Inside Canva: Coaches not managers, giving away your Legos, and embracing AI | Cameron Adams

Inside Canva: Coaches not managers, giving away your Legos, and embracing AI | Cameron Adams

Cameron’s background (00:00:00)

  • Canva is larger than Figma, Meo, and Webflow combined.
  • Canva generates $2.3 billion in ARR and is profitable.
  • The company is growing at a rate of 60% year-over-year.
  • Canva has a unique culture that emphasizes "giving away your Legos" and finding joy in helping others.
  • Instead of managers, everyone at Canva has a coach who helps them develop their skills and advance their careers.
  • Canva does not have traditional managers.
  • Everyone at Canva has a coach who works with them to develop their skills and identify opportunities for growth.
  • Coaches help employees identify when it might be time to move on to the next level in their careers.
  • Cameron Adams did not want to implement the same product management style as Google due to cultural differences.
  • At Canva, product managers are closely connected to teams and work collaboratively.
  • Canva has experienced continuous growth and success, but it has also faced challenges and failures.

Reflecting on the success of Canva (00:02:00)

  • Canva is larger than Figma, Miro, and Webflow combined in terms of valuation and revenue.
  • Canva generates $2.3 billion in ARR per year and has been profitable for seven years.
  • Canva is growing at a rate of 60% year-over-year, accelerating faster than the previous year.
  • Cameron Adams reflects on Canva's success during team celebrations, such as the company's 10th birthday.
  • Adams feels a sense of constant growth and learning, not considering himself to have achieved a ceiling or a massive smash hit.
  • Canva is constantly changing and trying new things, making Adams feel like a fish out of water.

Reflecting on hard times (00:04:50)

  • Canva faced a challenging situation when a lead investor unexpectedly cut their valuation by 50% just before signing the deal.
  • This jeopardized the entire funding round and caused significant stress and uncertainty.
  • Co-founders Mel and Cliff quickly rallied other investors and found a new lead investor within a week, securing better terms for the deal.
  • The experience taught Canva the importance of maintaining profitability and independence to avoid relying on external funding for survival.
  • Work OS: A platform that makes it easy to add enterprise features like single sign-on and user management to SaaS apps.
  • ATO: A new type of CRM that is powerful, easily configurable, and intuitive, designed for the next era of companies.

Canva’s product-obsessed culture (00:10:01)

  • Canva approaches board meetings with a focus on product updates and the product roadmap.
  • The company's financial success allows them to prioritize product development over financial discussions.
  • Canva attracts investors who believe in their product-driven approach.
  • The company believes that product is the most important factor in their success.

Why they prioritize internal promotions and hires (00:12:02)

  • Canva emphasizes team and culture fit over individual expertise.
  • Internal hires have a better understanding of the company's culture and vision.
  • Internal promotions build trust, safety, and effective communication within teams.
  • Alignment across teams is crucial for the company's success.
  • Some external leaders have been successful, while others have struggled to fit in.
  • With 4,500 employees, collaboration and teamwork are essential.

What makes Canva unique (00:13:56)

  • Canva is unique because it focuses on visual communication, such as pitch decks, social media posts, videos, and t-shirts.
  • At Canva, employees need to be visual thinkers and able to communicate their ideas visually.
  • Canva's growth and product development have been idiosyncratic, so people coming from outside with preconceived notions may struggle to fit in.
  • It's important for newcomers to listen and understand how Canva works before trying to change it.

The concept of giving away your Legos (00:16:31)

  • At Canva, employees are encouraged to let go of tasks and responsibilities to make room for growth and scaling.
  • A coaching system is implemented where every employee has a coach who helps them identify opportunities for personal and professional growth.
  • Employees are expected to think beyond their current roles and consider the impact of their work on a larger scale.
  • Employees are encouraged to share their knowledge and expertise with others, fostering a culture of continuous learning and development.
  • Employees are empowered to take ownership and initiative in their roles, with the opportunity to pursue new ideas and features with support from the company.

Why Canva has no managers (00:21:44)

  • At Canva, there are no managers, instead, they have a coaching system.
  • Each employee has a coach who is a lead in their specialty.
  • The coach helps the employee grow and develop their skills within their specialty.
  • The company also has a broader circle of coaches who help with 360 feedback and other managerial tasks.
  • Canva focuses on teaching employees the skills of coaching and building a growth mindset.
  • Performance reviews are conducted every six months.
  • Feedback is gathered from the employee's coach and from 360 feedback from colleagues.

Product management at Canva (00:24:29)

  • Canva focuses on user experience, especially visual experience, which requires a different product management process and mindset compared to a more engineering-driven culture like Google.
  • Canva didn't have the term "product manager" for the first six or seven years and only adopted it for ease of explanation.
  • The company took a while to give up control and delegate product management responsibilities to others.
  • Canva's founders initially held on to too much control and didn't delegate product management responsibilities quickly enough.
  • They eventually realized the importance of letting go and allowing others to contribute and make decisions.
  • The process of defining what they wanted and how to communicate it to others took time.
  • Product managers at Canva connect teams, ideas, data, and other disparate elements to move the team, technology, and customers towards a new vision.
  • Their role involves compromise, changes in feature scope, and adjustments to timelines to work around constraints.
  • Great product managers at Canva excel at constant movement, connection, and reorienting around newly arisen constraints.

Reflections on working with a married couple (00:27:56)

  • Working with a married couple can be tricky as they constantly discuss work-related topics outside of the office.
  • The co-founders of Canva, Melanie Perkins and Cliff Obrecht, effectively develop ideas through their conversations and bring them back to the team transparently the next day.
  • There are moments when important information is missed due to rapid decision-making, but catching up and maintaining alignment is crucial.
  • Realignment is necessary in any partnership or team, whether it's with friends, spouses, or colleagues.

Why they spent a year building their MVP before launch (00:30:37)

  • Waited a year to build a minimum viable product (MVP) before launching Canva.
  • Believed that the product experience is an intrinsic part of the product and growth.
  • Focused on creating a joyful user experience rather than rushing to launch a subpar product.
  • Conducted extensive user testing and research to ensure the product met users' needs.
  • Despite investor pressure, they held off on launching until they were confident in the product's quality.
  • Emphasized the importance of having coaches instead of managers to foster creativity and autonomy.
  • Encouraged employees to "give away their Legos" by sharing their knowledge and expertise with others.
  • Embraced artificial intelligence (AI) as a tool to enhance creativity and productivity, not replace human designers.

Advice for building an MVP (00:33:49)

  • Founders should build products that solve problems they personally experience, as it allows for a deeper understanding of customer needs and enables rapid product development.
  • Passion for the problem being solved is crucial for founders, as it drives them through challenging times and helps them stay committed to the long-term vision.
  • A great product should spark joy and excitement in users, making them eager to sign up, use it, and share it with others.
  • Canva's initial success came from democratizing design by making it accessible to everyone through a user-friendly browser-based platform.
  • The company focused on social media managers as its first target market, addressing their immediate needs and building upon that foundation to expand into other areas.
  • User testing and refinement helped identify social media managers as the first target market due to their excitement and emotive language.
  • The onboarding process played a crucial role in unlocking the product's potential by guiding users to understand Canva's deeper impact and productivity benefits.

Canva’s onboarding transformation (00:41:23)

  • Canva's initial onboarding process left users overwhelmed with a blank page and few instructions.
  • The improved onboarding focused on taking users through a series of simple steps, starting with searching for a monkey and dragging an image onto the page.
  • This approach lowered the barriers to entry and increased user delight, leading to more successful onboarding.
  • Canva continues to use this approach of breaking down tasks into small, achievable steps for new features through their "learn and play" tutorials.
  • Delightful and innovative products need effective onboarding to succeed.
  • Identifying the target persona and tailoring the onboarding process to their needs is crucial.
  • Lowering barriers to entry and increasing user delight are essential for successful onboarding.

Canva’s SEO strategy (00:44:25)

  • Canva's successful SEO strategy was largely attributed to Andre's expertise in identifying relevant user motivations and mapping them to Canva's product, creating a seamless user experience from search to product usage.
  • Canva's early focus on internationalization, particularly localizing its product in multiple languages, led to significant growth in markets like Brazil, India, and Indonesia.
  • The shift in product trajectory towards the Android mobile experience, driven by the high mobile phone usage in Brazil, further fueled growth in these markets.
  • Internationalization not only benefits SEO but also increases the product's surface area, contributing to its overall success.

The success of Canva’s freemium strategy (00:50:37)

  • Canva's freemium strategy was driven by their mission to democratize design and make it accessible to everyone.
  • Providing a free version of the tool allowed Canva to reach billions of people who might not have been able to afford a paid subscription.
  • The freemium model also helped Canva build a viable business by attracting paying customers through its subscription products.

Canva's initial business model and pivot to subscription (00:50:37)

  • Canva initially used an element sales model, where users paid $1 for each element they used in their designs.
  • This model was successful in attracting investors and content creators, but Canva saw limited growth in revenue.
  • After a few years, Canva introduced its first subscription product, Canva for Work (now Canva Pro), which offered a range of features for a monthly fee.
  • The subscription model led to rapid growth in revenue, surpassing the revenue from element sales.
  • Canva eventually made image element payments part of the subscription, further boosting revenue growth.

Integrating AI into Canva’s product (00:54:24)

  • Canva's AI integration aims to democratize design, enhance user experience, and empower users to create faster and with better quality.
  • Canva's AI strategy involves building its own AI technology, partnering with leading AI companies, and integrating with AI-powered apps.
  • Canva is hosting an event called Canva Create in Los Angeles to unveil new features and updates.
  • Canva is shifting its focus to redesigning work for large teams and enterprises, having observed the increasing adoption of its platform by Fortune 500 companies.
  • Canva is introducing a redesigned platform with verticalized experiences called "work kits" tailored for collaborative work in marketing, sales, HR, and creative teams within large organizations.
  • Improvements to Canva's AI product and the launch of an Enterprise version are planned to meet the demands of highly scaled teams and address the unique requirements of large organizations.

Where to find Cameron (01:01:50)

  • Cameron Adams can be found online at, his blog that has been around for 24 years.
  • He loves hearing design stories and how design has helped people unlock something for themselves, whether it's starting their first business or helping a nonprofit they volunteer at.
  • At Canva, they have coaches instead of managers.
  • Coaches help employees set goals, identify areas for improvement, and provide support and guidance.
  • This approach allows employees to have more autonomy and take ownership of their work.
  • Canva has a culture of sharing and collaboration.
  • Employees are encouraged to share their ideas and work with others to create the best possible products.
  • This approach has helped Canva to innovate and stay ahead of the competition.
  • Canva is embracing AI to help its users create better designs.
  • AI-powered tools can help users with tasks such as choosing fonts, colors, and layouts.
  • This allows users to create professional-looking designs without having to be a design expert.

Overwhelmed by Endless Content?