Meet Cliff Obrecht, who followed his dream and made his startup Canva, co-founded by his girlfriend Melanie Perkins, a global multi-million dollar business by the end of 2014. Ranked as the owners of one of the richest businesses in Australia today with a team of more than 120 members in three countries and more than 10,000,000 users across 179 countries, these young and talented minds hail from Sydney. It’s not easy being an entrepreneur. Regardless of whether you’re in the early stages of your startup, just secured financing for your startup or are ready to launch your product, you will always find yourself asking whether this whole entrepreneur thing is worth it. Fortunately, Cliff was able to make way through these stages with great resolve and passion for his work.
Some of Cliff’s achievements in his career so far..
- Founder and COO Canva, Australia’s Largest yearbook company
- CEO at Fusion Yearbooks
Hi Cliff, How are you? Its pleasure to have you on board with Social Champ. Could you briefly tell us how you started your career and became the founder of one of Australia’s fastest growing tech startups?
Cliff: I started off as a teacher and my co-founder and girlfriend Melanie was teaching design at university and realized how much it sucked. She thought, in the future design will be collaborative, easy and fun. This started us off on our journey to create an easy to use drag and drop design platform. The first company we launched was fusionyearbooks which make yearbook creation easy. We ran and grew this company for few years before stepping back and realizing design was still really difficult (except for yearbooks) and that we could apply our learning to a much larger market. We always wanted to go for the broader design market, however, when we were just getting started we didn’t have the money or expertise to attack such a big market.
Did you always want to be an entrepreneur? If not, what motivated you to take the risk of starting your own business in a the field full of competitors?
Cliff: Not really, we are from Perth Western Australia, we didn’t even know what startups were or that we were a startup 2 years into our first tech company. We just thought we were a small business. I think our lack of knowledge and industry experience has been a real advantage as we are able to think through problems with a different lens.
Cliff, every startup dreams to be in silicon valley, why haven’t you decided to move your head office there?
Cliff: It’s expensive and a really tough talent market. However, the primary reason is that Sydney is awesome and there is tons of great talent in Sydney so there has been no commercial reason to move there. When your business is online, you location doesn’t really matter.
“The key thing that matters is access to good talent to build and market your product.”
Silicon Valley is good for raising money though… and taco’s 😉
What is the most common mistake that you have seen people making frequently which stagnates the growth of their business? Would you like to share a story that about any of your clients that consulted you with any such problem whom you counselled afterwards?
Cliff: People that raise money (especially for the first time) generally waste it on expensive hires or growing the team too fast before they hit product market fit. Often tech companies forget that the endgame is to build a profitable company that is sustainable without investors.
Let’s lighten up the conversation a bit now. What are some of the best places for a tourist to visit or the most fun things to do in Australia?
Cliff: Sydney is an amazing city, heaps of great food and drink and beautiful beaches. If someone has a lot of time, getting off the beaten track in Western Australia is beautiful and going to Margaret River or up north to Exmouth is the best.
Mentors are lifelines for success. You yourself play the role of a mentor to many. We would like to know who your inspiration is that you look up to.
Cliff: I actually don’t officially mentor many people at all other than people on our team. We are now at 280 people globally, so most of the time I don’t even do a good job of mentoring the people in our company, so I feel taking on too much extra mentoring outside of Canva would not be fair to Canva, our employees & investors. One day when Canva is not so all encompassing, I hope to give back to the community on a 1:1 basis more. As a company though, we publish a lot of our learnings so I guess we give back in that way.
How did you manage to get Guy Kawasaki on board with you? How do you think his involvement in Canva made an impact on your work?
Cliff: I tweeted Guy as I noticed he had used Canva and he miraculously got back to me. We then met him at his house in Silicon Valley and the rest is history. He has been an amazing help and has really got the word out about Canva.
Cliff, you once mentioned that you try to keep the structure of your organization as flat and organic as possible. How do you think this helps in keeping innovation alive in your work?
Cliff: It has it’s pro’s and it’s cons. There is always a bit of chaos, but usually this slight chaos means things are moving quickly and people are creative. Great ideas can come from anywhere, so we have a strong focus on collaboration, however, someone needs to be at the helm with the master vision steering the ship and guiding the chaos (that is Mel for Canva).
What role in your opinion do automation tools such as Social Champ, Buffer etc have to play in strengthening a marketing strategy and helping you manage social media?
Cliff: Why take 10 hours to do something that could take 1. Time is the most precious commodity.
Okay Cliff, let’s wrap it up with a rapid fire!
- Books or Movies? I love books but don’t have much time anymore, so Movies now but that is pretty much limited to flights.
- Twitter or Facebook? Facebook
- Snapchat or Instagram? Probably Snapchat, but I am not super active on either
- Content or Infographic? Depends on how detailed the content needs to be.
- Surfing or Hiking? Kite Surfing
- Coffee or tea? Coffee
Thank you so much Cliff for being with us! We wish you all the best for Canva and your future endeavors!