Proud Māori entrepreneur Aaron Ward’s software company AskNicely has won Hi-Tech Kamupene Māori o te Tau – Māori Company of the Year at a glitzy New Zealand Hi-Tech Awards.
Ward (Ngāti Maru), who says “Māori kids need Māori heroes”, is the founder and CEO of the Auckland-based company AskNicely “helping businesses make every customer experience a success”. With teams in the US and Europe, AskNicely serves millions of customers across the world.
Its software allows companies to hear real-time kōrero, the feedback of customers and frontline workers, and translate this into “deeper and richer customer experiences”.
“So proud to be Māori, so proud to be a New Zealander,” Ward said, receiving the award on Friday evening in Christchurch.
“We’re building a product for the world by people from all around the world.”
AskNicely was a finalist alongside Checkmate, which streamlines the process of “onboarding” new employees, Earshots, who are developers of new technology for securing headphones to your ears, Envico Technologies, the creators of innovative solutions that protect the environment and enhance biodiversity, and Paku which is re-imaging the design of traditional toys, tools and games used in Aotearoa.
“As Māori, as Pasifika, the explorer gene is pre-loaded into our DNA - and I think that gives us an unfair advantage over the rest of the world,” said Ward.
“It’s time for us to stop being shy about this. As Māori we can build technology businesses of significance. I’m extremely proud to be one of those, alongside the others you saw on the screen.”
Ward said because they have a big product release happening and the company’s whole business is based around appreciation, they had flown their whole executive team in from the US to celebrate their team.
“I’m just proud we’re bringing the team here to NZ, to Aotearoa. This is the spiritual birthplace of AskNicely.
“This is where the first vision came from. This is where the discovery work was done, the design work was done. This is where the building is done. And then we have the rest of our business, our teams in the US and in Europe that go out and market our product around the world.”
A haka rang out as Ward finished his kōrero.
Sir Ian Taylor, who introduced the Hi-Tech Kamupene Māori o te Tau award, acknowledged the Pacific voyaging tūpuna who were the original innovators.
“They were more than sailors, they were astronomers, astrologers, scientists, engineers, mathematicians, they were innovators - and today we stand on the paving stones and celebrate their footsteps that bring us here today.”
He also recognised a “great Māori innovator”, Grant Straker, who he said won one of the premium awards at the Hi-Tech Awards in 2013.
“He put out a challenge to all of us in the room, the Hi-Tech and Māori, and that challenge was ‘We need more Māori here tonight, not just working behind the bar”.