How a Private Investigator With Zero Start-up Experience Created a $160m Company

He made health and safety a multi-million dollar business.

luke-anear

Until 2002, Luke Anear was a private investigator specialising in workplace accidents. As it was his job was to check in on those that made insurance claims, it occurred to him that the industry he worked within was more reactive, than preventative. Surely there was a way to avoid accidents from happening instead of investigating after someone was injured – or worse – while at work?

Luke began brainstorming ideas in attempts to streamline and digitise safety management in the workplace process and in 2004, launched SafetyCulture, which originally produced workplace safety documents.
“The mission and the purpose behind what we do is to help people go home each day and save lives,” Luke explains of his business vision. “Six thousand people die a day in a work place incident or illnesses around the world and we can help reduce that.”

The turning point for the company came in 2012 when they launched their app iAuditor. With no marketing, the app – which is essentially a safety inspection checklist – was downloaded 1,200 times in the first week alone. Now, I Auditor is widely used in over 80 different countries and count major corporations such as Hilton, Coca-Cola and Coles as clients. Further solidifying their place on the tech scene, SafetyCulture recently raised $30m in series B funding – the second largest venture capital raise in Australia this year – with investors like Index Ventures (who’ve also chipped in for tech frontrunner Slack, the fastest growing business app in history) and Atlassian’s Scott Farquhar getting in on the action.

Thanks to two outrageously successful funding rounds, SafetyCulture is now said to be valued at $160m, but its success is made all the more monumental when you consider the fact that Luke had very little business experience before launching his venture from his garage in Townsville all those years ago. Here, the private investigator-turned-entrepreneur tells us what he’s learnt along the way:

 

Actively seek out solutions

While Luke’s initial idea had the potential to scale and benefit a wide range of industries, he had no idea how to actually build an app to facilitate it. Undeterred, he sought out a friend through whom he met Alan Stephenson, the engineer that initially helped develop iAuditor. “It was about six months from start to finish; from where we first sat down at the kitchen table to when it became released and people starting downloading it straight away,” says Luke.

 

Learn from every failure

Before iAuditor, Luke and Alan created a risk assessment app called IJSA – I Have Job Safety Analysis – but it failed to take off. “It wasn’t flexible enough and so then we went back to the drawing board,” says Luke, who channelled the app’s short falls into iAuditor’s success. “If something’s failing, you need to recognise failure early and then adjust your approach.”

 

Focus on the product, not the pitch

While an irresistibly polished pitch is of paramount importance for most budding entrepreneurs, Luke chose a different tact in order to secure funding: create a product so alluring that venture capitalists come to you. The same goes for custom. SafetyCulture is enjoying a revenue growth of 500% in just one year, largely generated through the power of word of mouth. “We’ve only just started looking at how we can do marketing,” admits Luke. “We’ve got a website but we’ve never had sales people or ever rung customers to ask them to try our product.”

 

Choose your investors wisely

When it comes to investors Luke’s advice is simple; don’t work with them without any promise of funding. “You’ll work through business plans and pricing models and you’ll start to get a feel of what it’s like to work with these people every day,” explains Luke. “It’s like a marriage that you can’t get out of when you take investment and so you want to date your investor first.”

 

If it was easy, everyone would do it

“We had no idea whether it would be successful or not,” says Luke. “We also just had no appreciation for how hard it would be. Learning how to build teams and bring dozens of people together to try and build out all the different parts to this is so complex. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it and so I think that naivety served us well because if we knew how hard it was we probably never would have started. It’s constantly been a massive challenge.”

 

Embrace opportunity

“This is the most amazing time to be an innovator, to be alive,” raves Luke. “You can take an idea, create a product and get it to a customer on the other side of the world without having to really spend anything other than your time. This is the greatest boom in history and most people are still coming to terms with how they can participate in that and so if you’ve got a great internet connection, if you either know someone that can build software or you can find someone, then you can start a company that can change the world.”

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