Guy Kawasaki’s evangelizing Canva

The tech guru talks about bringing the good news to help grow Canva, a $6 billion unicorn.

Guy Kawasaki’s name has become almost synonymous with tech entrepreneurship and evangelism. Over the past 25 years, he’s had a hand in advising a generation of tech start-ups and innovators, either directly, through stints at Apple and Google, or through his writings, speaking engagements, podcast and numerous books. Guy has started up a few of his own companies as well, and the venture capital fund he launched, Garage Technology Ventures, has invested in a variety of early-stage technology companies. 

I first interviewed Guy for this podcast in 2006. Catching up with him nearly 15 years later was a real treat — although we were a little delayed getting started. As Guy explained, the waves were pretty good that day, so he had to get a little extra surfing in. When he’s not riding the waves, Guy is the Chief Evangelist for Canva, an Australian startup now valued at $6 billion. In this episode, he shares what it means to be an evangelist, the role of luck in entrepreneurship, how his own work life has evolved and the career achievement he’s most proud of — which also happens to be the one he feels is most underappreciated. Listen now on Apple Podcasts, Overcast and Spotify. If you love it, please help more people find it by leaving a review!

“Canva is what I call ‘Guy’s Golden Touch,’ which is not that whatever I touch turns to gold…It’s whatever’s gold, Guy touches.”

Guy Kawasaki is at a point in his career where he has no interest in being a CEO or a CMO or a “CX anything,” as he puts it. But he can’t resist the opportunity to be the one who brings the good news. That’s how he describes the job of an evangelist, and if anyone knows what it means, it’s Guy. Back in the eighties, he popularized the term as a marketing concept while he was at Apple. 

In fact, he saw something in Canva, the Australian startup where he now serves as Chief Evangelist, that he’d seen with Apple. Just as the Macintosh set out to democratize computing, Canva is focused on democratizing design, and that was a sentiment he could get behind. As its Chief Evangelist, he has a very simple job description: Deliver the good news about the democratization of design. As he says, “I was like a weapon. Just turn me loose.” 

“It is better to be lucky than smart.”

For someone who’s widely considered to be a guru of tech entrepreneurship and marketing, Guy will be the first to tell you that no one has all the answers to a lot of the big decisions we have to face in business. It’s only after the fact that you can really see whether or not you made the right choices. In his view, a lot of it comes down to perspective, attitude, timing — and a little luck. 

Luck clearly played a role in Guy’s Canva story. When the company noticed that his tweets incorporated Canva graphics, they reached out to him via tweet to see if he’d be interested in helping them get the word out about the democratization of design. Guy has about 1.4 million followers on Twitter, so the chances of him noticing a tweet were pretty slim. But he did. As Guy told me, “Without a lot of serendipity and good luck and timing etc. etc etc., I would not be involved with Canva.”

“Let me tell you, it is very hard to evangelize crap.”

When you’re talking to the guru of corporate evangelism, you want to know some of the secrets of doing it well. First and foremost, Guy says, it has to actually be good news that you’re bringing to the world. That doesn’t mean a great product will sell itself, but it is 90% of the equation. No amount of great evangelism will fix a bad product.

Since my company Muck Rack provides PR software and counts Canva as a customer, I was interested to hear how Guy distinguishes PR from evangelism. As Canva’s Chief Evangelist, Guy isn’t running a department or clocking in at 8 am (and that’s exactly how he likes it). He’s spreading the word and making connections based on his 25+ years in the business. Sometimes all that requires of him is to send a 30-second email. Well, a 30-second email he’s able to send based on his 25+ years in the business. 

But he reminds entrepreneurs that you don’t have to have Guy Kawasaki on board to bring your good news to the world. “I think evangelism is a spirit that the entire company should have,” he says. “Whether you’re the front desk receptionist or the CMO or the CEO or CTO or CFO — everybody should evangelistic.” 

“I told them I didn’t want money. I wanted pure equity. Let’s just say, that was a very good decision.”

Guy was 60 years old when he got that serendipitous tweet from Canva, so he was comfortable enough to be able to roll the dice on a pure equity deal. It’s a deal that he says, “with hindsight, is freaking genius.” As of June 2020, Canva’s valuation had risen to $6 billion. 

What else keeps Guy energized these days? In addition to riding the waves and spending time with family, he’s most excited about his podcast, Remarkable People. As he points out (and I can certainly relate), in contrast to the long lead time of writing and publishing a book, a podcast is a timely medium, and he gets to bring out other people’s wisdom instead of his own. For entrepreneurial advice, you’ll want to check out the interviews that Guy mentions in this episode, including his conversations with Steve Wozniak, Bob Cialdini and Kristi Yamaguchi.

In the meantime, Guy offers up some of his own advice. If you’re waiting for the stars to align or for someone to give you all the answers, you’ll never get there. “Entrepreneurship is about overcoming risk and adversity,” he says. “It’s not about waiting for the perfect time.” And it’s always a good time to bring your good news.

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