Stay hungry, stay humble: SafetyCulture’s Luke Anear on future-proofing his tech company

Luke Anear

Luke Anear, Founder, SafetyCulture

Although SafetyCulture’s technology has put safety into the hands of workers worldwide, earning it an enviable pool of clients and investors in the process, founder Luke Anear knows he can’t afford to be complacent. For him, the ongoing success of his high-growth tech company will require everyone involved, including himself, to “personally grow to be three time more effective in our roles, every year”.   

During his seven-year career as a private investigator, between 1997 and 2004, Anear led surveillance investigations into, amongst other things, workers compensation claims. Exposed to the tragic consequences of workplace incidents over this period, he came to realise his job “relied on people getting injured” and that “every worker deserves to go home at the end of the day”.

Two such tragedies – the suicide of a 36-year-old man following an injury on the job and the death of a young worker installing roof installation – were the “catalyst” for SafetyCulture. Frustrated by the OHS industry’s ‘reactive’ model’ and the over-emphasis on compliance, he envisioned a mobile software solution that would empower workers to maintain safety standards without relying on management.

SafetyCulture was born in Anear’s garage in Mount Low, Queensland in 2004. As a non-technical founder, Anear engaged university student Alan Stephensen, as his first employee. At the time, Stephensen was working at Cleveland Juvenile Detention Centre in Townsville and had built a navigation app for people to find their way around James Cook University. Although Stephensen had only built the one app, Anear admired his eagerness so brought him along for the journey (he’s still with the company today).

In the six years since the 2011 launch of SafetyCulture’s flagship product – the iAuditor app and platform – the company has become the largest safety and quality database in the world, collecting 16 million safety and quality responses per month across more than 80 countries. In addition to boasting the likes of Qantas, Hilton, Coca-Cola, Schneider Electric, London City Airport and Coles amongst its clients, the company has raised AU$46 million from investors including Atlassian co-founder Scott Farquhar. To manage growth, Anear has had to assemble a workforce of more than 100 full-time staff, spread across offices in Townsville, Sydney, Manchester in the UK and Kansas City in the US.

Anear spoke with Dynamic Business about the strategies that have propelled SafetyCulture to global success, the mantra he swears by, what it’s like building a business in Townsville, Queensland and The New Hustle –  the documentary he produced (and starred in, alongside the co-founders of Canva and Vinomofo) to shine a light on the realities of growing a successful startup.

DB: What is it SafetyCulture does to keep workers safe on the job?

Anear: Through our mobile-first technology, we’re empowering frontline workers to report safety issues quickly to prevent incidents from occurring. Our iAuditor app and platform simplify the auditing process by making it easy for anyone to effectively manage safety and quality from a mobile device. Teams rely on the app and platform to create smart checklists, conduct on-site inspections, analyse data and share insights in real time. By elevating the standards of safety and quality, SafetyCulture users are driving a worldwide movement to save time – and lives – on the job.

DB: What key decisions and strategies have unlocked growth?

Anear: In terms of key strategies…not being afraid to give people a chance to prove themselves in roles they don’t have experience in. That has served us really well, particularly early on, because instead of waiting for the perfect person for each role, we would give people a chance to do their best work long before they were ready. For instance, Brandon Cook was a 17-year-old when he walked through our doors with his resume and asked for a job as an engineer. We gave him some tests, and he blitzed them, so we offered him a role and he has been an awesome team member. We haven’t been able to do that as much lately, but we wouldn’t be where we are today if we hadn’t taken a risk on people in the past.

In terms of key decisions… choosing to build for iOS first. Originally, we couldn’t afford to build for both iOS and Android – so, we made the decision to build on iOS which has had a higher percentage of paid customers, which has helped us significantly.

DB: How long did it take to develop customer traction globally?

Anear: SafetyCulture was global from day one. In fact, even before our team became aware of it, global companies were using the iAuditor app.

DB: Can you pinpoint a key moment in the company’s trajectory?

Anear: Once we had about 40 people working on product from 2015, we could really start to build much faster, which helped us grow significantly.

DB: What was a key challenge early on and what still challenges you?

Anear: People. People. People. It is the hardest part of building a great company. We are constantly looking for more amazing people to join our teams and lead different parts of our business.

DB: What about building a startup in Townsville – was that a challenge?

Anear:  Starting a tech company in Townsville meant we only had a small talent pool to draw from, so we have had to work extremely hard to attract the best people we could find. In December 2015, we opened the Sydney office and that allowed us to grow faster and find people with some great experience.

DB: What is the best thing about being headquartered in Townsville?

Anear: The best thing about the Townsville office is that there is no traffic and it is five minutes to the office, home and beach!

DB: What is the mantra you swear by in your company – and why?

Anear: Stay hungry and stay humble. We can’t afford to be complacent and we constantly feel like it is day one, everyday. We have so much work to do, but we need to show up each day with humility and self-awareness so we can grow personally at the same rate that the opportunity requires us to. Growing personally to be three times more effective in our roles every year is the hardest part of being in a high-growth company.

DB: Let’s talk The New Hustle – why did you don the filmmaker hat?   

Anear: I started working on The New Hustle as a passion project on the side. I saw a huge opportunity for Australia to participate in the technology boom and after working through some ideas, I arrived on a format that would best give people an inside look into what drives Australian entrepreneurs.

The aim of The New Hustle was to make the technology and startup space more relatable for the broader community. Australians are strong early adopters of technology – we love the convenience it gives us, the educational and entertainment value, and of course connecting with friends and family over the plethora of messaging apps.

We’re giving Australians a rare, insider’s look at how tech companies like Vinomofo, Canva, and SafetyCulture are created, and more importantly, the reasons why. Ultimately, I wanted to show that it really is just normal people who create technology that improves our daily life.