Lee Timutimu combined his experience with technology and Māori storytelling and used it to create a novel startup: Arataki Systems. But his journey demonstrates that success in business is as much about drive as it is knowledge or skill, writes Kellie Byrnes.
Lee Timutimu is a tech entrepreneur with a passion for connecting people with culture, tradition and landscape. It’s little wonder that the company he founded, Arataki Systems, specialises in guided walking apps designed to share Māori culture with the world.
In fact, Timutimu had dedicated two decades of his career to the fields of both tech and Māori storytelling, so he was well equipped to combine these two passions in launching Arataki.
Educating tourists and locals alike, Timutimu said the goal is for “as many people as possible to be able to access, and learn, and be educated by these stories that are quite important to the fabric of this land, and to other indigenous lands as well”.
“What I’m trying to create is something that will have an impact on generations to come,” he said.
“It’s an intergenerational aspiration, so it’s not just about my lifetime, it’s about my kids, my grandkids, and all of the people that come after them.
“It’s about intergenerational impact.”
These values are the way Timutimu and his team lives and breathes, and they’re evident in the way Arataki Systems operates.
It’s almost as if Timutimu is operating the company as a community service more than an aspirational tech startup.
“My friend said: ‘Arataki Systems’ goal is not to make a million dollars; the goal is to share a million stories.’
“That’s what we’re all about. We’re not about making money.
“It’s important to make money to enable you to do the things that you want to do, but actually what we’re about is trying to have an impact in terms of cultural stories at scale.”
Timutimu credits his upbringing with helping him to become a businessman today.
“I was the son of a single parent, solo-mum family.
“I also grew up with a very supportive Māori family, with a number of strong female role models in it.”
And the strongest role model among them, of course, was Timutimu’s mother.
“I’ve learned a lot of my characteristics and the kinds of attributes that I take into business, as well as into life, through my mum,” he said.
Starting a tech-led business with such strong cultural significance requires a unique blend of skills, but it’s Timutimu’s non-technical traits that have truly helped the organisation to go from strength to strength.
“One of the things I’ve learnt during my experience with this business, along my entrepreneurial journey, is how far passion can take you.
“Believing in something strongly enough, when nobody else does, can actually take you far.”
With no detailed plan for his business at the beginning, Timutimu had the concept and knew there was something there, but couldn’t quite put his finger on what it was.
“At the very beginning, it was just a concept with no real guts to it.
“But I had enough passion for the idea to keep moving forward with the whole thing.”
This commitment and focus helped Timutimu to turn that idea into an actual business with real direction – an occurrence that he considered to be somewhat out of character at the time.
“I’d come up with some ideas, but never do anything about them and I did that for many, many years.
“But then there was a point in my life where I thought, enough is enough; let’s start putting some of those words into action.
“Today, I’m all about action.”
And when it comes to lending advice to entrepreneurs at the start of their business path, Timutimu advocates the same kind of mindset.
“Definitely come up with ideas, but also take the next step and do something about it.
“Ideas are great, but if you’re not going to do anything about them, there’s really no point. So just go for it.”
Of course, turning his idea into an operational business wasn’t an overnight project for Timutimu. Plenty of challenges needed overcoming first.
One of the most prominent issues was (as it is for so many people launching a startup) lack of money.
But there was also an upside to that problem.
“When you have nothing, you’ve got to think quite cleverly – another word for that is innovation.”
The other significant challenge Timutimu and his team faced was finding enough time to get everything done.
“We were all in day jobs, working for other companies, so the first year of our journey was pretty much side hustling hard.
“Bootstrapping is an important part of the process.”
But, as he’s quick to point out, holding on to his regular day job and making sure he was never in a position of desperation put Timutimu in a good place to slowly sort out his startup processes.
“I was working as an IT support manager, but I just hated it, and I found myself working a lot on my business whenever I could.
“I didn’t take the leap to quit my job until I was sure about my business, though.”
The earliest sign Timutimu had that the venture could be a success was when the first customer, Tauranga City Council came on board.
“This first customer, in our home, on our home ground, signed up and it hit home that, hey, we might have created something here that’s worth something to someone – there’s a demand for it!”
Since then, new customers have continued to sign up and now the plan for Arataki is to scale their virtual walking experiences nationwide.
“This means more stories will be available at more locations around New Zealand.”
Following on from that, the sky’s the limit.
“We’ve built an indigenous content delivery platform, so we’re going to go out into the world and share what we’ve built with other indigenous peoples.”
To achieve these goals, Timutimu is always considering ways to manage his time better.
“Being time poor is the worst part of running my business.”
Fortunately, the use of MYOB software is assisting with this challenge.
In particular, Timutimu uses it to generate invoices, streamline accounting tasks, keep an eye on cashflow, and handle payroll.
“I recommend MYOB because it’s simple to use,” he said.
“It’s intuitive, which is important.
“MYOB is also helping me to make informed decisions.”
And even though there never seems to be enough time in the day, Timutimu’s passion is what continues to propel he and the business forward.
“What this process has really taught me,” he said, “is that you can be the best business person in the world, but there has to be some level of passion in there, in the mix, for you to really take things seriously and be able to build something.”