There’s an abundance of creative talent bubbling and toiling away out in South Auckland- it is home to a host of social media royalty; You Tubers, Instagrammers, Podcast Producers, Content Creators, Musicians, Actors, Designers, Entrepreneurs and more. In the heart of Manukau city sits a cool innovation hub called GridMNK, managed by Manawa Udy and Mel Tautalanoa and the awesome team from Ngahere Communities. This is a creative space where business smarts and creative genius collide- Manawa describes Ngahere as “more like a movement than a business.” It’s all about Values, Purpose and Impact.
In our current Covid world, the Ngahere way of operating and nurturing creative and entrepreneurial talent, seems more relevant than ever before.
We spoke to Manawa about how Ngahere Communities navigated the Covid-19 crisis and are thriving.
- Describe Ngahere Communities – what do you do?
We are more like a movement than a business. We are a community of creators, innovators and entrepreneurs in South Auckland.
Ngahere Communities operates GridMNK, an awesome coworking and events space, and within that we have an education platform called Tukua, it’s part programme, part whanau.
We have an apparel line which can be found at madeofmanukau.nz and we partner on the growth of a grassroots eSports movement led by GameTan.
Our Podcast is called Ngahere Talks, and we run digital content across all Social Media platforms, and we have a solid network of South Auckland content creators.
Our mission is to also champion entrepreneurs through Made of Manukau pop-up stores, and our newest venture – Konei.
- Briefly describe your journey with Ngahere from launch to early March 2020?
The business Ngahere Communities was founded in May 2018 with 4 staff (mostly part-time) to operate GridMNK and to deliver programmes in South Auckland that would build the innovation ecosystem out here. At that time we focussed on the broad ecosystem from kids gaining STEAM skills through to South Auckland “Tech Unicorns”.
We met Prince Harry, hosted the PM Jacinda Ardern and shared our experiences at a UN Conference in South Australia.
We launched a YouTube Channel and Podcast Show called Ngahere Talks. Held two amazing pre-Christmas Pop-Up Stores to showcase Maori and Pasifika brands, and refined our broad ecosystem focus down to just a few things – Content Creators, ECommerce Entrepreneurs, Gamers and Social Innovators.
In early 2020 we founded Ngahere Foundation, our Not For Profit arm. This was because we realised we were doing a lot of social impact work in our community so we wanted to separate that out from our profit-making activities.
Then in May 2020 we founded Konei, Aotearoa’s marketplace for Aotearoa’s brands – www.konei.nz – and now have 9 staff.
- What were your first thoughts when you heard NZ was about to enter lockdown as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic?
To be honest it was quite emotional, like moving from shock that it was going to happen, to fear of the pandemic getting us, sadness that we had to take such drastic measures and then excitement from the rush of energy needed to execute a new normal. As a team we had been preparing for lockdown, so when the announcement came we just had to execute our plan to close the premises and set the team up to WFH.
- How did Covid-19 impact your business?
I’ve explained it to people that it was like losing a limb, but in a business context. Unfortunately one of our main revenue streams was completely shut down, but fortunately, we had alternative revenue streams which meant that though we were in trouble, it wasn’t going to be fatal.
Although if it wasn’t for the amount of support we received I think lockdown would have ended the ‘us’ as we were, pre-lockdown.
- Did Covid-19 open up new opportunities?
Not directly, but, as a team, we took the opportunity that Covid-19 presented to us to pivot on our strengths, and worked hard to continue to add value to our community through our different digital channels. This meant that coming out of lockdown we had a super positive, strong reputation which means we are now reaping the benefits of that.
We also birthed a brand new business during the lockdown which we have launched this Matariki – www.konei.nz – jump on and check out the amazing talent (and beautiful products) our country has to offer!
- What was your plan? Did you pivot your business? If so, how? / what did you do?
Our plan was simple.
- What is important to us in this season, from a values base?
- How do we want our community (customers, partners, networks etc) to feel when we interact with them in this season?
- What things could we do to reduce our spending?
- What things could we do to increase our cashflow?
- What strengths do we have as a team and as individuals?
- What are some things we’ve been wanting to do, but haven’t done them yet?
We gathered all that info and came up with a plan to move ahead with. We went STRONG on our social media, had fun with it. We reached out to those we were connected with to ensure no one was walking the lockdown journey alone, and then built out our strategy for what we were going to be known for when we look back at COVID – and that became Konei.
Our plan was named Survive and Thrive and we shared it via PDF and a Video with our community to help them out if they needed it.
We still do everything we were doing pre-Covid, but now we have this beautiful new venture in our portfolio, and a larger team because of it.
- What were the key elements of a successful pivot, or successful plan to grow your business?
We are highly values-driven in the way we do business, and so for us it always comes back to WHY we do what we do. At the core of Ngahere Ventures is a desire to see our people, Maori and Polynesian people thrive, so when we see opportunities to grow our impact in that way OR barriers that we know we can smash, that is a great indicator for us that we are on the right track.
I definitely think that success in business comes from having the right people, and when you have the right people just keep playing to their strengths. They’ll be happy, you’ll be happy, and the business will thrive.
And then learning to be lean, agile and responsive is key to pivoting and growth. A continual cycle of test – learn – tweak with your customers or community gives you accurate data and experiences that will guide your decision-making when you pivot.
- How does the ‘new’ Ngahere differ from the original concept? ( If it differs at all)
The new Ngahere is bolder, more courageous. I think that comes after going through a battle right?
We have expanded so that we now have a 3rd venture in our portfolio, and with that we have 3 new staff (taking us to 9 in total). We have new business partners and our first overseas investor. And all of our team members have grown in their skillset, leadership, capacity and our connectedness as a team.
- What are your plans for the next 6 mths?
We have just launched Konei so that is a big focus for us, we have huge plans for Konei so we need to give it lots of TLC.
We are in the process of negotiating an exciting new partnership agreement for greater impact in South Auckland . Stand by for news on that! We also have a really solid education platform we’ve been developing called Tukua that is gaining great momentum, and we are starting to take that reach nationwide.
We are also building our community of content creators, so we will put a bit of focus back on that crew and see what cool things will come.
- What are your long term goals- what does the future hold for you?
In reality, we don’t know what the future holds for us. We will keep building on the great things we have going on right now, keep pushing to see our people moving out of negative statistics and stereotypes and into thriving, vibrant families and communities. We’re still chasing the financial freedom that successful entrepreneurs experience, and want to be in a position where we can invest economically into our own, and others’ ideas- but we’re honestly just enjoying the journey – which is all that really matters.
- What are the key learnings you will take from this Covid-19 experience?
Probably the biggest thing for us was how we were able to focus on our community and their needs, and ensure that we were present, positive and supportive. That alone was the best thing we could have done for both our business and our mission, and something that we will continue to strive to be better at.
- Any words of advice to other founders after this experience?
Resilience is key in our chosen entrepreneurial pathway. If you found yourself alone, isolated or lacking during the COVID period, take the time to build solid, meaningful relationships, now! Resilience and relationships go hand in hand, and you need solid people around you along this journey.
Business partners, friends, family, customers, peers, suppliers, lenders, competitors – intentionally build up your inner circle so that you have the strength to weather the storms.