We sat down with Canva’s Head of Marketing about the industry, the future, and managing change in a $3.2 billion company.
Hello, Zack! What brought you to the role you have, this design/IT/people hybrid?
I joined Canva in 2013. The previous start-up I had worked for had unfortunately failed, and I was looking for work.
Fortunately, after an intro to Melanie (Perkins, CEO) and Cliff (Obrecht, co-founder, and COO) I was able to talk them into giving me a day’s contract work.
A day turned into a week, and I started as our Head of Communications and helped launch and grow Canva. Over the past few years, I’ve been fortunate to get the opportunity to work on bigger and bigger problems and learn a huge amount along the way.
There was a need so I then moved into a Product Management role looking after the launch of some of our new products, such as Canva for Work (now Canva Pro) before transitioning to Head of People, which is akin to a traditional HR role. This involved setting up the foundations of our People team over the past few years.
My current responsibility is leading our marketing, working with an incredible team who are on a mission to grow our brand and userbase across the globe. It’s been an incredible journey so far and lucky to have so many opportunities to work across a range of functions in the company.
What do you see as the most exciting developments in the industry?
We’re working within a constantly changing space with unlimited potential. Our teams set big goals and move fast – it’s always been ingrained in our DNA and cemented as one of our values. I think the most exciting thing is that the rule book no longer exists, anyone can build a global start-up these days, and create positive change through their work.
It’s been really great seeing the founders of Atlassian lead the way here in Australia, and people like Elon Musk, Marc Benioff and Rachel Carlson, really take the lead on important issues affecting our world today and entering this new breed of corporate responsibility.
Something that also really excites me is seeing so many people embracing the importance and value of STEM as well as the number of people from around the world who are excited about working in a start-up. As just a small example, in 2019, we received nearly 40,000 applications to join the team and contribute to our mission at Canva.
What can you list as being your/Canva’s significant accomplishments in 2019?
It’s been an incredibly busy 2019! We’ve reached two billion designs across the platform. In October alone, our community created more designs than all of 2018 combined. Our community is continuing to grow at an amazing pace with more than 50 designs a second.
We also launched Canva Apps to the world, released Canva Video, introduced Canva Print into more markets, revamped Canva Pro and unveiled the beta desktop edition of Canva for Mac and Windows.
We also saw the Canva family grow, reaching over 800 across our offices in Sydney, Manila, and Beijing. Every step along the way we are all reinventing how we work — what worked at 100 people doesn’t scale, so I’m always inspired by seeing people step up and take on new challenges.
Is the role you have one which has you learning new things all the time? What do you know now that you didn’t know before you took on the role?
Absolutely. While we’ve grown at such an amazing pace, we’re only at 1% of where we want to be. There’s still so much more we can do to empower the world to design. Six years ago, we were celebrating our first 100,000 sign up – today we have over 20 million users each month alone.
We’ve introduced a new empowering way for people to design anything – and disrupted many industries along the way. Fair to say everyone in the company is doing work like this for the first time.
Fortunately, the impact and the adoption of Canva has been well received so far and used across 1190 countries (we even have a couple of users in North Korea!) and it’s humbling to hear our community share their Canva stories with us. It’s a learning journey.
Something I’ve learned is that you don’t have to have all the answers. We hire amazing people and spend a lot of time learning from others externally who have faced similar challenges before too.
You need to constantly be levelling up, but the key thing is to bring things back to first principles, and not be afraid to ask questions.
Yours is a competitive marketplace. What do you need to do to make Canva stand out?
From the very beginning, Canva’s goal has been to empower the world to design by making complex things simple. Our community is the most important aspect of the product, and with every iteration of Canva, building features that empower our users will always be always our priority.
Our passionate community loves the possibilities and simplicity of designing with Canva, both of which have helped us to grow at such an amazing pace.
We’re always looking for the best talent from around the world to help us take Canva even further.
What strategies, marketing or otherwise, have you/the company employed to make this happen?
A key focus for us is to build a company that enables people to do their best work.
From free breakfast and lunch through to elaborate celebrations, a pet-friendly office, internal coaching, tailored onboarding and our amazing ‘season opener’ quarterly planning events, we have adopted strategies that centre on building the most effective and engaged company in the world.
Everyone at Canva is collaborating on crazy big goals as we continue to grow, and by empowering the teams that make up the company, we’re also setting ourselves up to meet these goals as we continue to build the future of the platform.
Change management can be a tricky road to navigate. How important do you see effective change management as being within an organisation?
The pace of growth at Canva means that we’re working within a very agile and constantly changing environment.
As we continue to scale, our core mission of empowering the world to design continues to guide the way that we work, whether it’s the way we structure our teams, the features we build or the talent we hire.
Has promoting or encouraging change in staff something you have found to be a challenge, and if so, how have you overcome this challenge?
Canva has been able to grow at such a rapid pace that we don’t think of it as ‘change management’. For us, it’s about building the best possible product for our community which means continually adapting to meet the needs of that challenge as we grow – and of course, celebrating our wins along the way.
We talk a lot about change internally and share stories on what that has looked like as our teams and groups have grown, and for individuals.
Traditional career ladders, therefore, don’t apply in our context.
In a lot of companies, progression and success tie back to climbing a ladder – from junior, to mid-level, to senior. However, this ladder model doesn’t make sense when there’s a growing pie and we need everyone to be stepping up on several different fronts.
This meant that we had to throw out the playbook and develop something uniquely tailored for Canva.
The ‘Canva Pillars’ is a skill development framework that covers a number of different pathways for people to grow and be successful at Canva, unlike many other places where there is a very structured and linear progression.
Because your day-to-day priorities, challenges, and learning don’t follow a linear path – you could be amazing at your craft, but have a big opportunity to improve your communication style to be more effective, and as your role changes, for example from an individual contributor to someone leading a team, you may drop back down a pillar, and need to work on that skill in a different context (the pillars are more like a game of snakes and ladders) – everyone is empowered to forge their own path, and learn the skills they need to achieve their goals.
Our Canva Pillars are designed in a way that encourages genuine self-reflection of our people’s strengths and developmental areas, to help them set personal goals with actionable steps.
In addition to the Pillars, we also have Canva University, a place where everyone at Canva can access all the learning material they need – from specialty skill development, onboarding, mentoring, coaching and personal development. What we’ve seen is by helping our team members take charge of their own journey at Canva, they are empowered to be incredibly effective and do their best work.
What does the future look like for Canva? What’s next?
One of our core company values is to ‘set crazy big goals and make them happen’.
We want Canva to be a global household name, empowering everyone around the world to design anything, anywhere. The future of Canva is really exciting…we’re just getting started!
Evolve Mgmt Co. presents this ‘Meet a CEO’ series
Evolve Mgmt Co. is a full-service business growth and change agency. They are a specialist group of highly experienced professionals with a wide range of experience in designing, leading and delivering all aspects of business change. Their expertise has been sought after by the South Australian government, Elders, Santos, Sydney Water, Beyond Bank, and the City of Adelaide. Find out more by visiting http://evolvemgmtco.com.au/