The COVID-19 pandemic has – among many other things – revealed quite how important health, safety and wellbeing really is. Whether it’s maintaining hygienic and COVID-safe workplaces or managing employee stress through extended periods of remote working, understanding and mitigating your risks in this area is vital.
For one business, the pandemic has been a double-edged sword: with opportunity contrasting with the challenge of business plans suddenly having to be put on hold. Since its launch in 2016, Safe365 has become the leading health and safety software player in the New Zealand market.
Its app-based service helps businesses of all sizes understand and manage their H&S performance and – crucially – aggregates proprietary data to provide valuable benchmarking information to help clients improve performance.
So the opportunity was clear: COVID meant that many businesses that had left health and safety to the very end of any conversation were suddenly scrambling to put in place effective policies to keep the lights on and their staff safe. However, the pandemic also meant an ambitious plan to crack new markets had to be postponed.
“It’s been an interesting few years and the growth we’ve achieved is great, says Nathan Hight, co-founder and director of the company. So, four years in, and having achieved genuine sustainable growth and a healthy market position both in NZ and Australia, naturally thoughts turn towards taking the company global, starting – as is the case for many companies from New Zealand – with the UK.
“In 2018 we accumulated some significant clients and began to look at the UK, after we’d notice we were getting sign-ups from countries around the world. And we always wanted to go global but we weren’t sure what markets to start with. And the UK, Australia and Singapore seemed like a good fit.”
It soon became clear that the company’s offering would thrive in a market that had a mature Software as a Service (SaaS) culture able to provide any new entrant with a pool of knowledgeable and eligible prospects.
By working both with companies direct as well as signing up advisers to use the product with their clients in many ways mirrored the successful path pioneered by fellow NZ tech success Xero. Extensive market validation work in the UK convinced Hight and co-founder Mark Kidd that the UK was the logical choice for the next step. But then COVID hit.
“That’s been the big challenge,” says Hight. “Trying to run a global export led business in the middle of a pandemic, represents a worst-case scenario. Because when you’ve got a new product going to market you need the founders there to really eyeball the market.”
“It’s fine in NZ, but it’s a lot more challenging in a place like the UK.” Despite that, the team successfully brought Heathrow Airport on board as a client, demonstrating not only that the application was hitting the right notes but also that it could succeed with a major blue-chip client outside the company’s home country.
There’s clearly a lot to build on once life returns to business as usual. And Hight is clear that while the prospects are encouraging, getting the basics in place to support the ambitious plans in a new market is vital.
“There’s a lot to think about: how you go about employing people, what kind of entity you’re going to set up, and how to establish it; how to get your banking arrangements set up – that was one the hardest things. These are fundamental things that you can’t do without: And that’s where Paul comes in: he helped us with that – he understands what we need and how to solve the problems we might face.”
“It’s always a good sign when the adviser understands the problem you’re trying to solve,” Hight says. “They can anticipate what you might encounter. So, if they can demonstrate that understanding it’s important – and it also helps to get a good quality human relationship in place.
“Especially with vital things like law, finance and accounting – we’re putting our livelihoods on the line so any slips will be serious; you don’t want to put yourself in the hands of someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing, or who you can’t trust.”
So as the end (hopefully) comes into sight, Hight and the team are getting ready to press start on growth plans for 2021.
“We’re looking forward to getting things going again, and the UK remains the key market for us,” he says. “And having the right advisers on the ground able to help us run things properly is a huge weight off our mind.”