by John Brandon

Traction Watch: How Canva Reached 2 Million Users In 18 Months

Apr 15, 20153 mins

Editor’s note: Traction Watch is a new column focused obsessively on growth, and is a companion to the DEMO Traction conference series, which brings together high-growth startups with high-potential customers. You can register here to attend.


It’s a jaw-dropping moment over at Canva, the trendy startup that lets you create graphics in seconds. In just 18 months, they have racked up a customer base that tops 2 million users.

For anyone who likes to track growth stats for startups and figure out how they arrived at such a solid number, here’s a few more facts and figures to consider. There are now 200,000 companies that use Canva. Users have created about 16 million designs and uploaded 20 million images. Just in 2015 so far, they have made 984,000 Facebook posts, 893,000 social media graphics, 702,000 posters and 596,000 presentations. Their following is so fanatical, people have made 9800 blog posts and 2140 videos about the service.

They even attracted a celebrity entrepreneur. Guy Kawasaki is their Chief Evangelist. (That title might sound familiar, as he once served in that role at Apple.) Yet, the 2 million users are also all evangelists because of how the company positions their product. They are extremely active on Twitter and track most interactions, responding quickly. They create converts.

How did they do it? The CEO and co-founder Melanie Perkins says one of their techniques has to do with using “marketing as education” to reach new users. They have capitalized on the fact that many people want to learn how to do graphic design. By doing extra hand-holding (they even have a Canva Design School that educates users) they are selling people on the product itself. This allegiance has then created a vast army of people who actively promote the product — and how to use it, which is basically the same thing as promotion.

“Social media has provided an amazing opportunity,” says Perkins. “We’ve seen people create their own communities. There’s Facebook groups and Pinterest boards where users share inspiration and help each other with questions, people making their own tutorial videos and blog posts. [We] have an incredible community of supporters from all over the globe.”

There’s a lesson here for any startup. Most entrepreneurs already know they have to treat customers like kings (and queens). They need to follow up on support calls and monitor discussions on Twitter. What separates Canva from other new companies is that they see “expert in using the product” and “loyal paying customer” as the same thing.

The best example of this has to do with their e-mail support. They have received 65,000 emails since they launched in 2013, some of them seeking help but many were just praising the product. Simple math says, if even a fraction of those 65,000 e-mail fans also shared their enthusiasm more publicly via a tweet or blog post, all of that praise adds up. It’s a recipe for success, especially in an age when everyone has the ability to promote something easily.