Lessons From Disruptors: Canva’s Cameron Adams

Lessons From Disruptors: Canva’s Cameron Adams

Online graphic design platform Canva is not its cofounder and head of product Cameron Adams first time at the start-up rodeo, it’s actually his third time. During his presentation on Friday at Daze of Disruption at Crown Melbourne, Adams discussed the three lessons he has learnt from these experiences.


Back in 2007, Adams worked on a secret project in Google’s Sydney Office called Google Wave. Adams describes the projects as “a really ambitious attempt to re-imagine what communication should be like in today’s age”.

Google Wave was an attempt by the global powerhouse to recapture the spirit of a startup within a big company. Created by the same engineers who masterminded Google Maps, Wave lets you and your collaborators build documents—which Google calls “waves”—from conversations. It was the most hyped service Google ever launched, problem was no one understood the platform.

“However at a normal startup there’s one thing that probably influences the direction of your company more than anything else- constraints: you don’t have any money, people, attention, marketing department, accounting or an office. All that influences what you end up building.

“But the beauty of constraints is you really focus on what you’re actually doing. When you don’t have constraints you tend to over engineer things, you put in too many features, you build an ivory tower. This is what happened with Google Wave, so once the users got into the product it was so overwhelming they didn’t know what the platform was.”

Lesson one: Constraints create better companies. If you don’t have constraints all your effort will fill that space.


“I left Google with two of my compatriots from Google Wave and we decided to take another run at a communications, so we built a product called Fluent.”

Fluent developed tools and applications to improve email and online communication experiences via desktops, small screens and touch devices.

“From a product and technical perspective we really nailed it, we had a bunch of passionate users who couldn’t wait for us to scale up.

“But through our own inexperience and just a lack of focus on this area we made some really serious business errors. One of these was sending two thirds of our team over to Silicon Valley to raise finances for three months; during which time no product progress was made and we burnt through a lot of our savings.

“I learnt from my experience with Fluent that you really need a team which can build a business not just a product.

“You need a team that has the right skills which can spread across both business, finances and operations. Every aspect of the business not just what you’re building.”

Lesson two: The right team really matters; having the right team with the right skill set that isn’t just focused on product but focused on every aspect of the business.


“Our ceo Melanie Perkins has been dreaming about democratising  design since she was 19. I’ve been creating products that help people do creative things for fifteen years. So we all see Canva as being part of our lives work.

“It’s what keeps us going when we come up against challenges which look insurmountable. It also keeps us going when we see a golden carrot lying on the road something that could distract us from our mission but is really tempting.

“Think about your life’s work and what you’re really passionate about building is ultimately what helps you build a great company.”

Lesson three: “Make sure you’re doing your life’s work, make sure you’re doing something you are really passionate about.”

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