Money & Power

Billion-Dollar Design Startup Helps Filipino Entrepreneurs Create Engaging Visual Content

Australia-based Canva has achieved unicorn status but strives to remain affordable and accessible.

Canva is a design platform that allows users to design virtually anything—from simple posters and fun stickers to complicated graphs and billboards.

The Real Happy Cow (TRHC) is a food service and distribution business for people who are transitioning into veganism. Lakapati Basa, its 38-year-old founder, quit her corporate job last year in order to focus on TRHC. She runs it with a small team so she needs all the help she can get. Basa says she sometimes works on marketing collaterals herself, and for this, she has the help of a graphic design tool called Canva.


 “I use Canva mainly for social media announcements, product launches, flyer and business card designs, etc,” she says. “I also use it for recruitment campaigns. I love the fact that I can use whatever PC or just my mobile phone to create or continue working on my designs wherever I am and not be totally dependent on our graphic artist (who is brilliant but sometimes super swamped with commitments).”

It’s a similar story with 26-year-old Louie Peralta. With his girlfriend Ginia Tecson, he founded Delikscious Foods, which sells what they call “the world's best chocolate chicken skin.” He first heard about Canva through articles and online videos that recommended it as a platform to use to create marketing materials for lean-bootstrapped-online businesses.

“We use Canva in creating posts for our social media handles,” he says. “Canva's user-experience was, and is still, most helpful as it allows us to easily edit and share our designs in a timely manner.”


Melanie Perkins co-founded Canva in Sydney, Australia in 2011. Today, the company is worth upwards of $1 billion and has a second office in Manila.

Both Peralta and Basa say that Canva has been a big help in their respective businesses.

“Canva helped my business gain a significant amount of following in social media—from approximately 1,000 followers at the start of 2017 to almost 3,000 at the end of Q1 2018,” Basa says. “This resulted to doubling our direct sales rates and definitely greater sales rates through our distribution partners.”


“It has definitely helped our business when it comes to branding, design, and marketing,” says Peralta. “We first used Canva for our business to create a mock-up of our logo. Then we spent time in Canva's design school to learn and create professional yet fun Instagram and Facebook posts for our digital marketing efforts (e.g. how-to-order poster, Valentines-themed posts).”

For Canva co-founder and CEO Melanie Perkins, the stories from their communities are what makes the team most proud. The 30-year-old Australian with Filipino blood launched Canva in 2013 but says it had been gestating in her mind for a long time before that.

“Back in 2008, I first came up with the idea to enable design to become much simpler,” she says. “Rather than using all of these hard tools, we wanted to make it accessible for everyone. I was teaching a design program when I was in university, and some of the (tools) were a bit hard to use. We wanted to make the process simple and accessible.”


From its humble roots in Sydney, Canva has since grown to become Australia’s latest unicorn, or a startup with a valuation of more than $1 billion, after closing a funding round worth $40 million earlier this year.

Canva’s culture is about creating a place where everyone loves coming to work each day, and feels empowered to do the best work of their lives," says Zach Kitschke, Canva's head of people.

The platform allows users to design virtually anything from simple posters and fun stickers to complicated graphs and billboards. Designing is free, but users can purchase a font or an image, which starts as little as $1. Although the company also has a subscription model called Canva for Work, which is used by small-scale entrepreneurs and Fortune 500 companies, Perkins says they have always strived to make the platform as affordable as possible.

“Regardless of someone’s income, they should be able to use it,” she says. “We try to keep the price point for our premium stuff in our photography library really down so it’s affordable." The platform has plenty of free images, as well as about 19,000 not-for-profit images which users that user with the premium license can use for free.

In 2014, Canva opened its second office in Manila. Perkins says it was an easy decision after finding a bunch of motivated and creative individuals here.


“We started off with eight people in our Manila office, and now we have over 90,” she says. “We need hundreds, if not thousands, and it’s only been a few short years. We’re really excited about growing this office.”

As of mid-March, Canva was looking to fill at least 26 positions for the Manila office alone and Perkins says they’ll be needing more.

“We feel like we’ve done less than one percent of what we think is possible,” she says. “There’s so much to do in every single front, from our products to reaching so many more people.” Canva currently has about 10 million registered users in 190 countries. With over three million images, the platform is also available in over 100 languages, including Tagalog and Cebuano.

Canva opened its Manila office in 2014

“We’re excited to get Canva into everyone’s hands,” Perkins adds. “Across every single industry, things are becoming more visual. So where people used to create sales and pitch desks, where people used to create text-heavy ads, now it’s all about creating lots of social media graphics, things that are on a frequent cycle. Even teachers have visual literacy in their classrooms.”

One of these is 28-year-old Gen Abanilla, who co-founded Seazoned Philippines, a business that offers freediving and skindiving lessons specifically catered to beginners and non-swimmers. Instead of a more technical app like Photoshop, Abanilla says she uses Canva to create social media posts and says it has made a huge impact on the company’s social media following, especially on Facebook.  

“Our page is now at 13,000 followers, with no paid ads for likes,” she says. “It is not as big as other brands but for our niche, it's a lot already. It helped us get students for our classes, too. If not for Canva, I won't be able to promote our monthly classes both on Facebook and Instagram.”


Like Peralta and Basa, Abanilla says she wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Canva to other small businesses.

“For a business like ours, which is run by two people, with me as the marketing person, Canva has been a huge help,” she says.

Canva employees in Sydney and Manila enjoy gym subsidies, in-house chefs who cook breakfast and lunch, extraordinary team celebrations, and other benefits

“Despite having zero graphic designs skills, Canva empowers small business owners and their teams to create and captivate customers with their in-house designs instead of outsourcing it to someone outside the organization, who may not exactly share the same vision as they do,” says Peralta.

“It adds so much value for very little cost,” Basa adds. “To small businesses whose owners need to wear many different hats and with limited capital, having a tool like Canva in the marketing arsenal is so helpful.”

This story originally appeared on
* Minor edits have been made by the editors.

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