14 Minutes of SaaS

14 Minutes of SaaS

E42: Cameron Adams – Co-founder & CPO of Canva – 2 of 2 – Designing a Unicorn

Cameron Adams CPO & CoFounder Canva

E42: Cameron Adams – Co-founder & CPO of Canva – 2 of 2 – Designing a Unicorn

In this episode we talk a about product innovation and building teams that feel safe enough to express their creativity and take risks.  Cameron describes his wife as the most inspirational person in his life. He advises founders to seek out self awareness and find cofounders that bring qualities to the table that they lack. He mentions that as a company scales, high touch goes out the window and the company becomes dependent on small teams that are trusted. “I know companies that pretty much make every decision as an AB test. That doesn’t allow for the leaps that you need to make in product development in order to… to achieve something great. Or in order to change a sector. But, you know, AB tests they have their place when you’re refining the product and tweaking it and particularly when you’re trying to hit a particular metric, you know. A lot of SaaS is about looking at retention or activation or conversion. When you’re looking at raw numbers like that AB testing does help to kind of get those incremental improvements that you need to day to day or week to week.”

Transcription

Cameron Adams

I know companies that pretty much make every decision as an AB test. That doesn’t allow for the leaps that you need to make in product development in order to… to achieve something great. Or in order to change a sector. But, you know, AB tests they have their place when you’re refining the product and tweaking it and particularly when you’re trying to hit a particular metric, you know. A lot of SaaS is about looking at retention or activation or conversion. When you’re looking at raw numbers like that AB testing does help to kind of get those incremental improvements that you need to day to day or week to week.

Stephen Cummins

Welcome to 14 minutes of SaaS, the show where you can listen to the stories and opinions of founders of the world’s most remarkable SaaS ScaleUps.

In this the second episode with Cameron Adams. chief product officer and cofounder of Canva, we talk about product innovation and building teams that feel safe enough to express their creativity. And take risks. Cameron tells us why AB testing is a very useful tool to iteratively perfect a SaaS product, but not to be and end all in product innovation. And if you are a product developer or designer, I think you are really in for a treat because Cameron expresses his opinion on combining data and observation with creativity to develop products. He also touches on how Canva comfortably spans the the grass roots single user to increasingly enterprise scale companies.

Would you describe yourself more as a product manager today or more as a curator of smartly configured teams – appropriate teams for different projects. How important is that a latter piece for you to get things done efficiently?

Cameron Adams

I think definitely as a company scales you have to change what you’re doing and change the influence that you have. I still like to make things and create things which is why you’ll often find me on a certain project … just helping out designing things or… or figuring out a technological solution to it. Yeah, ultimately the way that Canva is going to get things done is through scaling out teams. And empowering, everyone on these things to be able to make decisions and ship their own products and creating those structures. This is incredibly important. We’ve got, you know, a lot of people at the company – people who’ve been there a long time.

Yeah, we have Mel, Cliff and I who had the vision and the drive for the company and we want to find ways to include all those things – as well as all the input from the people who are doing the work themselves. So it’s a tricky combination. And finding the right structure is a delicate balance. It changes quite frequently in a in a fast growing company. We’ve grown from  150 people last year to 300 this year. And as that size changes the structure changes as well. So you always have to keep an eye on that and make sure that the structure that you have now is the one that’s optimal. And think about the structure that you might need as you grow into the future.

Stephen Cummins

In a recent piece you wrote on creativity at scale, you referenced McBeth as your favorite Shakespearean play. Why?

Cameron Adams

I’m not a huge shakespearean academic. Macbeth is one of the few times. I’ve actually read, and, you know, Shakespeare’s creativity … and his effect on the artistic world and even on human endeavour is… is undeniable. And these kinds of themes and narrative arcs that he played out across these stories have influenced, you know, books and plays for five centuries after his death. He’s an incredibly inspirational figure and a kind of the epitomy of creativity to me.

Stephen Cummins

I had to ask the question because it’s my favourite play of all the time – it’s half the length of Hamlet. And with a lot less poetry and a lot more action. But it’s just like a perfectly formed play to me.
Mel Perkins, the CEO mentioned AB testing with surprise when you guys first visited silicon valley – which you mentioned you don’t go too often to. She said they kept asking about AB testing and ‘have you even tested this?’ and I think in her talk, she talks about finding your own flavour – and not following what everybody else is doing.
I also noticed in your blog that you reference an article that says let go of the AB test. Talk to me a little bit about AB testing.

Cameron Adams

It’s always that balance. I know companies that pretty much make every decision as an AB test. That doesn’t allow for the leaps that you need to make in product development in order to… to achieve something great. Or in order to change a sector. But, you know, AB tests they have their place when you’re refining the product and tweaking it and particularly when you’re trying to hit a particular metric, you know. A lot of SaaS is about looking at retention or activation or conversion. When you’re looking at raw numbers like that AB testing does help to kind of get those incremental improvements that you need to day to day or week to week.

So, so just another tool we have a new tool Kit. So I think if you’re thinking more broadly about experience and what you want to build, you know, AB testing has its place, research has its place, surveys have their place, pure brainstorming has its place … like thinking of the future world that you want to be in. And the design process is about choosing the particular tools that you need at that time to achieve the outcome that you want to have and using arrange of them to synthesize the data and the inputs that you need to have a great output over time.

Seen what AB tests can deliver and how to run them properly and say in a whole bunch of other methodologies that we’ve used and how to use those properly. I, mean through experience you, understand which tool you have to pick up at the right moment – and and given where you wanna be what you need today now, in order to get there.

STEPHEN CUMMINS

Interesting it. Actually takes me back to another renaissance figure in Leonardo the Vinci. He designed things that are used today … from robots exploring planets to sewage systems to lots of stuff in ship building technology and. I think one of the things that was key to him perhaps apart from his enormous talent and genius … he wasn’t limited by technology. He imagined and designed things that can’t be done today. Do, you think we do enough of that … imagining the currently impossible? To free our minds.

Cameron Adams

I think that same post referenced an article about observational research as well. And, I think that ties interestingly into DaVinci … because a lot of his inspiration came from observing the, natural world and applying that into technology that humans use … I think there are interesting parallels. Between observation and looking at things … and really being almost being scientific in the way that you break things down into basic principles so. Thinking about Leonardo coming up with the helicopter and the basic principles of flight. It’s that observation and the collection of data paired with his amazingly creative mind and ability to … yeah, just, open up his thinking and… and applying this data that he had two areas that you might not necessarily have thought about and. This is a collision between different worlds that lets you produce amazingly creating things.

STEPHEN CUMMINS

You’re one of the busiest speakers here. You’re a fellow speaker in RISE but, you’re doing 4 events. One of the things you’re doing is SaaS in the enterprise and I suppose just to go back to kinda commercials …  Imagine that would be a massive focus going forward and currently for Canva. Because of course when you win deals in the enterprise, that can be an awful lot of users – often using the best version of your product. Is that a huge focus for you today?

CAMERON ADAMS

Yeah. We’re seeing really… really promising growth. I mean we… we kind of think of Canva still as a grassroots product – something that anyone can pick up and start using – and we’ve seen people, you know, being the sole marketer at a company picking it up. And then as the team grows introducing those team members to it … or introducing it to other department. We’re seeing that from marketing through the sales. We’ve also been picked up by huge companies that have huge marketing departments. But one person on that team will have been made to do some design and that will pick up slowly, you know, seed it’s way out through the organization. So, yeah, the team… the team stuff is really exciting for us. We’ve got lots of really great case studies of teams that have picked up Canva and teams from five people thtough to 800 people.

STEPHEN CUMMINS

You got, I read somewhere, a grant for 1.6 million dollars in Australia in the early days. It was important for your commercialization, when you kinda had product market fit. Is that something particular to Australia that companies can… get extraordinary help from the government if they prove they have something.

CAMERON ADAMS

Yeah. I think it’s… it’s definitely an Australian government program. It’s, I think it’s changed over time. I’m not sure whether they offer the exact same thing now but it’s definitely access to grants that you can get and they’re actually predicated on research and development. So being to think about something that doesn’t exist at the moment, doing research and development to… to develop that. And then taking that into commercial realm. And I think what the government does is they will match any input that you have financially say if you’re putting in a 1,000,000 dollars, they’ll kind of match at a certain percentage. And it’s been a, it’s been a really useful government initiatives that has helped quite a few companies in Australia.

STEPHEN CUMMINS

A lot of entrepreneurs that I speak to at some point in their lives have reached the point of success where they know they’re likely to be free – financially free and… and they seem to hit a slump. I don’t know why, but I get the impression from you… you haven’t experienced that  … and I think you’re not likely to experience that. Am I right?

CAMERON ADAMS

Yeah, we’ve… we’ve never focused on money that much. I mean what drives us is Canva’s vision of bringing designs to the world and the numerous number of ways that we can do that. And we’re still incredibly excited about that. And it’s almost as if each year we discover even more things that we haven’t done – and that we know we should be doing. So it’s almost like the amount of work you have still to do multiplies as you achieve more and more things. Yeah, we’re… we’re all still incredibly excited about the area and… and want to take tha to new levels. And growing the company to a different level of scale and it’s still exciting and scary. You can never, I don’t think … you can never take your foot off the pedal. No, you’re never finished anything. It’s always… it’s always a work in progress and there’s always more to do.

STEPHEN CUMMINS

Has anybody really influenced you heavily?

Cameron Adams

My wife is has been a very inspirational supporting figure for me in the last 10 years. She ran her own business for a long time and is always there for me to talk to about business decisions, personal decisions, you know, things that are gonna affect that lives. Yeah, I’d say she’s probably been the most. Inspirational one.

STEPHEN CUMMINS

Would you have any words of inspiration or advice for anyone thinking about starting up a company.

Cameron Adams

12:35 I think be aware of who you are. And what you can achieve and… and be realistic about it. I think it’s extremely hard to run a business by yourself. Typically when you’re having to scale it in so many directions and having partners – whether that’s one, two, three whatever … make sure they fill in the gaps that you lack… and working well with you is incredibly important. And that’s been a key to the success of Canva, The three of us work together and just fit together really nicely like a jigsaw.

STEPHEN CUMMINS

How important do you think building trust is as you scale the business?

Cameron Adams

I think it’s amazingly… amazingly important – particularly as you scale up. Companies in the very early days – founders can kinda drive… drive the company along with their vision and help everyone, you know. As the company is growing – we’re up to 300 people now – and it’s… it’s almost impossible to have that high touch with everyone in the company. So you rely on small teams being formed, and those teams being passionate and driven and very goal oriented And in order for them to execute we need to trust them and within the team themselves, each of those team members need to trust everyone else. That’s the only way that you’ll get the best ideas, that you’ll get feedback and iteration. You’ll get teams is trying to improve themselves, people trying to improve themselves. And each team member being able to give feedback. And all that requires a great amount of trust – and even for someone to voice an idea or question something … that’s going to help to improve it. It requires a really huge amount of trust – so building that within the teams and making sure everyone feels like they’re very safe and welcome and will contribute in the company is extremely important for us.

STEPHEN CUMMINS

Well, that’s great advice for entrepreneurs and for building product managers, Cameron thank you very much for being on 40 minutes assess.

CAMERON ADAMS

No problem.

STEPHEN CUMMINS

Next up we’ll be releasing our second full series for 14 minutes of SaaS, this time is seven part interview that took place in RISE, Hong Kong with the Kiwi entrepreneur formerly known as Vaughan Rowsell – he’s changed his name to Vaughan Ferguson to take it on his mother’s maiden name – a very colourful character, his main claim to fame amongst many is being the sole founder and CEO of Vend, a point of sale and retail management system that has raised 47 million US dollars since it was founded in Auckland, New Zealand

 

Stephen Cummins

 

You’ve been listening to 14 minutes of SaaS. Thanks to Mike Quill for his creativity and problem solving skills and to Ketsu for the music. This episode was brought to you by me, Stephen Cummins. If you enjoy the podcast, please don’t forget to share it with your network, subscribe to the series and give the show a rating.

lay of all the time – it’s half the length of Hamlet. And with a lot less poetry and a lot more action. But it’s just like a perfectly formed play to me.

Mel Perkins, the CEO mentioned AB testing with surprise when you guys first visited silicon valley – which you mentioned you don’t go too often to. She said they kept asking about AB testing and ‘have you even tested this?’ and I think in her talk, she talks about finding your own flavour – and not following what everybody else is doing.
I also noticed in your blog that you reference an article that says let go of the AB test. Talk to me a little bit about AB testing.

Cameron Adams

It’s always that balance. I know companies that pretty much make every decision as an AB test. That doesn’t allow for the leaps that you need to make in product development in order to… to achieve something great. Or in order to change a sector. But, you know, AB tests they have their place when you’re refining the product and tweaking it and particularly when you’re trying to hit a particular metric, you know. A lot of SaaS is about looking at retention or activation or conversion. When you’re looking at raw numbers like that AB testing does help to kind of get those incremental improvements that you need to day to day or week to week.

So, so just another tool we have a new tool Kit. So I think if you’re thinking more broadly about experience and what you want to build, you know, AB testing has its place, research has its place, surveys have their place, pure brainstorming has its place … like thinking of the future world that you want to be in. And the design process is about choosing the particular tools that you need at that time to achieve the outcome that you want to have and using arrange of them to synthesize the data and the inputs that you need to have a great output over time.

Seen what AB tests can deliver and how to run them properly and say in a whole bunch of other methodologies that we’ve used and how to use those properly. I, mean through experience you, understand which tool you have to pick up at the right moment – and and given where you wanna be what you need today now, in order to get there.

STEPHEN CUMMINS

Interesting it. Actually takes me back to another renaissance figure in Leonardo the Vinci. Design things that are used today for the robots exploring planets to switch systems to lots of stuff and ship building technology and. I think one of the things that was key to him perhaps apart from isn’t enormous TalentEd genius, was, he, wasn’t limited by technology he. Imagine design things that can’t be done today. Do, you think we do enough of that imagining the currently impossible just? A free our, minds thinking that same post referenced an article about observational research as well. And, I think that ties interestingly until he and I added the Vinci because a lot of his inspiration came from observing the, natural world and applying that into technology that humans good use think there’s an interesting parallels. There between observation and looking at things and really almost being scientific in the way that you break things down into basic principles so. I think you’ve asked and I leave that are coming up with the helicopter and basic principles of flight and looking at beds and… and how they move through the year so. It’s that… that observation and the collection of data paired with his amazingly creative mind and ability to yeah, just, open up his thinking and… and applied think applying these this data that he had two areas that you might not necessarily have thought about and. This is collision between different worlds that lets you produce amazingly creating things you. One of the busiest speakers here your, fellow speaker and rise but, you’re doing I, think for events, one, of the things you’re doing a SaaS and the enterprise and I suppose just to go back to kinda commercials I. Imagine that would be a massive focus going forward and currently for Canada because. Of course when you when customers in the enterprise does that can be an awful lot of users often using your… your the, best version of your product it’s, not a huge focus for you today yeah. We’re, seeing really… really promising growth from I. Mean we’ve… we’ve kind of think of cameras the grassroots product something that…

PHONE CALLER #1

8:50 Anyone can pick up and start using and we’ve seen people, you know, being the saw market or at a company picking it up. And as the team grows introducing that team members to it or introducing it to other departments were saying that may from marketing through the sales. And then.

9:09 We’ve also been picked up by huge companies that I have huge marketing departments. But one person on that team will have been made to… to do some design and that will pick up can slowly, you know, see that’s way out through the organization. So, yeah, the team… the team grad stuff is really exciting for us. We’ve got lots of really great case studies of teams that have picked up camera teams from five people three to 800 people. You gosh, I read somewhere a Grant of one point six 7,000,000 in Australia in the early days. It was important for your commercialization, when you kinda had product market fish. And is that something, particular to Australia that companies can… can when the sort of help from… from the government if they approve they have something. Yeah. I think it’s… it’s definitely an Australian government program. It’s, I think it’s changed over time. I’m not sure whether they offer the exact same thing now but it’s definitely access to grants that you can get and they’ll actually predicated on research and development. So babble to think about something that doesn’t exist at the moment, doing research and development to… to develop at that. And then taking that into commercial realm. And I think what the government does is they will match any input that you have financially say if you’re putting in a 1,000,000 dollars though kind of match at a certain percentage. And it’s been a, it’s been a really useful government initiatives that has helped quite a few companies in Australia, a lot of entrepreneurs that I speak to at some point in their life have… have reached the point of success where they know they’re… they’re likely to be free internally monetarily free and… and they seem to hit a slump. I don’t know why, but I get the impression from you… you haven’t experienced that and, you know, likely to experience into my right? Yeah, we’ve… we’ve never focused on money that much. I mean what drives us cameras vision of.

PHONE CALLER #1

11:16 Bringing designs the world and the numerous number of ways that we can do that. And we’re still incredibly excited about that. And it’s almost as if each year, we discover a even more things that we haven’t done that we know we should be doing. So it’s almost like the… the amount of work you have still today multiplies as… as you achieve more and more things. Yeah, we’re… we’re all still incredibly excited about the area and… and have that taken care of to new levels and… and growing the company to… to different level of scale and it’s still… still exciting in the scary. You can never, I don’t think you can never take you put off the pedal imagine that you’ve… you’ve done. No, you’re finished anything. It’s always… it’s always a work in progress and there’s always more today.

12:01 Because anybody really influenced you heavily.

PHONE CALLER #1

12:05 Hey, go over the last 10 years. My wife is has been very inspirational unsupported figure she Ran around business for a long time and it’s always there for me to talk to about business decisions personal decisions, you know, things that are gonna affect that lives.

Moving Forward

PHONE CALLER #1

12:23 Yeah, I’d say she’s probably been the most. Inspirational one. Would you have any words of inspiration or… or advice for?

12:32 Anyone thinking about starting up the wrong company.

PHONE CALLER #1

12:35 I think they are aware of who you are. And what you can achieve and… and be realistic about it. I think it’s extremely hot to… to run a business by yourself. Typically when you’re having to scale it in so many directions and having partners whether that’s one two three however many made that fill in the gaps and all meant you and… and work well with you is incredibly important. And that’s been a lot of thought of the key success of camera is the way that.

13:06 The three of us work together and just fit together really nicely like it takes a little pencil.

PHONE CALLER #1

13:11 Hi, I’m portal is building trust in product development team important. Do you think that isn’t how did you do that and it’s amazingly… amazingly important particularly as you scale up companies and the very early days.

13:25 Found is can kinda drive… drive the company along in their vision and help everyone, you know.

PHONE CALLER #1

13:32 Build something that that’s aligned with that. As company is growing we’re up to 300 people now.

13:39 And it’s… it’s almost impossible to have that high touch with everyone… everyone in the company.

PHONE CALLER #1

13:45 See rely on small teams being formed, and those teams being passionate and driven and very goal oriented, and in order for them to execute we need to trust them and within the team themselves, each of those team members need to trust everyone else. That’s the only way that you’ll get the best idea is that you get feedback and iteration?

14:07 You’ll get team is trying to improve themselves people trying to improve themselves.

PHONE CALLER #1

14:12 And being each team member being able to give feedback to one. And all that requires a great amount of trust and even for someone to voice an ID or all… all question something that’s going on and… and help to improve it.

Moving Forward ends

14:25 Requires really huge amount of trust building that within the teams and making everyone feel like they’re very safe.

PHONE CALLER #1

14:32 And welcome and I will contribute every company is extremely important for us. Well, that’s great advice for entrepreneurs and for building product managers, Cameron thank you very much for being on 40 minutes assess.

14:45 No problem.

14:55 Next step will be releasing. Our second full series for 14 minutes of SaaS, this time is seven part interview that took place and Rice, Hong Kong with the key. We entrepreneur formerly known as phone russells exchanges name to Bond Ferguson to take it on his mother’s. Maiden name a very colorful characters his main claim to fame amongst many is being so founder and CEO Ben’s point of sale retail management system that has raised 47,000,000 US dollars since it was founded in two that nine Portland, zeal.

Stephen Cummins

You’ve been listening to 14 minutes of SaaS. Thanks to Mike Quill for his creativity and problem solving skills and to Ketsu for the music. This episode was brought to you by me, Stephen Cummins. If you enjoy the podcast, please don’t forget to share it with your network, subscribe to the series and give the show a rating.

 

 

14 Minutes of SaaS