Don't pretend: SafetyCulture's Luke Anear on how not to impress venture capitalists
Written on the 13 April 2018 by Ben Hall
He's a former private investigator who built an international multi-million dollar business from a suburban garage in Townsville, and Luke Anear admits he should have known better when trying to impress on his first meeting with a venture capital investor.
His company, SafetyCulture, had just developed its first app and the concept attracted the attention of Blackbird Venture Capital who sent its co-founder Rick Baker to Townsville to find out whether the fledgling workplace safety business was worth investing in.
"It took us 18 months to get our first app done and to be honest there were times when we had no idea what we were doing," Anear recalls.
"We managed to get the attention of Rick Baker (co-founder Blackbird Venture Capital) and we'd never met him and he wanted to come to our so-called office, our garage, to meet with us and see what we did.
"We were all really nervous and wanted to convince him we had global expansion in mind so we went out and bought eight $10 clocks and put them up on the walls with tape and we literally wrote underneath them 'New York', 'Tokyo' etcetera to give the impression we're across what's going on.
"While he was there Tokyo peeled off the wall and crashed to the ground and we were thinking 'this is really bad' but thankfully it didn't cost us. I think we got away with it."
"We ended up securing $2 million in our first round of funding with Blackbird in 2013 and even though we gave up 25 per cent for that, it was a deal that enabled us to really get going."
Speaking at the Global Entrepreneur and Investor Exchange event, as part of the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games Trade 2018 program, Anear says the motivating force behind SafetyCulture is to simply create something that "helps every worker go home safe every day".
SafetyCulture was set up by Anear in 2004 to reduce workplace injuries and death and in recent years it has developed its apps, iAuditor and Spotlight, to help companies in all sectors achieve safer workplaces. The apps have been used more than 30 million times to conduct inspections on site.
The company's flagship app, iAuditor, is the most used workplace safety app in the world and is used in more than 80 countries to perform millions of inspections.
Luke Anear was a former private investigator who carried out 2,500 workers compensation operations between 1997 and 2004 and he led surveillance investigations into mostly compensation claims.
This experience exposed him to the tragic consequences of workplaces and became the motivational force behind SafetyCulture. Rather than trying to work out how a person became injured or died in the workplace, he wanted to prevent this from actually happening.
"To be honest when I started out all I wanted to do was just get the job done. I didn't want a big company with lots of people, and I didn't want to be a CEO."
"Together, all we wanted to do was to develop this platform that would save lives and help get people home from their jobs safely each day."
Through that initial Blackbird deal in 2013, Anear was introduced to Scott Farquhar and Mike Cannon-Brookes, the co-founders and co-CEOs of Atlassian, and they became involved in SafetyCulture's development. Farquhar remains an adviser to the business.
"Those guys really opened my eyes to what was possible. They took a great deal of interest in what we were doing and they were the ones that really made me think big and look at what we were doing on a global scale."
Farquhar led SafetyCulture's second round of $2 million in 2014, its third round was $9 million with Morgan Stanley and in 2016, the company raised $30 million which was the largest VC investment that year. Anear says next month the company is hoping to complete its next raising of $50 million.
As for attracting talent, Anear says there needs to be more than just passion. He says a clear vision is also essential.
"We're in the age of the internet so we're all connected and it means we can build anything from anywhere as long as there is an internet connection.
"You have to have a vision that you are excited about and have something that others are going to be excited about as well. That is your pre-requisite for attracting talent.
"The big challenge (for scale-ups) is trying to convince others to join you on your journey and maybe one year later you have to convince them that you are actually going somewhere."
"There's more talent in APAC and the US that are now coming out to Australia and we've been trying to tap into that. They bring with them new ideas and ways of problem solving and we can really learn from that.
"We now have 190 staff and that has almost doubled over the past year and now our focus is on developing a culture to retain this talent.
Anear has kept his base in Townsville and also has an office in Sydney, along with 20 employees in Kansas City, 20 in Manchester and another 30 in Manila.
"We've been through the really tough parts of being a startup but we're not finished. The hardest part is developing faster and we aim to be three times better each year and that's a tough ask, I know.
"It's not good enough just maintaining the status quo and it all applies to me as well.
"If there's a better CEO out there than myself then I would be happy to let them take over. I have to constantly get better as well.
"None of us know all the answers and we're still on a steep learning curve and you know, sometime we just don't know the answer."
Business News Australia
Author: Ben Hall