Australian tech giant Canva has unveiled a range of new features it believes will allow it to compete with the likes of Google and Microsoft, and UTS journalism students got a sneak peak of them 24 hours early.

The new collaborative features will see Canva expand from graphic design to office tools, such as Whiteboard and Docs. All of which was unveiled at a spectacular launch in Sydney’s Horden Pavillion on Wednesday, flying in journalists from around the world.

A dozen UTS students were lucky enough to be shown some of the new features, including the video background remover, but sworn to secrecy. The reveal came during a training session and tour at the unicorn’s impressive Surry Hills HQ, which includes a gym, chef-cooked meals, barrista, a roof top bar and terrace (complete with pizza oven) and bee hives from which the firm makes its own honey.

After almost a decade in the making we’ve brought this wild dream to life.

Co-founders Melanie Perkins, Cliff Obrecht, and Cameron Adams took to the stage at Sydney’s Horden Pavillion on Wednesday to launch the new features to a large crowd of mostly employees and investors.

“Today is a momentous day here at Canva for our team. After almost a decade in the making we’ve brought this wild dream to life,” Perkins said.

Obrecht teased the new office tools by adding: “The question is not if organisations need to be become world class visual communicators, it’s how?”

While Adams added: “We’re thrilled to introduce you to a brand-new way of working, with a set of tools that have been purpose-built for visual communication in the digital age. Today, we are … unveiling the Canva Visual Worksuite.”

Canva’s play to grab more of the marketing space from other tech heavyweights includes a simple website builder that takes a slide deck and with the push of a button converts it into a multi-page website. It sent a message that the $US25 billion ($37 billion). company is now going head-to-head with major innovators like Google and Microsoft.


UTS students visiting Canva were given a sneak peak at the firm’s new features ahead of the world’s press. Photo: Martin Newman.

“These launches elevate Canva from the graphic design tool you know and love into an end-to-end visual communication platform that every person, organisation, team, or school can use to unlock their creativity and achieve their goals,” Adams said.

The over 90-minute presentation, which began with a performance from Bangarra Dance Theatre, was streamed around the world so Canva’s more than 3,000 employees and over 300,000 community members could tune in. The often humorous and quirky unveiling (which saw Obrecht, a former history teacher, don a cap in the beginning and give a design history lesson), reinforced its ambition to dominate the workplace.

“[Organisations] need to collaborate and move quicker than ever before to keep up pace with an increasingly visual world,” Obrecht said.

“We always had these ideas, but we didn’t know how to do it. Not with our backgrounds … We had to reverse engineer … making something complex simple, is not easy.

“[We had to] build our own team to have the quality tech that we needed.”

Big features launched included the background remover for video. The same function for photographs has been used over 930 million times, making it one of the most popular features on Canva.

The unveiling included Presentations, which allows users to record a talking head of themselves to place in slides, as well as having “precision in your palm” – a tool that gives full control of a presentation from a user’s phone. Whiteboard, which resembles the popular Miro software, has “infinite space”, whilst a main feature of Docs is its ability to easily imbed visuals, such as videos. All websites can be resized for phones and tablets without the need for manual resizing.

Zach Kitschke, Canva’s chief marketing officer, said: “Canva now brings together all the essential products, whether you need to create, communicate or collaborate. Designing a pitch, developing a strategy document or even creating some team swag.”

After taking a $14 billion hit to their valuation this year during the global tech write-down Canva’s one-stop-shop strategy is designed to lift its value back up and beyond.


Co-founder and former history teacher Cliff Obrecht gives a design history lesson. Photo: Lisa Edser

Perkins said she does not see any specific company as competition.

“I look at it as inventing new markets” she said.

Asked if she would ever take the company public, she replied

“No immediate plans.”

Her husband, Obrecht, was happy to elaborate further.

“I’ve thought about it. One day. Not for a while yet. But yeah, I’ve thought about it,” he said, admitting that the responsibility of shareholders would not be too dissimilar to the responsibility they have with just over 200 investors.

“Strategy, direction … we often seek our investors’ opinion for whatever we’re tackling,” said Obrecht.

The launch finished with Perkins reminding everyone that Canva has only achieved one per cent of what it intends to do as a company.

Obrecht joked: “I think we’re five per cent. Mel always says one per cent, but I don’t want a bar of it!”

Main image, Canva montage of Cliff Obrecht, Melanie Perkins and Cameron Adams. Photos by Lisa Edser.