Australia’s youngest billionaire and digital design mogul Melanie Perkins leads a life of luxury as the country’s third richest woman – but she and her fiance business partner stress they want to give away all their money to help others.
Ms Perkins has amassed a personal fortune of $2.5billion through her Sydney-based company Canva, which allows businesses to build their own social media graphics, posters and invitations.
Her stock soared as the COVID-19 pandemic confined workers to their homes and forced them to work remotely – doubling her wealth in a matter of just months.
The 32-year-old’s social media profile boasts of her lavish trips to international countries – with Australia’s third richest woman most recently sharing a photo of her taking in the Rio de Janeiro skyline in Brazil.
Australia’s youngest billionaire Melanie Perkins pictured with her fiance and business partner Cliff Obrecht on a holiday to Turkey’s popular Cappadocia region last year
Last July, she and her fiance Cliff Obrecht – with whom she founded Canva in 2014 – shared photos of the pair enjoying a trip to Cappadocia in central Turkey.
The pair have also jetted off to Richard Branson’s luxurious privately-owned island Necker Island in the Caribbean’s British Virgin Islands.
Their company expanded to Manila and Beijing in the five years since Canva launched – recently reaching a $US6billion ($AUD8.3billion) valuation.
With the added stimulus of the work from home customer base during the pandemic, Ms Perkins’ fortune has almost doubled from the $1.3billion it was valued at last year.
Mr Obrecht proposed to Ms Perkins on the trip to Turkey, although he stresses the couple live a simple life despite the wealth they have gained from their graphic design firm.
He said the couple plan to donate their billions to the ‘greater good’ rather than spend it on themselves.
The 32-year-old’s social media profile boasts of her frequent trips to far-flung countries – including Rio de Janeiro in Brazil (pictured)
‘Mel and I are committed to giving away all our money to make the world a better place,’ he told The Australian.
‘I think with running such a large company with such a significant valuation now, it’s an obligation on us to use that to be a force for good and make the world a better place, rather than just hoard s**t.’
Mr Obrecht said he proposed to his wife with an engagement ring worth just $30, and the couple were instead focusing on spending their money on causes like reforming the global health system.
Ms Perkins pictured at the Center Stage of Web Summit in Portugal in November 2019 with what appears to be the $30 engagement ring given to her by her fiance in Turkey. Her wealth is trumped only by that of Australian mining magnate Gina Rinehart
In 2013 the pair jetted off to Richard Branson’s luxurious privately-owned island Necker Island in the Caribbean’s British Virgin Islands (pictured on the holiday)
‘We live pretty modestly and we don’t really see the need to just accrue wealth. The priority for the company is education, because we really feel educating underprivileged people gives them the opportunity to break the cycle,’ he said.
His fiance added she hoped to bring more equality to disadvantaged communities through her position of power in the business world.
Perkins’ wealth is only trumped only by mining magnate Gina Rinehart who owns Hancock Prospecting, valued at $16.25billion, and Vicky Teoh – the founder of telecommunications company TPG Telcom – worth $2.6billion.
Perkins said she hoped to bring more equality to the world through her position of power in the business world
Canva is now worth $8.77billion after raising an estimated $87million in its latest investor round from existing shareholders, including Australian company Blackbird Ventures and Sequoia Capital, from China.
Ms Perkins previously told Daily Mail Australia she dreamed up the idea for a graphics design business from her mother’s couch while studying a first-year digital media subject at university in 2005.
She fell in love with graphic design and developed skills far exceeding those of her peers, to the point where she was invited to teach graphic design workshops to students in other faculties.
Ms Perkins, originally from Perth, founded the Sydney-based digital graphics business Canva with her fiance in 2014 after dropping out of university
Ms Perkins found most people struggled to use the clunky software, so she developed a business idea.
‘It was really complex and difficult, and it would take the entire semester to just learn where the buttons were on the software,’ she said.
‘At the same time Facebook was taking off, and it was so easy to use and everyone was on it.
WHAT SETS THE CANVA OFFICE APART?
Ms Perkins wanted to create the perfect workplace for her employees.
Canva staff are offered free overseas trips with the entire office and are allowed to work the hours they wish to work.
Other extravagant incentives for more than 80 staff members include ‘elaborate celebrations’ when the team hit their target goal, free gym and yoga membership cards and free meals.
Lucky employees treated to freshly-made meals cooked by top chefs and Ms Perkins strongly believes siting down with the entire team in a lunch room is a great way to bond over work.
‘One of the Canva perks people hear about a lot is the chef cooks lunches every day,’ she previously told Daily Mail Australia.
‘The chefs are very talented of course, but the real value and exciting part of the lunches is the team sits down with a changing range of people every day and connect as people.
‘That feeling of community and connection is really important for any business that wants to try to achieve big things, because you’re going to need to take risks and try things together, and so trust is very important.’
Pictured: The Canva office where employees are treated to an in-house chef who cooks lunch
Ms Perkins found most people struggled to use the clunky software so she developed a business idea
‘And I just had this belief that in the future it wasn’t going to be as complex to do design work.’
In 2007, Ms Perkins came up with the idea to create easy-to-use graphic design software which allows schools and students to make their own yearbooks.
She had no business or marketing experience but said her inexperience gave her confidence that it wouldn’t be too difficult to start a company from scratch.
Ms Perkins and Mr Obrecht are still together after starting up two successful companies
‘My boyfriend became my co-founder and we started in my mum’s living room,’ she said.
2005: Melanie Perkins found her love for graphic design at university.
2007: She came up with an idea to create easy-to-use graphics software to help schools make their own yearbooks.
Ms Perkins and her now-fiance developed a plan for Fusion Yearbook on her mother’s couch in Perth.
2008: Fusion Yearbook makes its first sale to a French school in Sydney.
2008-2010: The couple sold the software to more than 120 schools.
2010: Ms Perkins and Mr Obrecht went to the Innovator of the Year awards in Perth to present Fusion Yearbooks, and met Silicone Valley investor Bill Tai.
2011: The couple travelled to o the US to meet with Mr Tai and Google Maps co-founder Lars Rasmussen.
2012: Ms Perkins attended a MaiTai Global conference in Hawaii where she met with a range of investors.
2013: Canva closed its first funding round of $3million and officially launched.
2014: Canva had reached one million users, and last month the company reached four million users and raised $12.6million in investment.
2014-2020: The company has raised more than $400m from investors and increases in value with each investment round.
‘Our naivety in some ways helped us … If I knew at the time all the things I didn’t know it would have been intimating.’
The couple stared with a bank loan and a tax rebate of $5,000, which they used to advertise online and send sample yearbooks to school.
Their first sale was to a French school in Sydney in 2008.
‘When we got our first $100 cheque, it was the most exciting moment ever, knowing people were prepared to pay for what we had built,’ Ms Perkins said.
‘We never took on external financing but we kept putting every cent back into the business.’
They sold to 15 schools in their first year, 30 in their second and 80 in their third.
In 2010, Ms Perkins and Mr Obrecht went to the Innovator of the Year awards in Perth to present Fusion Yearbooks where she met MaiTai Global founder and San Francisco investor Bill Tai.
‘He was the first investor I’d met who had insights into the whole world of technology and venture capital. It was a window to another world,’ she said.
‘He also said if I ever came to San Francisco he would meet with me.’
Meanwhile, she had been having ideas about expanding the Fusion model beyond school yearbooks.
The following year she travelled to the US to meet with Mr Tai and Google Maps co-founder Lars Rasmussen.
She pitched them the idea for her second company Canva, a free online tool that allows people to design web graphics, including posters, business cards, and invitations.
A two-week trip turned into a three-month trip as Ms Perkins met with as many investors and software engineers as she could.
Canva closed its first funding round of $3million in early 2013, and after more than a year of development launched in August of the same year. Pictured: Ms Perkins and Mr Obrecht (left)
Mr Tai ended up coming on board as an investor, and he invited Ms Perkins to a MaiTai conference in Hawaii in 2012 where she met a lot of the people who ended up investing in Canva.
Canva closed its first funding round of $3million in early 2013, and after more than a year of development launched in August of the same year.
By the end of 2014, Canva had reached one million users, and last month the company reached four million users and raised $12.6 million in investment.
The company has since raised more than $400million from investors and increases in value with each investment round.
AUSTRALIA’S RICHEST WOMEN 2020
1. Gina Rinehart, $16.25billion, Hancock Prospecting
2. Vicky Teoh, $2.6billion, TPG Telcom
3. Melanie Perkins, $2.5billion, Canva
4. Prudence Macleod, $2.33billion, News Corp investor
5. Rhonda Barro, $1.5billion, Barro Group
6. Imelda Roche, $1.48billion, Nutrimetics Australia
7. Leonie Baldock, $1.48billion, VOC Group
8. Alexandra Burt, $1.48billion, VOC Group, Voyager Estate
9. Charlotte Vidor, $1.36billion, Toga Group
10. Judith Neilson, $1.32billion, White Rabbit Gallery
Source: The Australian