Canva shows how Australian tech can grow in China

23 November 2022

Canva is one of Australia’s tech-export superstars. The company’s unique value proposition is the ‘democratisation of design’. It enables users to easily create amazing digital images.

In 2021, Canva bit the bullet and doubled down on its commitment to China. The company modified its usual market entry and expansion strategy to better suit the Chinese market.

The new strategy is a success. Today, Canva has millions of registered and monthly active users in China. Canva designs have gone viral on Chinese social media.

How did the company do it? According to Canva senior executives, the team undertook three key steps: a thorough assessment and selection of Chinese partners, product localisation to cater to Chinese users — and a little help from Austrade.

‘China is a market full of possibilities,’ says Melanie Perkins, co-founder and CEO of Canva. ‘We believe that it will become one of our largest markets globally.’

A $40 billion Australian tech phenomenon

Canva was co-founded by Perkins, along with Cliff Obrecht and Cameron Adams in 2012. Today the Sydney-headquartered graphic design company has a global team. This includes 8 hubs around the world.

By enabling users to quickly execute digital designs, the Canva platform has gained tens of millions of monthly active users. In September 2022, venture capitalists valued Canva at approximately A$40 billion (US$26 billion).

Canva originally launched in China in 2018. But the company struggled to gain a foothold in one of the company’s most challenging markets.

‘The Chinese technology landscape is highly competitive,’ says Lauren Gilbert, Austrade’s Trade and Investment Commissioner based in China. ‘Overseas technology companies must adapt their offering to suit the local market.’

Austrade helps Canva find a way into China

Despite these challenges, the temptation for Canva to grow in one of the world’s largest markets was enormous.

Since 2019, Austrade’s China-based advisers have helped Canva executives to refine their market entry strategy. This includes promoting Canva’s brand awareness on China’s digital and social media platforms.

One market-entry tactic has proved particularly successful. Austrade has facilitated invitations to Canva to deliver keynote speeches at major events in China. This has enabled Canva to promote its graphic design platform and tools to businesses in China.

Canva executives attended the HiCool Technology Summit in Beijing, an Amazon Web Services’ Webinar Series and the Australian Technology Outreach Shenzhen Program. Canva also attended the Austrade Landing Pad Australian Technology Summer Festival in 2022.

Key to success: local partners and localised design

The key to success lay in finding suitable local partners.

‘First, Canva identified and secured key partnerships to get Canva content easily into the hands of social media users,’ says Gilbert.

One partner was Visual China Group. This is one of the largest image-licensing companies in China. The second is font specialist Hanyi Fonts. These two partnerships have resulted in tens of millions in licensed content to date

The next step was to design features specifically for the Chinese app ecosystem.

‘We want to make the design process simple and affordable for users here in China,’ says Perkins.

Canva kept it simple. They ensured their tools and content could easily integrate with local social media platforms, such as WeChat. They also developed QR codes which are popular in China.

Consider B2B opportunities in China

China’s tech market is evolving rapidly. According to Gilbert, Australian tech companies should consider prospects for business-to-business (B2B) services.

‘China’s B2B market shows increasing demand for SaaS [Software as a Service] solutions,’ she says. ‘Australian companies can adjust their services to take advantage of the new B2B environment.

‘For example, Canva is now used by 85% of the Fortune 500. It provides a one-stop solution to help Chinese enterprises to increase efficiency and achieve their business goals.’

Advice for Australian tech companies in China

Austrade advisers have advice for Australian tech companies contemplating a move into China.

‘Australian tech companies looking to enter the Chinese market must be prepared for a long-term commitment,’ says Gilbert. ‘There is no quick fix or silver bullet when it comes to succeeding in China. It takes hard work and a willingness to learn and adapt.’

But the rewards can be significant. Gilbert points out that China is a vast and rapidly growing market. It has an affluent middle class that is hungry for quality goods and services. She says there is enormous growth potential for Australian tech companies that can navigate the challenges.

‘Our team of experienced consultants provide tailored market entry advice and assistance,’ she says. ‘Our experience will guide you on how to enter the Chinese market. We can also help you address multiple challenges, including market research, choosing the right partners and navigating the regulatory environment.’

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