New Sequoia China investment values Australian design company Canva at $1 billion

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Canva, the Australian provider of graphic design software as a service, has become the world’s latest unicorn with a new investment led by Sequoia China.

A $40 million dollar round gives the company its eye-popping new valuation, following a year of tremendous growth in 2017, where Canva reached profitability and notched 294,000 paying customers for its design software-as-a-service offering.

Previous investors Blackbird Ventures and Felicis Ventures also participated in the funding.

“Our goal is to help people design anything and publish anywhere,” says Canva chief executive Melanie Perkins. While Perkins’ stated goal of getting all 3.2 billion internet users on Canva’s graphic design as a service platform seems a bit far-fetched, there’s nothing wrong with the goal of democratizing design software.

Perkins says that Canva sees itself as providing graphic design tools for folks who aren’t graphic designers. Adobe, the monster in the design market, has a suite of incredibly powerful, but incredibly difficult to master, software tools, says Perkins, and Canva is hoping to simplify the process of creating visual assets for folks who can’t devote their lives to learning the ins and outs of Adobe’s software.

It’s not just InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator that Canva’s services are looking to topple, but the hegemony of Microsoft’s office suite, as well, Perkins says. And her company’s first target is PowerPoint.

Perkins says that the company, which has raised $39 million to date and hasn’t touched a cent from at least its previous two rounds of funding, will begin spending some of its war chest on new product development.

And the first product the company wants to improve is its presentation toolkits. Canva already has a presentation creation suite that people have used to make 30 million presentations, Perkins says. But there’s room to grow in that market.

“PowerPoint has such a stranglehold on the market, but it was designed before the web,” Perkins says, arguing that Canva is the updated toolkit that folks should use for their next big meeting or TED talk.

“We’ve seen this huge trend for visual content… We’re seeing a transition from people creating things that have been text-heavy are needing to create more visual-heavy content,” says Perkins. “We’re taking the power of these Adobe products and putting them in the hands of people who have previously been using Microsoft products.”

In all, some 10 million people from 190 countries are using Canva’s tools in 100 different languages to create and distribute designs, according to the company.

Canva makes money from its services in a few different ways. Teams pay $12.95 per month or a reduced $9.95 per month for a one-time annual subscription for the ability to save designs to different folders, automatically resize their designs to share on social media and to work and share designs with larger groups.

The company also has a design marketplace where designers, illustrators and photographers can share images that Canva users can pay $1 to use in their own work. It takes some of the hassle out of licensing images or designs through other sites.

Undoubtably, design is a huge market — and Adobe’s $91.2 billion valuation proves it. If Canva can manage to hive off even 10 percent of Adobe’s value, the Sequoia China valuation will look incredibly prescient.

But Canva isn’t the only company gunning for a share of Adobe’s market. InVision has launched a competitor to Adobe’s suite of design products through a clutch of services that look to compete with Photoshop, and a host of other startups are waiting in the wings, like Figma, SketchDeck and Sketch.

Still, the funding, and valuation, is a huge win for Canva and for the Australian ecosystem that the company supports and embraces.

It’s another data point indicating that the startup community that’s been developing down under is real and doing some really spectacular things on a global scale.

“Showing that it is possible to create a globally competitive company from Australia is awesome,” says Perkins. “It is helping to pave the path of what’s possible” for other startups, she says.