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Canva is an online design tool that makes great design accessible to anyone, anywhere — and it’s drag-and-drop easy. The company’s free toolset is used in 190 countries to create sleek designs for anything from social media to marketing documents and Zoom backgrounds. And it’s affordable subscription-based Canva Pro offers additional perks like images, fonts, and document storage. 

Canva’s popularity has soared globally, but until late 2019, its partnership program had yet to take off. They had avid users around the world, but they didn’t have a way to scalably harness that fan base to drive referrals — until they found Impact Partnership Cloud, that is. 

We interviewed Jerry Liu, affiliate partnerships lead at Canva, during Impact Growth 2020. Jerry walked us through how Canva went from primitive to powerhouse in the partnership department and what features matter most when you are building a truly diverse and global program.

Customization is key for Canva

When Canva was looking for technology to support its partnership initiative, it had two key priorities. First, it would need a competitive commission structure with the ability to track and support a wide variety of partner and contract types. And second, it would need a platform that could support partners from all over the world. 

The Impact Partnership Cloud offered all that and more, and just months after getting up and running on Impact, Canva was already onboarding partners ranging from podcasters to media publishers to B2B partners like Hubspot and Wattpad. Impact has made it easy for Canva to customize contract arrangements to meet diverse partner requirements and to work with its global partners in the way that best suits the local business culture. Liu estimates Canva has more than 25 different types of contracts in place with its global referral partners, which now number more than 9,000.

You can read a full transcript of our conversation with Liu below, or watch the full interview, How Canva made the leap of faith into partnerships.

Help yourself to our full library of insightful interviews with partnership pros from Impact Growth, or launch your own success story like Canva did by reaching out to an Impact growth technologist at grow@impact.com.

Here’s the interview transcript:

Adam Furness: 

Hello and welcome. My name is Adam Furness and I’m the managing director for Impact across Asia Pacific. And I’m here with Jerry from Canva. Jerry, why don’t you introduce yourself? 

Jerry Liu:

Hey guys. I’m Jerry. So, a little bit about Canva. At Canva, We are on a mission to empower the world, to design anything and publish anywhere. We’re a drag and drop design and publishing tool, to empower anyone, to create beautiful graphics, videos, and GIFs, for whatever they need. Currently, we’re in about 190 different countries with over 30 million monthly active users. So yeah, there’s a bit of a product. About myself, I’m currently looking after the global affiliate program at Canva, we have a mission to help and further empower people who have been promoting Canva actively, to like do the best they can even more.

Adam:

Awesome. So Jerry, tell us a little bit about your background and what brought you to Canva. 

Jerry:

So I was initially brought into Canva as a growth marketer, to bring value to our customers, through experiments, product optimizations, and, whereas out of, user testing and user experience, like an analysis. However, during this time we found that there was a huge amount of organic promotion of our product through YouTube, course creators, teaching others how to use Canva. And so with this in mind, we thought, we would like we came up with the idea that if too, if we want to further empower our partners to do the best they can now in, in evangelizing Canva and spreading the goodness, we have to launch a affiliate program, you know, to, to be able to, yeah. To be able to give them that additional incentive and actually support them in what they want to do.

Adam: 

That’s awesome. So tell us a little bit about the history of  the partnership channel at Canva. How did it start, and I guess how it’s evolved over time?

Jerry:

Before our affiliate program, our primary source of growth is through SEO optimizations and, through contacting all the different bloggers, creators, and site owners, to let them know about the amazing tool that we have, and then for them to link back to us. So that was before partnership. And then after that, the official affiliate program launched last September. So we’re still quite young, quite new to the space. But we’ve seen tremendous growth just from the organic, just from the unfulfilled demand of an affiliate program.

Adam:

Let’s talk about that. How, how has the program grown since you started in, in September? What are your growth goals in the near and sort of further out terms?

Jerry:

So since starting in September, our partners, number of partners, and the amount of revenue and everything, and revenue generated through this partnership space was doubling month over month, almost every month, until where we are right now with over 9,000 partners and they’re working across multiple, networks and, media publishers and every like bloggers, YouTubers, you name it, we have a variety of partners.

Adam:

When you look at the KPIs of your partnership program today, what sort of KPIs do you consider? And then when you think about it, you know, six months down the track, what sort of KPIs are you going to be putting to the program?

Jerry:

So at Canva, our mission is always to empower the world to design and get it out to the hands of those who need it. And as we have a high-value, free product, we also have a bit more fire power through it, through the Canva Pro product as well. So what we want as a goal for the partnership space, we want to be able to empower as many people that are already promoting Canva, to be able to do more of that. And we realized that having a successful affiliate program is not the same as any other marketing channel at all. It’s a lot of communication relationship building, which is not something that you can just turn it on and leave it there. So in a way, as part of, as the program grows, the next few KPIs, I mean, the, the next few channels of growth is through growing the team and be able to work with partners across the different countries. Currently, we are focusing on five main markets, and we are already seeing some tremendous growth. What we want to do in the next six to twelve months is actually be able to support partners from all over the world in the 190 countries that we’re currently present in.

Adam:

Okay. What do you look for in a new partner?

Jerry:

So ideal partners today are partners who we have a strong synergy with. From the majority of partners right now, we have a huge variety, from content networks down to individual educators, teaching people how to use Canva, why you should use Canva. And through these educators, we are able to spread any new product launches and anything that we pursue internally to make sure that we deliver the best value to our customers is spread through these content, these educators. And on top of that, we are able to support a few of our CCC community members. So to give a bit of background, since about a year ago, we’ve created an exclusive community of educators, called the Canva Certified Creatives. So through these community members, we’ve been able to gain feedback and further improve the product and to be able to help their audience, to, to do what they need with the Camva product. And through the affiliate program, we’ve been able to support a few of these CCC community members to be able to still generate a living.

Adam:

That’s really cool. Are there any additional planner types you’re looking to work with in the future?

Jerry:

Yes. So going forward, where we see the growth of this space, it will be more of brand to brand type of partners. And this is something that we are going through and evaluating and trying to work with different brands to try and build out a mutually beneficial partnership through either cross-promotional campaigns, or through integrated partnerships, such as what we have the partnership we currently have with HubSpot, where you can now create your email templates and everything with Canva, directly within the HubSpot platform.

Adam:

What are the best practices around discovering new partners and do best practices differ by region? What can you share?

Jerry:

Honestly, I think best practices differ from brand to brand and it differs from country to country. Since launching the program, we’ve grown to be focusing across five different markets and in each market, there is a new, different type of approach needed. For example, in Brazil, people don’t really like partners, partnership discussions don’t really happen on email, partnership discussions happen over phone, phone calls, or, WhatsApp, SMS, whereas in the U S, people rarely answer their phones. They’ll be, Oh, yeah, just send me this stuff on or email. So all of those is the discussions, the different type of culture, definitely vary from country to country. And this is why in order for us to grow into new markets, we needed to have to grow the team to be able to include people who understand those cultural nuances.

Adam:

What challenges were you facing before and how does the Partnership Cloud help your program today?

Jerry: 

Before launching the affiliate program, this was one of the main concerns that we had. Different countries have different types of contracting processes and managing different, so many, like I can’t even imagine managing 9,000 different contracts manually, before Impact. So hence we decided we needed to onboard an affiliate platform to be able to track and track these contracts. So, and thankfully with Impact, we can customize these contracts with adding, just adding a simple addendum, according to the partner’s needs. So the current process is if we would usually just invite the partners onboard, apply and agree to the contract terms, they roughly, through an Impact tracking sign-up link. However, there are cases where unique contracts are required. In this case, we would send through the sign, the digital signature through DocuSign and through a legal system, and then export that, and put it into Impact, and send it. And so far, most of our partners have found it handy.

Adam: 

What sort of, what sort of actionable advice would you give to those struggling with managing partner contracts and payouts?

Jerry: 

So honestly, if I had to do it all over again, I would say stick to a smaller number of customized contracts and customize only when you need to, when we first launched, we were a bit more lenient in this and we were kind of afraid of customized contracts, along the way. And then it’s gotten to a point where it was unmanageable. So once we reached that point, we realized, okay, we need to streamline it a bit more. And then now we’re consolidating everything that is unique, the different types of unique partnership contracts into 25 different types of contracts.

Adam:

So Jerry, tell us about the program tracking and what challenges you were facing before the Partnership Cloud kind of came on board to help you solve them.

Jerry:

So with regards to tracking, before bringing on board Impact, we only had a few options. Either to build one internally or to use a Google pixel tracking. So however, with these tracking methods, it is hard to manage commissions and attribute commissions accurately. However, after bringing on board Impact, it has been a very smooth journey so far. The only challenges we had initially was through integration, and it was more of like internal engineering decisions, as opposed to working with Impact. Working with Impact has been very smooth, the whole integration process is very easily done. And yeah, on top of which, we’ve recently started to use unique tracking domains and, and there’s a few additional features of Impact. So this enables us to work with podcast partnerships to create unique tracking URLs for each of the podcasters, and this has been really helpful for us to grow into the influencer space.

Adam:

What sort of actionable advice would you give others struggling with tracking the value and incrementality of their partners contribution?

Jerry:

So, first of all, make sure that everything is integrated properly and tested properly. I would strongly recommend integrating with the Impact platform fully, to be able to track different channels like SEM, organic and, organic email and any other marketing channels that you’re currently running with Impact to be able to fully leverage their attribution funnel, analytics. 

Adam:

What take and processes, I guess, have been most important to helping you scale your program and business that you’re doing, Jerry? 

Jerry:

So one of the biggest issues with scale for us is managing partner relationships at scale. So once we scale to over 5,000 partners, we found it very hard to keep track of who’s active, who’s not active, who needs support, who doesn’t need support. And through using Mediarails, we’ve been able to effectively engage with partners who have either been dormant or have not been activated and are working with them to generate their sales. Some of us we’ve gotten a few Twitter posts about the Canva program, where our partners who are quite new to the affiliate space have been very excited after implementing some of the recommendations we’ve provided and generated their first sale.

Adam: 

Are there any practices, philosophies, that have made your partnership program successful so far and anything that you could share on that sort of same line for other brands and partners?

Jerry:

Yeah. One of the learnings that we found was to go with a more hand holding kind of approach. When we first launched, it was just through like a few email drip campaigns to be able to reactivate the partners. However, we realized that in this space, not everyone or not, every partner, is a pro in promoting affiliate programs or promoting or selling products to their audience. So what we realized is that we need to do a bit, a lot more hand holding with some of these partners and be able to provide them along the way, like, what do they need to do? What do they need to promote like here? Like what are the elements that they need to be able to advertise this, to, to share the good news about Canva?

Adam:

When you look into your crystal ball, what are you most excited about when it comes to the partnership channel?

Jerry:

When it comes to the partnership channel, what I’m most excited about is the ability to work with brand to brand, like other brands, you know. To be able to find that mutually beneficial space, to be able to be in that same space with other brands like HubSpot, Wattpad and a few other companies that we are currently partnering in partnership with, and this is like creating the synergy, creating that ecosystem. It adds a lot more value to this partnership than just simply a transactional kind of environment.

Adam:

You touched on HubSpot before, and you just mentioned, Wattpad. Can you give a little bit more detail around those partnerships?

Jerry:

So with regards to these partnerships, they are more of an integrated type of partnership where leveraging the technology of Canva, they’re able to add more value to the users. So the users of HubSpot and Wattpad will be able to leverage off-camera to create beautiful graphics, for their email, their outreach emails or sales emails, and for Wattpad, their uses are able to use Canva to create beautiful graphics for their book covers when they write their content. And then on top of that, through Impact, we are able to offer to be able to add additional revenue channels for these companies when some of these users eventually convert to a Canva Pro subscriber. 

Adam:

It looks like there’s just so many opportunities for the Canva to partner with, any, any business in any individual around, around the world. So that’s really cool. I’ve loved seeing your growth, Jerry, you know, congratulations on all the success.

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