Startup News & Analysis

“Expect the wheels to fall off on culture”: How SafetyCulture is refreshing itself after a year of massive growth

Dominic Powell /

Despite closing down its San Franciso office after just one year of operation in the States, Australian workplace safety startup SafetyCulture’s story for the past few years has been one of growth and learning.

The startup, founded by Luke Anear out of his garage in 2004, has performed over 300 million safety checks using its iAuditor application, and has onboarded 15,000 organisations — 7,500 in the last year alone — to use its platform across its offices in Sydney, Kansas City, Manchester and Manila.

The startup has gone from 85 staff 12 months ago to over 200, with more hired everyday.

But Anear tells StartupSmart this growth hasn’t been without some trials, with the founder pouring much more time and effort into the culture of his startup than ever before.

“Culture is now the number one priority for me, where it used to be product. Back in the garage all it used to be about was product and customers, but now it’s about maintaining the right culture in the business,” Anear says.

“If you build the right culture you can build the right products for your customers.”

The company is now much better at screening its potential hires, and where potential employees used to get hired off the back of “having a chair and a laptop”, SafetyCulture now puts far more time and effort into its hiring process.

“In Sydney we’re doing eight job interviews a day. There’s one happening in the room right next to me right now,” he says.

Eight people now work in the startup’s “people” team, which came into being last year and whose focus is hiring and supporting the best people. But figuring out what “investing in people” looked like took Anear some time.

“Another thing we’re working on for our culture is building a leadership framework. I’ve never thought about what it means to be a great leader in a company, so we’re looking at what leadership means and how we can support people to do their best work,” he says.

“And for people who aren’t doing their best work, we figure out what their best work looks like and continually support them until they achieve it.”

SafetyCulture’s culture refresh wasn’t spurred on by a large incident, says Anear, but rather a culmination of little things. He uses the example of wiping down tables after the team uses them, saying they used to do that all the time in the early days but the team began to lapse and leave it to the cleaners.

These little things will always happen in growing startups, says Anear.

“You’ve got to expect the wheels to fall off on culture here and there. Not every hire works out, and not every person can work in this environment,” he says.

“It can be hard to build out culture while staying like a startup and scaling like a big company. It’s tough to maintain that balance.”

Fresh offerings

The Queensland-based business has recently launched an incident-reporting app called Spotlight, which was born out of the company’s analysis of how its customers were using its primary product, iAuditor.

Though iAuditor was built as a checklist app for managing safety and quality in workplaces, the team began to notice thousands of incident reports being filed on the platform, despite it not being built for it.

This gave Anear an opportunity to listen to his customers and see the next problem the team could solve for them, introducing Spotlight as a way to let the appropriate people know when incidents occur, in real time.

“Today that’s done through phone calls, emails and WhatsApp, but all these mixed messages can be confusing. We want to give people a right way to alert the right people when things go wrong,” he says.

SafetyCulture’s last capital raise was in 2016, when the company completed one of the largest funding rounds of the year with a $30 million Series B, a round Anear said at the time the startup wasn’t even looking to raise. The startup also counts Atlassian co-founder Scott Farquhar as one of its investors.

Today, the founder says it’s a “watch this space” scenario regarding further funding rounds for the business, but notes it still has around $20 million of its $30 million raise in the bank.

Anear appearred in the recent documentary The New Hustle, which tells the stories of SafetyCulture, Canva and Vinomofo as their founders built their companies from nothing. Speaking about SafetyCulture’s first app name, iJSA, he said it was “the worst name in the world”.

Anear believes he’s on the second echelon of startups in the local scene, sharing the podium with the likes of Canva and Culture Amp and overshadowed only by Atlassian and some other larger tech firms. Asked about the best way to get more early stage startups to SafetyCulture’s level, Anear said he wasn’t sure how else to achieve that except through “passionate people creating successful products”.

“With the federal budget coming up, the government could play a role in stimulating innovation and some of that could be through competitive processes such as the DARPA driverless vehicle challenges,” he says.

“This lets founders contribute ideas and build things for prizes and worldwide recognition.”

Looking to the future, Anear says he wants SafetyCulture to reach over 100 million people, and to become the global standard for safety and quality management.

With that goal in mind, he says the startup is on the way there, but acknowledges he and his business still have much to learn.

“We’re just at the beginning. We’re still learning to build a product at scale, and it’s taken the last six years to learn that. And we’re only just learning how to build teams and support them,” he says.

“And once you take on funding, you solve problems differently than how you would have prior to the funding. The hardest part of growing is continuing to grow at the rate of opportunity.”

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Dominic Powell

Dominic is the features and profiles editor at SmartCompany.

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