When it comes to marketing and technology, few people have seen and done more than Guy Kawasaki. He was Chief Evangelist for Apple during the Macintosh-era, started several technology companies, ran a venture capital firm, wrote books like APE, Enchantment, and The Art of the Start, and was a special advisor to the CEO of Motorola.

Now he’s resurrected the chief evangelist title for a new company: Canva.

We’ve written about Canva before — it’s a tool that makes creating great design simple for everyone. They’ve got a nice tutorial on how to create a beautiful blog graphic in just a few steps.

Recently, we sat down with Guy to talk about how Canva is democratizing design, how technology has impacted marketing, and why the future of brands lies in the Fortune Five Million.


Jason Shen: First off, I just want to tell you that I’m a big fan. I read The Art of the Start at Stanford what feels like a long time ago, and really enjoyed it.

Guy Kawasaki: Thanks.

JS: Can we start by talking about Canva? How did you first encounter the tool? What was your own experience running into the team and the product?

GK: What happened is a woman named Peg Fitzpatrick, who helps me with my social media, discovered it and was using it for my social media and she loved it so much that she would not tell other people how she was making her graphics. The people at Canva noticed that I was using Canva and they tweeted me, and asked me if we could communicate, and one thing led to another. Next thing you know, I’m an employee.

JS: That’s awesome. How big are they right now? What’s the team?

GK: I think they’re about twenty people right now. We just crossed the threshold of 500,000 registered users.

JS: Congratulations, that’s tremendous.

GK: Yeah, it opened up in August. Let’s call this June, so it’s been about ten months.

JS: Where do you see the biggest interest in usage, or are there specific buckets? How do you break that out?

GK:The first, most obvious bucket is anybody who is a serious user of social media. To create a great cover photo, a great album, avatar, to create a 500 pixel wide picture or graphic for each post, to make a beautiful pin for Pinterest. Also, I think a lot of people are using Canva to avoid using Powerpoint, because you can make presentations with it.

The big picture is we’re trying to make graphics design accessible to more people. In a sense, Apple made computers more accessible to people, Apple made phones more accessible to people, Apple made tablets more accessible, Google made information more accessible, eBay made e-commerce more accessible, so we’re trying to make design more accessible.

JS: You’ve been in the industry for a really long time, and as a marketing company we think a lot about how the industry has evolved over time. How have you seen marketing change in your time, going from Apple evangelist to being an evangelist at Canva?

GK: Everything has changed. So back in the last century, ie the mid-’80s, the world was different. You had to buy an ad in The Wall Street Journal. You had to hold a press conference. You had to suck up to journalists. You had to beg for distribution through other peoples’ pipes. You had to pay for everything, basically, trade shows, advertising, PR, everything.

Now, it’s all changed, and it’s changed because of social media.

You don’t pay for a lot on social media, and you reach people faster, free, and anywhere in the world. It’s becoming true that it’s a world of perfect instant information, and in a world of perfect instant information you don’t need to suck up to a famous journalist or analyst who is acting as a proxy and gatekeeper and judge, jury, and executioner for technology who tells the great unwashed masses what to do.

Let me use a book example because I think it’s particularly true with books. In the old days, the two most important proxies for a book of quality were New York Times Book Review and the publisher. If it was published by Little Brown and the New York Times Book Review liked it, you bought it. Now, today it’s almost… it’s not impossible but it’s difficult to figure out who published the book, and I don’t know anybody who waits for the New York Times Book Review before buying a book. I think people go to Amazon. They see that it’s 4.5 stars. They read two or three reviews. They click and it’s on their Kindle.

In that world of perfect and instant information, all marketing changes. I think it’s leveled the marketing field.

JS: What is the role, then, of brands in this new world? Obviously Random House and Penguin invested a lot to become strong publisher brands, but perhaps that brand doesn’t mean as much anymore, and meanwhile there are new brands that are emerging. What is the role, how has branding changed?

GK: I think branding has been and will be a halo and a platform, but I must admit that I think branding is less important the more SKU’s you have. The reason why I say this is that if you are a one product company, your brand equals your product, and if you have a great brand, hallelujah. If you are a large company and you have multiple products, because of fast free instant information, there is less of a halo. Now one thing from Sony could be great and another thing from Sony could suck and that suckiness will be instantly transmitted.

So before people could say, “Yep, anything from Sony is good,” now it might be: “This Playstation is great but I’d rather have a Samsung TV.” With Samsung you could say, “The Samsung washer dryer is not so good, but my God their LCD TV is good”.

It used to be a brand could be this fantastic halo that would cover everything, but now you go to Amazon and you say, “Okay, so the Samsung TV is 4.5 stars but the Samsung phone is three stars. I don’t care that it’s Samsung. What is it at a product-by-product, line-by-line basis?”

JS: That makes sense because Samsung is so big and it’s really hard to keep that level of quality guaranteed. There’s no hiding.

It feels like Canva is a kind of technology tool that is helping a certain form of marketing and, especially as marketing has gotten more visual, that graphic design becomes more important. How do you see marketing and technology working together as we move into the future?

GK: Technology is the great leveling factor, right? Without Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, and Instagram, we still might be buying $100,000 ads in The Wall Street Journal. I don’t know how The Wall Street Journal feels about this, but if you are the Fortune Five Million, this is a great thing, right? At an extreme, if you are a street food vendor in Los Angeles called Kogi Barbecue, you probably didn’t spend $10,000 advertising in the LA Times because you only have three trucks so what’s the probability of someone reading the LA Times who’s looking for a street food vendor at the time that your truck is in their neighborhood? That’s pretty much zero, right?

On the other hand, if you have 60,000 Twitter followers and you say, “We will be at the corner of Sepulveda and whatever, El Camino,” that works, right? You send a tweet out, 50,000 people can see it and 100 show up to buy your tacos. I don’t know how you could have done that with the LA Times or even a radio station or TV, because those 100 people are going to buy $1,000 worth of tacos, which is certainly less than TV, probably less than radio, and probably less than newspaper advertising.

JS:  That’s a great thing to wrap on. Thanks so much for your time Guy.

GK: It was great to be here.

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