Damien Singh

Head of Finance at Canva

Damien Singh

Head of Finance at Canva

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  • Hear from Damien, Head of Finance at Canva

Hear from Damien, Head of Finance at Canva

What attracted you to join Canva in the Finance, Accounting and Legal team?

I think a startup idea can only succeed if the founders live and breathe what they’re doing, so the passion of the Canva founders was a real drawcard for me. That dedication was the first thing that I noticed when I saw videos of Mel giving presentations, and met Cliff during the interview process.

I love the product because I’m not a creative person myself. I’m an accountant, I’ve got a logical mind! So I actually need a product like Canva, even though I didn’t know that I needed it back when I was making terribly designed documents. When I went through the hiring process I did my CV and take-home challenge in Canva, which really reaffirmed for me that it was a great product.

The culture video online was actually a huge draw for me as well. Someone skateboarding around the office, someone bringing their kids into work – I’ve got a young family as well and it just seemed like a fun, flexible workplace. Which is all true!

What does a finance manager do at Canva and what does a typical day at Canva look like for you?

There’s no such thing as a typical day here! We do a Monday morning team catch-up, which sets our weekly cadence. During that meeting we talk through our external obligations and compliance deadlines, as well as internal things like payroll or suppliers we need to pay. That’s the business-as-usual side, but our biggest priority is always the project work we have. That’s something that’s unique about Canva, there are always big projects we’re working on. We’ll talk through the status of all our projects at that meeting as well.

My main job is ensuring that we’re making informed, strategic financial decisions about the direction of the company. We need to know whether a particular initiative has been successful, whether that’s to increase revenue, reduce costs or maximise the efficiency of our spend for example. Should we double down on the initiative, or should we invest in other areas? My job is to communicate those things, especially to the business owners.

We’ve got a three-pillared structure in finance. The first is legal, risk and governance which makes sure that we’re aware of and mitigating, unacceptable business risks. Then second is internal reporting, which is any number that we report that stays inside the business. Then there’s external reporting, which is any number that leaves the building, like tax and external auditing. Those pillars are broken down into services, like bookkeeping in internal reporting or legal in the risk vertical. There’s also equity, governance, audit and risk, compliance, tax, accounting, reporting, FP&A and treasury. So those are the services our team provides. The structure is set up for scale, over time each of those services might have a team associated with it.

Aside from work, we’ve got a really close knit team. We all socialise together, go out in the evening and do team outings, it’s a great vibe. People have said they feel as close to people here after a month as they have after 5 years in previous jobs.

What do you find most challenging?

The most challenging part of the job is keeping up with the business growth, you always have to be one step ahead! If you plan for now, your solution will become obsolete very quickly. The next week a new challenge will appear, and you’ll be back to the drawing board. So you have to look ahead to where the company is going and plan for that.   

But that’s also the most interesting part of the job. It’s very forward looking and forward planning here. Most accountancy is looking back at historic numbers and reporting on those. Whereas an Canva it’s a lot more about future-proofing. We’re always thinking how we can speed up reporting and improve our forecasting.

What is the mission of the finance, accounting and legal team at Canva?

Our mission is “To protect and serve Canva and its stakeholders”, which is a funny Canva-themed variation on the old LAPD motto. Protecting Canva means keeping up our external obligations, making sure we’re compliant with regulation and meeting all our mandatory deadlines. The “serve” side of things means that we do our best not to block our teams internally, we help them achieve their goals without adding too much red tape or unnecessary cost cutting. We think of new ways to help people move quickly while maintaining good corporate governance. We don’t make hard rules unless they’re necessary. Sometimes rules are needed of course, so we need to strike a balance between the “serve” and “protect” sides of our mission.

We like to implement controls that are dynamic where we can, rather than purely preventative. That means in most cases we allow teams to make their own decisions, and only step in if the decisions look like they’re going wrong. We don’t want to prevent teams making decisions around things like incurring costs, because the majority of their decisions are likely to be good. Our teams are very self-sufficient in who they engage and how they spend their money, and we just monitor and review that. On the other hand in the case of taxes and compliance deadlines for example, we’re strictly on the preventative side.

Our overall vision for the team is to become a world-class finance function. We want to become widely recognised for that, to the extent that investors start referring people to us for tips on how to solve certain problems.

What skills or experience are you looking for when hiring finance managers and accountants at Canva?

For senior accountant positions and above, we’re looking for qualified accountants. It’s likely we’ll also hire graduate and more junior accountants at some point. They’ll need to go through the CA program, and Canva will support that through its professional development program.

The skills and experience needed really depend on the role. If someone has experience in a big four firm that’s always a big plus, though it’s not a hard line. I wasn’t from a big four firm myself. Commercial experience working in a finance team is a huge advantage too. If you’ve only been in an audit firm, you can underestimate how big that transition is – it’s doable, but it requires the right attitude. Currently the internal and external reporting team are all qualified accountants and ex-auditors.

What advice would you give to people applying for a role as a finance manager or accountant at Canva?

The biggest thing I look for is a differentiator. It’s an exciting role and we get a lot of applications, many of which are unimaginative black and white Word documents! So tailor your CV to the opportunity and make it stand out (you could even use Canva for that). Make sure you fully understand the role and sell yourself to us in the cover letter.

We’re looking for someone who fits culturally and is excited about the business. It’s a fast growing business, which brings its own challenges, so you need to be excited to be part of that.