Quality of life key for software innovators
Posted on Wednesday 4 December 2019
With a flourishing software start-up and a family of three girls, it made perfect sense for Jeremy and Melissa Banks to grow their business from Nelson.
Plink software creates kaupapa Māori software for a range of applications including language learning and iwi whakapapa management. Recently, Plink was nominated as a finalist for the New Zealand Innovation Awards, in the Excellence in Social Innovation category and also the Innovation in Māori Development category, where they received a Highly Commended award for their language app Tipu.
The team of four, which includes software developer Josh Post and account manager Melissa Waldren, is based at Bridge Street Collective, a co-working space that was one of New Zealand’s first.
“We started out hotdesking, then shared a full-time desk, then eventually took over an office upstairs,” Jeremy Banks, the company’s founder, says.
Banks has whakapapa to Ngāti Rārua, Ngāti Kuia and Rangitāne at the top of the South, and is on the board of Wakatu Inc. and the Nelson Regional Economic Development Agency. The couple lived in Wellington for 18 years before their move to Nelson several years ago with their three girls, once their business became self-sustaining. Though he hadn’t lived in the region before, it was an obvious choice; with iwi governance roles, he was already commuting from Wellington regularly.
“We have a lot of family over here so it did feel like a natural target,” he says. “And comparing the weather as I got on and off the plane made it pretty clear that would be a good idea. It was an easy decision: ‘We said ‘Okay, we’re going’.”
He says the move has been “fantastic” for the family.
“It’s been a really cool move. In terms of quality of life, we love living in a smaller place with a nice climate like Nelson.
“We love Wellington, but having our girls growing up in a place where they are mana whenua was a big driver for us; they spend a lot more time at their marae, they are into kapa haka and spending time learning about their tūpuna. From a business perspective, we are a lot closer to our customer base and we are aligned with what’s going on.”
They have found Nelson’s growing younger demographic welcome, and the city receptive to developing new connections between everyone in the tech industry. “There are a whole lot of younger tech people doing cutting-edge, cool stuff. I think Nelson has that great mix of lifestyle, as a fantastic place to live and raise children and be, coupled with a really exciting base of things going on. There are cool workspaces, cool opportunities. It really is about that balance.”
He says it doesn’t mean everyone starts at 10am and finishes at 3pm – he runs a start-up, after all – but after that hard work, it’s just a lot easier to enjoy the rest of your life; and that means the hard work becomes more sustainable and a business has a better chance of success.
“We work bloody hard, which is normal in this situation. But life still does feel easier, nicer, calmer than it did. I knew that it would be, but I really have been surprised by how much calmer life does feel. Telling the girls to jump on your bike and go round to your cousin’s is so much more feasible here than it ever would be in a bigger place.”
The company’s goal is to connect Māori to their language and whakakapa, and its software uses modern technology to help users solve traditional issues: learning Te Reo Māori, learning and accessing your whakapapa, accessing demographic data about your own people and connecting Māori to their iwi organisations.
Tipu makes learning te reo Māori fun and easy, and is also used in schools; Koi Translations allows users to translate between Te Reo Māori and English using Facebook Messenger; and Te Ao Hunga is a software-as-a-service product that is designed to make it easier for iwi to manage members and whakapapa. Plink also creates websites.
The main difference of approaching the software industry from a kaupapa Māori perspective is the nature of with whom they’re working, the relationships they form with their clients, and what they’re trying to achieve, Banks says. It’s a social mission, as well as a tech solution.
“The purpose of what we’re doing is pretty front and centre and we are all very aware of it and excited by it as well,” he says. “I was managing software organisations and had done my thing for quite a while, and the genesis for this was funding from the Māori Language Commission to build an app to help people speak Māori.
“It’s not a massive market; I didn’t do the business case and think ‘Cool that’s going to make a lot of money’,” he says. “Instead it was like, all tech should be in this space and it’s not, and it could be really impactful. I felt compelled to be a part of that.”
However, making tech solutions like these financially sustainable was also an important factor.
“One of the challenges in the Te Reo space is there is a huge focus on funding avenues and who’s going to fund what, which means often we don’t go through the thought process of how to turn something into a product that has its own financial sustainability, which justifies itself and proves its value? I think that’s really important. That’s how good ideas become real things.”
To discover more about living and working in Nelson Tasman click here.