SafetyCulture founder Luke Anear on why he closed his startup’s San Francisco office

Luke Anear

SafetyCulture founder Luke Anear.

Workplace safety startup SafetyCulture has closed its San Francisco office just one year after setting up operations in Silicon Valley.

SafetyCulture founder and chief executive Luke Anear says that while the startup’s other offices in Kansas, Manchester and Sydney are continuing to perform well, he made the decision to exit San Francisco after encountering challenges in time and culture management.

The Sydney-based startup, which offers a workplace safety platform for the construction industry, is now looking to double-down by growing its teams in Sydney, Kansas and Manchester.

“At the end of the day it felt like having our product and marketing under one roof [in Sydney] was best way to go,” Anear tells StartupSmart. 

“The San Francisco office was home to our marketing team and we believed it was in the best interest of the company to have this team relocate to Sydney,” Anear says.

Sydney’s startup ecosystem has attracted plenty of attention in recent weeks, after plans were revealed for a $35 million, 11-storey startup hub in the CBD, as well as a new co-working hub at the Australian Technology Park.

“Sydney had changed a bit in that time [since establishing the San Francisco office]. It felt like the right thing to do was run [our marketing operations] from Sydney,” Anear says. 

“Our core product team work from our Sydney office and sitting the marketing team alongside them will allow for better collaboration and growth.”

The time difference between the US and Australia proved to be a crucial roadblock for the startup, which had nine employees based in San Francisco.

“Giving someone the task to lead marketing from the US [means that at] any time we would have to be on a Skype call or wait seven hours; when you add that up it makes it harder,” Anear says.

He says having a marketing team based offshore “over complicates things”, and that the rapid rate of product evolution and change meant that decision-making was slowed down due to time differences.

“We are making many decisions every day … it felt like we were doing less than 5% of what we started out to do,” he says.

Finding the right cultural fit

Anear describes San Francisco as “more of a tech bubble” and in SafetyCulture’s experience, having some of the “world’s best engineers and products” in one location meant “finding a team that stays committed is a challenge”.

“The average time in a company is 10 months,” Anear says, noting that for companies to retain employees in Silicon Valley they “need a good culture and purpose-driven team … if you don’t have a great one, people don’t stay”.

Anear says that while SafetyCulture’s Kansas office has a “fantastic” culture, building a product in Sydney meant that the marketing team in San Francisco “didn’t have the dynamic of a product [in San Francisco]” to drive efficient marketing. 

“The pros of the San Francisco office closure means we can keep the marketing teams working and collaborating together,” he says.

“Having the marketing team centralised in the engine room, that is next to engineering and product, maximises the output of creativity and product development.”

What’s next

Anear says SafetyCulture doesn’t have “ambitions to expand” in to any new locations for the time being, and will instead look at growing its existing offices. The startup closed a $30 million Series B funding raise in October last year. 

SafetyCulture’s Sydney branch has grown from one to 110 staff members within two-and-a-half years, and Anear predicts they will “double that in a year or so”.

“When I went in to Sydney with one person and a tiny office over in Chippendale we could never have imagined this,” Anear says.

“The Sydney talent pool has increased over the past two years quite a bit.

“Two years from now Sydney will continue to evolve — I have faith in Australia and Sydney’s ability to keep growing.”

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