’s since cofounded Canva, which more than 18 million people in 190 countries use every month to design. Canva has repeatedly been named the best place to work in Australia. “We have a beautiful (dog-friendly) office in Sydney, and our team has spent a lot of time ensuring it’s a nice place to work and relax in. I always wanted to create a place I wanted to work in, and we’ve certainly done that.”


Canva’s Sydney office is dog-friendly. Photo courtesy of Canva

Build the best team.

A few things have been vital. Giving everyone as much context as we possibly can about why we are doing what we are doing, and also spending as much time dreaming together about the future we want to create helps people to make great decisions.

Know what you want to make before you make it.

Starting a business is tricky, and growing one as rapidly as Canva has been growing is not without its challenges. However, having a really clear idea of what we’d like to achieve helps to make it a bit easier. It’s really important to spend a lot of time dreaming about what you’d eventually like to create before you start, but then continuously throughout your journey and with your team, the clearer picture everyone has about where you are going, the easier it will be for everyone to turn that into reality.


Knowledge is power.

As we’re growing so fast and have such large ambitions, people turn from new at Canva to leading initiatives and making critical decisions in a short period of time, so it’s critical to give our company as much context as we can. We spend a lot of time sharing context internally—from internal Slack channels and emails to bi-weekly company standups and our “season openers,” where we get the company together to celebrate launches, set new goals, and listen to stories from our community.


Canva helps users make beautifully designed print products. Photo courtesy of Canva

Being a leader means evolving.

I’ve been working toward the vision of Canva and this journey for more than 10 years now, and one of the most important things I’ve learned is that different stages of a business require different types of leadership. When we were starting out we’d be spread thin, working really hard to meet our goals and ensure our company stayed alive. Nowadays, with 600+ people and an office in three parts of the world, it still feels like we are spread thin, however, now a lot more of my time is spent working with the rest of our teams.


Get enough sleep.

One of my personal goals this year is to get more sleep so I’ve been trying to set some boundaries with my working hours. I typically try to take Saturday off and half of Sunday for some R&R.


Don’t take things personally.

Sometimes criticism can be really helpful … Other times criticism isn’t particularly helpful, but it helps you to become more sure of your stance on something. It’s important to not spend much time thinking about things you can’t control.


Photo courtesy of Canva


I recently started using The Five Minute Journal, which has been a lovely way to start the day writing what I’m grateful for and what I’m looking forward to. It’s a much nicer alternative to emails first thing in the morning. And before I go to bed it asks for “three amazing things that happened today” and “How could I have made today even better?” I spend a lot of my day focused on things that could be improved or how we should take things to the next level, so it’s nice to spend a moment reflecting on things that are going well.


You can be an introvert and succeed.

It’s not just the extroverts who get ahead. As an introvert myself, the best piece of advice I can give is to just get started and keep learning.


This article originally appeared in the Fall/Winter 2019 issue of SixtysixSubscribe today.