How new tech connects people with authentic cultural experiences

New tech is unlocking ways to connect with Māori culture, but the tech is just part of the equation.

Māori startup, Arataki Cultural Trails, develops content and tech for unique cultural experiences based on a user’s location.

Or, as the startup’s Founder and CEO, Lee Timutimu likes to say, they’ve created “a cultural storytelling app that allows you to unlock cultural stories when in-location”.

The team has already created an experience at Mauao (Mount Maunganui) in Tauranga, which gives cultural history insights of this mountain’s Māori past.

To gain access to the experience, visitors to Mauao just need to download the app onto their mobile devices before they arrive onsite.

The tech unlocks an entirely new field of tourism and cultural discovery in New Zealand.

Timutimu says his startup achieves this by developing customised mobile apps and specialist-content delivery platforms.

Founded in November 2016, Arataki Cultural Trails has quickly grown to include many of Timutimu’s friends and family as key employees.

This approach isn’t one that many founders opt for, but it makes perfect sense for this startup – its needs a blend of cultural ties and technology nous.

READ: Family matters – the challenge of a family business

Soon after founding the company, Timutimu brought on younger brother Denym Harawira as CIO, close family friend Clayton Low as CTO and first cousin Anaru Timutimu as COO.

With Timutimu’s 16 years’ experience (and counting) in tech and Māori storytelling, they made their own dream team.

Combining these talents with a knack for building relationships among the Kiwis, Timutimu sees his startup as the ideal place for his passions for developing tech while enhancing Māori storytelling.

The tech stack that Arataki Cultural Trails developed includes a range of hardware and software, which was implemented before the content could be added.

Before any of that work could happen, Timutimu and his team had to decide how it would make money.

Early on, the team decided it would approach regional councils, offering their tech in a software-as-a-service (SaaS) format.

“Councils pay a subscription to use our platform by sharing cultural content at places of cultural significance to engage with their communities,” explained Timutimu.

“Other revenue generators in the pipeline are in-app purchases offering things like access to premium content, language packs and local business advertising.”

But local councils are just the beginning.


Going global


While it’s still early days, Timutimu is eyeing global expansion.

And although their first aim is to bridge the cultural gap between New Zealand communities, they’ve already landed a customer in South Australia for the Ngarrindjeri people.

“This is our first official foray into the global market,” said Timutimu. “But we believe that wherever there are Indigenous people with cultural stories to share, then that’s where we want to be.”

Arataki Cultural Trails’ growth strategy hinges on the team’s capacity to find new clients while maintaining their standards of service – both of which require cash.

But the team keeps costs down by bootstrapping as much as they can.

“We’ve not outsourced any part of it,” he said. “This is important to us because we have forged our own path and effectively taken control of our destiny.”

“We’ve proven that we have the expertise, knowledge and experience in-house to create NZ’s first proximity-based cultural content delivery platform – not bad for four Māori boys from the Bay of Plenty!”

But going global with a bootstrapping mentality isn’t without its challenges.

Because the company is first-to-market in New Zealand, there’s no blueprint to follow – this means they’ve spent more time and resources on strategy and product development.

And that’s how a small amount of support went such a long way for the business.

READ: A quick guide to startup funding


Kokiri accelerates Māori startup success


The company was among the first cohort of Māori businesses selected to work with Kokiri – an accelerator set up to specifically work with Māori-run startups.

“Being selected to work with Kokiri was a great privilege and honour for us,” said Timutimu. “Some of the practical benefits that we received from being a part of the accelerator included exposure to business advisory and services, meeting industry-knowledge experts, networking opportunities as well as increasing our public profile.

“But I have to say that the best thing we got out of the Kokiri accelerator was forming a strong bond with the other founders.”

And for a startup dedicated to bridging cultural gaps, the chance to network with other business founders in the Māori community was priceless.

“We formed quite a strong sense of whanaungatanga (kinship), which saw us genuinely supportive of each other, whether in regard to business or personally,” explained Timutimu.

“This is something that is quite special and something that has definitely helped us develop the business because of the support that was wrapped around us during the entire program.”

READ: How NZ can strengthen its startup ecosystem