SafetyCulture founder Luke Anear on how to use emotion to grow a multimillion-dollar startup

Luke Anear, SafetyCulture

Photo by Belinda Pratten

Luke Anear is currently focused on securing market dominance for his workplace safety apps, but his fast-growing startup SafetyCulture is a long way from where his entrepreneurial career started.

Before approaching a developer to help him create a product that would empower workers on the ground to complete vital occupational health and safety checklists to prevent injury and death of employees, Anear dabbled in roles as a manager, private investigator, gym operator, photographer and videographer for self-help king Tony Robbins.

He’s now focused on preventing worker injury and death through the use SafetyCulture’s apps iAuditor and Spotlight, with more than 30 million site inspections being completed using the technology. The company has gained the support of Atlassian co-founder Scott Farquhar, and now turns over approximately $10 million each year. 

SmartCompany spoke to Anear about what’s missing in entrepreneurial education in Australia, and how business leaders can make their staff think big. 

Before SafetyCulture, I was working as a private investigator, running a group of people looking at workplace injuries.

Lessons I learned from that background would be that every worker deserves to go home at the end of the day, and that there’s a way to universally manage safety and quality across all parts of the world.

There were a couple of things that started the business, a couple of deaths that started it. There was a 36-year-old fellow who had committed suicide after getting injured at work, and we also saw a boy die in a house in Penrith putting roof insulation in.

The other thing I took away from that experience is that the value of a life is the same regardless of where you come from.

The whole [OH&S] industry was a reactive model, and compliance was the goal, which is just a crappy goal. The idea was, “let’s build an app on the phone and see if that works”. Something that people could do without any management involvement, without any IT teams behind them, so that everyday workers could now maintain standards.

I think technology has not done a good enough job on this [safety] yet; software should learn people, people shouldn’t have to learn software. Technology in the past hasn’t evolved to the point it is accessible for everyone, and I think it’s still got a long way to go.

I was a non-technical founder. I went out to a university and found a young student Alan, Alan had built one app before and was keen to build another one.

I think you’ll see more and more non-technical company founders in future. We’ll see more people building tech companies; it’s easier to join the dots.

From day one, people could download a free app, and then they would pay if they wanted to export a Word or .csv file. We had no cloud backend then, but now there’s a cloud back end, and that paves the way for software as a service.

I always try to position us as way cheaper than people would expect. Our mission is to make safety and quality available to every worker in the world, and our customers have always told us we could be charging more. But our goal was to never make the most money out of them.

There are two main themes to what I do. When I grew up with my mother, we never had enough money to do anything fun, so I figured out how to make money. Then, I thought, we need to do something in this world that makes a difference.

I was Tony Robbins’ videographer for four years, flying around the world meeting all sorts of different people. I got to meet all these different people, and I think that made me put things in perspective in terms of solving problems.

Tony is very focused and he understands and uses emotion very well to move to drive action.

And we do things now like SafetyCulture Experiences [where staff can go on site visits]; that’s how we get the emotion.

I’ve seen 2,500 cases where people have been injured at work, but most of our team have never experienced that. Having them face-to-face with a widow who has lost someone to a building collapse, then they’re motivated to do something about it.

It comes back to purpose — you’ve got to have a compelling purpose that makes people want to join you.

The most difficult thing so far with SafetyCulture is definitely about the people and the teams, and finding great people and empowering them to be effective.

It’s getting people to think about how to solve problems at scale; getting people to think big enough is the biggest challenge. This is because we’re products of an industrialised education system, which doesn’t encourage you to thing creatively.

This is the greatest boom in all of history. This tech boom is affecting more industries than ever before, [and] most Australian businesses don’t understand how to participate.

A successful Australian company is one that can use the efficiencies to solve global problems.

Any repeated manual task in the workforce will be replaced, and getting people to think at that scale and how we solve the problems that haven’t yet been solved, that’s the challenge. To get the kids coming through today and adults to be retrained to think, “how do we solve problems in a way that lets us compound the learning?”

We don’t any revenue goals, but we want to see 1 million people over the next two years using our product — 1 million paid users. We want to have 1 million monthly subscribers — the dollars are all a byproduct.

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