Kōrero with Amber Taylor, CEO of ARA Journeys

October 26, 2023
The aspiration for ARA Journeys has been described as a “distinctly Māori, tech company to promote health and wellbeing through a Te Ao Māori lens.” We spoke to co-founder and CEO, Amber Taylor about the journey so far and the values that underpin her pakihi.

Kia ora Amber, thank you for taking the time to kōrero with us. Ko wai koe nō hea koe? Can you tell us a little about who you are and where you’re from?

Kia ora. He uri au nō Ngāti Whātua, Te Rarawa, Ngapuhi, Ngāti Mutunga, me Te Ati Awa. Ko Amber Taylor tōku ingoa. My name is Amber Taylor. On my mum’s side, my tūpuna are from the beautiful North. While on my dad’s side, I’m from Urenui, Taranaki. I was born and raised in South Auckland and still live here today. My partner of 25 years runs his own Engineering business, and together we have two tamariki - a son (23), a daughter (15), and a moko, aged 2. I wear a few pōtae for mahi, but the most prominent one is the CEO of ARA Journeys.

For those of us who don’t work in the gaming and digital storytelling space, can you tell us about your organisation, how it came to be, and what you do?

ARA Journeys is a SaaS/GaaS company that uses advanced technologies to celebrate our shared human heritage. As indigenous storytellers, we strive to reignite your sense of wonder in the places that embody our legends. Our digital platforms incorporate gamification, AI, AR, and VR to create immersive experiences that bring history and culture to life.

We collaborate with Iwi and other indigenous communities worldwide to preserve and share their stories with respect for diversity, cultural appreciation, and understanding. We aim to use technology to connect and reconnect people with the taiao and the places that matter.

I co-founded the company with Dr Isaac Warbrick in 2018. Today, we have a small team of Māori developers and artists, and remain 100% Māori owned and operated. Our platforms are used across multiple sectors: education, health, environment, and tourism. We are ethical game developers building the real-world metaverse: weaving Indigenous wisdom, preserving global languages, and uniting humanity for a connected future.

If you don’t mind sharing, how did you raise the pūtea to start your pakihi?

We began with an idea and a PowerPoint presentation. With the help of a few supporters who believed in us, we secured a small amount of funding. We hired a company to develop a minimum viable product (MVP) and launched it at a major community event, where it received a lot of positive feedback and media attention. Eight weeks after the launch, we landed our first major contract, enabling us to establish the company. We have been steadily growing ever since.

What are the values that underpin your business and how do they drive what you do?

Our company operates based on six key values that guide our actions and beliefs.

Whanaungatanga at ARA Journeys is about fostering a sense of community, collaboration, and mutual support among employees, stakeholders, and customers. It involves recognising the interconnectedness of all individuals and valuing their contributions.

Kaitiakitanga manifests through sustainable practices and responsible use of technology. It includes considering the long-term impacts of products and services on the environment, safeguarding indigenous knowledge and data in the digital realm, and ensuring our future generations are connected.

Manaakitanga at ARA is about creating an inclusive and supportive work environment and treating employees, customers, and partners with dignity and respect. This involves providing excellent customer service, prioritising the well-being and needs of individuals, and promoting positive interactions.

We honour tikanga by incorporating cultural protocols and practices into our operations, decision-making processes, and product/service development. At times this may involve consultation with Māori leaders, advisors and communities to ensure we are respectful in our approaches and interactions.

We acknowledge the significance of whakapapa by valuing our employees' diverse backgrounds and experiences. We integrate mātauranga, reo Māori, and tikanga within the company, fostering a sense of identity, belonging and connection.

Rangatiratanga is about empowering and encouraging leadership and decision-making at all levels. We provide opportunities for our employees, interns, apprentices, and rangatahi scholarship recipients to develop into senior roles and contribute to shaping the company's direction.

By embodying these core values, we have created a company ethos and distinctive identity that reflects and respects our culture while fostering innovation, collaboration, and sustainability within the technology sector.

Being a CEO is just as much about leadership as it is about the bottom line. What advice do you have for other people in management positions who are trying to balance the two?

People over spreadsheets, always! As the CEO, my primary responsibility is to provide my team with the necessary support and resources to help them grow and prosper. Burnout is a common issue in our industry, and I monitor it continuously. My team's well-being, happiness, and health are paramount to me. Having motivated and dedicated staff is crucial for the company's success.

You’re a proud wahine Māori working a traditionally male-dominated industry. This is a big patai but how do we encourage more women, especially rangatahi to consider a career in tech?

A lot of work is happening across Aotearoa to foster a vibrant and inclusive tech industry that encourages more women, especially rangatahi, to pursue exciting careers in technology. We can inspire young women to embrace the tech world through comprehensive education, increased awareness, and positive role models. By challenging biases and stereotypes, celebrating achievements, and providing supportive environments, we can create pathways for success and nurture the talents of our future workforce. I would love to see more collaboration and partnerships between communities, educational institutions, and tech companies, as this will help drive this positive change.

By recognising and representing women's contributions, offering scholarships and awards, and promoting leadership, we can shape a future where women are thriving and making significant contributions to the tech industry in Aotearoa.

What is a challenge you are currently facing in your pakihi and how are you working through it?

At ARA, we take pride in creating one-of-a-kind platforms and games. However, this often requires extensive in-house research and development to ensure we have a strong foundation to build upon. To aid us in this process, we have partnered with two of the world's leading software development and gaming companies, allowing us to access their valuable expertise and resources whenever necessary. By forming partnerships and collaborating with others, we have been able to work more efficiently and consistently innovate, keeping us at the forefront of our industry.

Celebrating the day-to-day wins is important. What do you (and your team or whānau) do to celebrate the wins at ARA?

My team and I are discussing how to improve our celebration of achievements. We are located across different areas, from Ruakaka to Tāmaki Makaurau and Kirikiriroa. While we haven't found a permanent solution, we've established a monthly online gathering to celebrate our successes. In saying that, we talk online daily, so also celebrate wins as they happen.

Where can our Whāriki whānau find ARA Journeys to stay updated with your latest projects?

Visit our website or follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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