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Opinion

Horses for courses: why Canva is Blackbird’s Winx moment

- April 9, 2024 4 MIN READ
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Image: AdobeStock
Much of life is about pedigree.

It’s why parents pay insane amounts of money for private schools (aka the old school tie), why VCs back founders 2nd time around (even after previous failures), royals marry other royals, and why a co-owner of champion racehorse Winx paid $10 million for her filly at auction this week.

So why am I about to compare software design business Canva to a horse? Well, this is about those who back and believe in something a little different and the rewards that can follow.

About the same time Blackbird made its first investment a startup foal called Canva – an initial $250,000 in a $3 million Seed round in March 2013 – a trio of horse racing enthusiasts paid $230,000 for a yearling they called Winx.

Six years later, when she retired, Winx had won $26.4 million in prize money, winning 37 of her 43 starts.

Now she’s set a new record for her filly, doubling the previous top price paid for a 1-year-old horse in Australia.

Most Australians believe that’s an astonishing return, but hold my betting stubs.

Canva raised more than $770 million across 14 rounds of funding, with its valuation peaking in 2021 at A$54.5 billion.

It’s currently worth $39 billion – a figure local VCs arrived at in mid-2022 – and even the government financial watchdog, APRA, agreed last year.

But after $2.4 billion worth of Canva shares changed hands in recent weeks amid $3.6 billion in demand, and the business looking to list in 2026, the common wisdom is there’s only upside.

Canva’s early local investors included Blackbird, Skip Capital, the family VC firm led by Kim Jackson with her Atlassian cofounder husband Scott Farquhar, and Paul Bassat and his VC, Square Peg.

Blackbird backed Canva across eight rounds. The VC became Canva’s largest external shareholder, building up to a 15% stake at one stage valued at $8 billion on a total investment north of $150 million.

So here’s the kicker and why I am comparing a startup to a horse.

Winx didn’t start her racing career at 100-1 odds. In a nation, nearly 90 years on, still obsessed with Phar Lap, Blackbird’s investments in Canva will return more than the best racehorse we can ever produce. Or Phar Lap, Black Caviar and Winx combined.

The racing industry’s own figures put its total economic value at $3.2 billion. This is not an either/or debate, but simply pondering government and broader community support for a company that’s generated a 12x larger value. How to we encourage a nation to pack the home straight and cheer on Canva to its public listing?

Blackbird’s holding in Canva was worth around $5 billion when it sold a $150 million stake last year – 3% of its total. The VC was also in the mix of the latest secondary market sale with 6% of Canva shares finding new homes. Separately, has been in talks with Sydney private equity firm Quadrant’s appetite for $100 million worth of shares.

Blackbird retains around 12% of Canva. The current batch of sales will net around $800 million to investors –  a return of 31x the cost base of those investments, spread across several funds.

The return on that first fund – two tranches of $250,000, all up? 2,600x.

*Mic drop*

So let’s go back to pedigree.

Startups are not Brazil’s Serra Pelada gold mine, where a kid finds a nugget and the next thing you know, everyone’s there having a crack before the party’s over in six years. But they are a search for gold by investors and plenty end in nothing more than dirt and abandoned shovels.

Canva creates pedigree on so many levels, for so many people: from those who work there, to investors, the broader Australian tech sector and how we think about innovation more broadly.

Blackbird talks about helping build generational companies. The pace of technology is such that it’s hard to know if Canva will be one (Startup Daily is old enough to remember when Tom from MySpace had his Rupert Murdoch moment, and the Netscape browser was worth US$10bn), but it feels like it.

And what it’s created is more than returns for investors as well as nice tiles for people bereft of graphic design skills.

Canva has created belief in what’s possible. That’s pedigree. And a lot of Winx foals.

Winx was a racehorse that defied the odds and rewrote expectations, not long after Black Caviar did the same. Canva has similar pedigree. There’s potential for a similar star in the next generation. Or more.

Canva’s success also changes the possibilities for venture capital in Australia and what that means for a new generation of startups.

Blackbird, which raised a $1 billion fund 18 months ago, will no doubt be looking to raise again for a new fund. And perhaps more. If horses and pre-dawn track work are not your thing, then there are better ways to make hay.

We’ll leave the final word to Rick Baker from Blackbird on what it all means.

“No doubt this will see capital flowing into the VC and startup ecosystem as returns are reinvested into new funds and companies,” he said.

“This is the circle of life that drives the big innovation ecosystems in the US and it’s exciting to see it happening more in Australia. It takes a long time to build this cycle, but with a stream of strong companies coming up alongside Canva, it bodes well for the continued growth of our ecosystem.”

 

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