Why one of Australia’s richest women plans to give away ALL of her $16.5billion fortune – here’s how she rocketed up the nation’s rich list in just nine years
- Melanie Perkins started a business with now husband Cliff while at university
- It merged into digital graphics business Canva in 2010, now has 60million users
- By December 2021 the couple were worth $16.4billion but live in a $1.7m terrace
- Her social media profile shows her jetting off around the world
- But business partner and fiance Cliff Obrecht said couple live ‘pretty modestly’
Australia’s second richest woman, who first made money selling spray-on tattoos at a Perth fair, now leads a multinational tech powerhouse worth more than Telstra – but she has even greater ambitions.
Melanie Perkins’ DIY graphic design platform Canva is now worth more than $55billion, of which she and co-founder/husband Cliff Obrecht own 30 per cent, which is over $16.4billion.
Their company’s stunning growth, which saw Canva bring in nearly $1billion revenue before Christmas, has been fuelled by the Covid work-from-home boom that has given it 60 million customers in 190 countries.
Australia’s second richest woman, who first made money selling spray-on tattoos at a Perth fair, now leads a multinational powerhouse worth more than Telstra but she has even greater ambitions
She had the idea for a graphic design business in 2005 and started Canva’s forerunner, a school yearbook business called Fusion, from her mother’s loungeroom. Then-boyfriend Cliff Obrecht was her co-founder (pictured, Melanie and Cliff in 2005)
Melanie Perkins, 34, is worth more than $8billion and leads one of the world’s fasted growing tech companies. She is ‘unequivocally the boss’, her business partner Cameron Adams said.
After humble beginnings, the ultra-ambitious Perkins, just 34, has come to be regarded in tech circles as a friendly but ‘intense’ visionary who is obsessed that everyone uses her website, the AFR reported.
‘We want every single person on the planet to use Canva,’ she told a video call to the company’s 2,500 staff in December.
She also told staff the company was set to become one of the most valuable companies in the world. It is already worth more than Telstra and is nearing Andrew Forrest’s Fortescue Metals Group in value.
But they don’t plan to keep that wealth.
In December, they signed up to Bill Gates’ the Giving Pledge, committing to giving away their fortune during their lifetimes. That could happen in several ways, including setting up their own charities.
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)
Mr Obrecht and Ms Perkins have dated for over a decade and made billions – but they have already signed a pledge to give it away
Its mission is to eliminate extreme poverty.
‘We have this wildly optimistic belief that there is enough money, goodwill, and good intentions in the world to solve most of the world’s problems,’ their pledge letter read.
‘We feel like it’s not just a massive opportunity, but an important responsibility, and we want to spend our lifetime working towards that.’
‘Who needs all that money? Personally?’ Ms Perkins said.
While the co-founders, Mr Obrecht and their other business partner, Cameron Adams, agree Ms Perkins runs the show.
‘She’s unequivocally the boss,’ Mr Adams said.
Obrecht said: ‘She’s usually right’.
Ms Perkins and Mr Obrecht met at the University of Western Australia and at one point made money together selling spray-on tattoos at local fairs.
Before they met, she was an aspiring figure skater, getting up to train at 4.30am each morning before attending Sacred Heart College.
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
The 34-year-old’s social media profile boasts of her frequent trips to far-flung countries – including Rio de Janeiro in Brazil (pictured)
After school hours, she sold handmade scarves at markets and local shops.
Ms Perkins studied commerce at uni and made money on the side tutoring fellow students in graphic design.
She had the idea for a graphic design business in 2005 and started Canva’s forerunner, a school yearbook business called Fusion, from her mother’s lounge room.
‘My boyfriend became my co-founder, and we started in my mum’s living room,’ she said.
The couple started with a bank loan and a tax rebate of $5,000, which they used to advertise online and send sample yearbooks to school.
The couple started Canva in 2013 – buying the URL canva.com for $2,500 – and moved to Sydney in 2014 to grow the business.
Ms Perkins worked tirelessly to find investors as Canva grew, being turned down 100 times before doors started to open.
After learning how to pitch, she secured $1.5million in funding, with Lars Rasmussen, co-founder of Google Maps, one of her investors.
The couple travel the world but also live a modest lifestyle when in Sydney
Cameron Adams (left), Cliff Obrecht and Melanie Perkins run global powerhouse Canva
To curry favour with the tech gurus of Silicon Valley, she learned how to kiteboard.
But while sailing in the Caribbean channel between Richard Branson’s Necker and Moskito islands on her own became stranded for hours and had to be rescued.
One of the couple’s earliest business moves was convincing photographers to take 25c for the sale of their photo in Canva’s image library, compared to the one-off fee they could get from Getty.
Mr Obrecht was able to convince the photographers that when Canva got huge, they’d make much more because the photos would be sold thousands or millions of times.
Canva’s latest figures say an incredible eight billion designs have been made using the platform, and 400 million presentations created.
It is forecast to grow to 4,000 staff this year.
Ms Perkins, originally from Perth, founded the Sydney-based digital graphics business Canva with her fiance in 2013 after dropping out of university
Mr Obrecht, Ms Perkins and Mr Adams pose for a Canva PR shoot
The couple married on Rottnest Island in January 2021 but still live in Sydney, in a modest Surry Hills terrace they bought for $1.7million – which is the median house price for the inner-Sydney suburb.
Not that Perkins and Obrecht deprive themselves of all fun when they are not working.
Her 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.
In 2020 she 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.
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.
‘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.’
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
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.
‘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 said she hoped to bring more equality to the world through her position of power in the business world
Ms Perkins found most people struggled to use the clunky software so she developed a business idea
Ms Perkins and Mr Obrecht are still together after starting up two successful companies