Canva.com: A Christmas Tale

T’was the night before Christmas,
and all through the house,
a Christmas card creator,
was feeling like a louse.

Christmas is traditionally a time for giving and receiving presents.

Cameron Adams can laugh when he remembers when the only gift he got was acute disappointment tied in a big red ribbon around a gift box that was expected to be full of ground breaking achievement.

Adams, now an internationally renowned designer and high achiever and co-founder and CPO of Canva, said he remembered the times and experiences when things went contrary to expectations during his talks at this week’s successful Leadership Institute forum in Double Bay.

Cameron Adams

“We came up with the idea of a Christmas card creator,” he told the audience.

“Everyone loves Christmas cards …everyone loves sending them out.

“So we built the ultimate Christmas card creator.”

It was meant to become a cost-cutting way for everyone to send Christmas cards that expressed their true feelings about individual recipients and no energy was spared in the venture.

“We only had four engineers at the time and we devoted one of them to the job. That was 25 per cent of our engineering staff,” Adams says

“And we got him to build the ultimate Christmas card creator.

“It took two months and it was a beautiful thing. It produced Christmas cards that unfurled and unfolded. It was wonderful.’

The project was launched in November to give it time to gain traction with the public in the lead-up to the Christmas rush for cards and presents.

At first glance it was an immediate success.

Adams says there was a total of around 15,000 cards sent.

“And that was all right for a startup but 13,000 of the cards were from the one person,” he laughs.

 “So not a lot of people were using it.

“One personal could send 13,000 cards because we built in gmail contact integration which was like one quick send to everyone.”

The quick card dispersal proved to be the project’s one saving grace.

“Even though the Christmas card campaign was a failure we managed to re-use the gmail contact in lots of other places so it wasn’t a total loss,’’ Adams remembers

Adams and other successful Australian entrepreneurs like Fred Schebesta, the founder and CEO of the best deals giant, Finder.com, were among the highlighted guests at the forum at the Intercontinental Hotel, speaking to an engrossed audience about their successes and failures.

Their successes are well documented internationally (Canva is valued at $3.6 billion) but there was great interest in their initial steps and the hurdles they overcame on the way to their triumphs.

Perseverance was a recurring theme of their frank talks with the audience, along with the ability to recognise mistakes and either correct them, or be pragmatic enough to abandon a project and move on to something new.

Those skills were regarded as the equal of the start-up holy trinity of technical knowledge, inspiration and creativity.

Talent creates apps and opportunities.  Perseverance makes it a reality
Edwards said another disappointment was Canva social.

“It still exists but no one uses it,” he said.

The failure could be attributed evenly.

“It was half us and half external investor pressure.

“We thought we figured out this model where people could publish their designs and put them on profile and every one could share them and comment and that sort of stuff

“And we half built it and launched it and we didn’t actually build any of the viral loops or anything and it kind of withered on the vine and died.

“But you realise that it’s not the end of the world.

“And you just keep putting one foot in front of the other and moving on and getting ahead of any problem.”

Schebesta touched on the difficult assessment all budding entrepreneurs hope to have to make some day.

When do you sell what is actually a proven money spinner that is holding its place in the market.

Schebesta, whose Finder.com projects have made him a multi-millionaire as well as an acclaimed speaker and author, was forceful in his recommendations

“Hold your equity as long as you possibly can,” he said.

“You have to ask yourself two questions.

“Have we reached the maximum amount of growth we can on our own?

“And can we become a monopoly.

“Are we going to monopolise our category yes or no.

“If you going to monopolise and be the number one, standout thing in the market and buy up everyone else and be the only service like Google, Facebook or Amazon, you should not sell to anyone else.

“But if you can’t get there. If you can’t monopolise, for whatever reason, you should join with someone else and they may be able to use their economies of scale and their client base to achieve that.  “To me that’s the ultimate question even though there are companies who don’t monopolise and still do very well.”