Nikki Kennedy is on a mission to help revitalise Te Reo Maori. The twenty eight year old social entrepreneur has created a range of products which not only encourages whanau to korero Maori within their homes, but also provides a sophisticated culinary addition to the kitchen.
Taputapu is the name of Nikki’s new business that specializes in designing Te Reo Maori contemporary homewares. Nikki (Te Whanau a Takimoana, Te Whanau a Hinerupe, Te Whanau a Tuwhakairiora) started working on the concept for her business last November and launched her first product line in March through her website.
Nati Link caught up with Nikki recently during a break from her studies at Waikato University in Hamilton ( she is currently in her third year studying towards a Bachelor in Media and Creative Technologies – majoring in Te Reo Maori and Design Media), to find out more about her new start up.
Nati Link: What inspired you to create your own business?
Nikki Kennedy: Well it all began because I needed something to do during the summer break from Uni. Initially I wanted to come back home to Gisborne over that period, but I thought it may have been too difficult to get a job. So I looked at doing some summer school papers, and because the faculties in which I was studying in weren’t offering any, I decided to apply for the University of Waikato’s Summer Start-Up Programme Scholarship. I thought it would be an awesome opportunity if I got accepted and the $5000 scholarship would help me out financially over the break.
The programme supported students to kick start their business ideas, so thats how the concept for my business came about, as I needed to come up with an idea for my application. Fortunately I was successful and over ten weeks from November to February, I was supported to work on my idea through one-on-one mentoring, workshops and field trips. The programme enabled me to validate my idea with customers, fine tune what was needed to be delivered and work on how to pitch it. Four months after beginning the programme, I started selling products online and was in business.
Nati Link: Did you have any reservations at first whether your idea would be well-recieved?
Nikki Kennedy: No, not at all. I knew it was good, innovative and the first of its kind. At the time I was really consious of the lack of te reo being used within the home, and I thought my idea could help provide a solution to this issue. Prior to attending the programme I didn’t have any management or marketing knowledge to draw from, however I knew with the right help and support I could make it successful.
Nati Link: How did you come up with the name Taputapu?
Nikki Kennedy: I was out one day running thinking about the potential of this business and I thought about what will be a good name. Within two seconds the word Taputapu popped into my mind, and that was it. I didn’t need to think of any other words, that to me summed up the business. Taputapu in english means equipment, gear, utensils and things. It was simple and easy to read and pronounce. It can also be translated to mean awesome or amazing.
Nati Link: How do you produce, market and distribute your products?
Nikki Kennedy: I do everything from home in Hamilton. I wait for the on-line orders to come in, then I purchase the jars, print out the labels (that I also designed), which are then sealed onto the containers. Then I pack them and wrap them, before sending them off on the couriers. In terms of marketing, social media has helped to elevate Taputapu and been a low cost effective way of promoting and exposing the brand. I have an Instagram account which allows me to advertise products and post up what I’m creating, seeing or thinking.
Nati Link: Did you have any start-up capital for your business?
Nikki Kennedy: I received $250 in seed funding from the Summer Start programme, which I used to create proto-types. Apart from that, the way I bring in money is by pre-orders to my website. When I have received sufficient orders I have enough money to buy the materials. By doing it that way I am not running at a loss and I invest the profit back into the business.
Nati LInk: How did you decide upon your first product line?
Through my surveys I asked people what products I should release first and the most common answer was tea and coffee canisters. With that feedback it helped me to navigate, research and produce my first products. Since then I have created puehu parāoa jars in a set of three. This consists of a puehu parāoa (flour), huka parāone (brown sugar) and huka puehu (icing sugar). I aim to release a pihikete (biscuit) jar and possibly a rare (lolly) jar too. At this stage everything that I want to release will be homeware products, mainly for the kitchen. However I do aim to expand and produce products for the bedroom, bathroom, office and more.
Nati Link: Who is your market base?
Nikki Kennedy: My customer market are those learning Te Reo Maori. Taputapu helps to create an environment at home to encourage those who are beginners in Te Reo Maori to speak it everyday. However I also believe our whanau overseas will be a huge market and also young families who are interested in teaching their tamariki Te Reo Maori. I am also designing Taputapu to attract non-Maori because I believe all Kiwis - Pakeha, Pacific Island and others, may like to have some Te Reo Maori products in their homes.
Nati Link: How do you see your company growing in the future?
Nikki Kennedy: I want to try and grow my business organically. At this stage I am not interested in applying for loans or to seek investors because there is too much risk and pressure involved. I aim to grow this using the money I can generate from sales and koha. I do not wish to become a millionare from this – that is not my drive. For me it’s about doing something that I love which overall is contributing to the survival of our language. However I am looking for any grants, scholarships or support that may help catapult Taputapu into the next phase.
Nati Link: How would you describe your own proficiency in the language?
Nikki Kennedy: I grew up in Gisborne and was never taught Te Reo Maori but was fortunate to have it around me. I knew the basics but I couldn’t have a conversation. Before I started at Waikato I had a foundation to build upon and from there my reo has improved. Currently I can have a conversation in Te Reo Maori and can write to a certain extent but I am still on that journey of learning more. I am currently enrolled in Awanuiarangi in Tamaki Makaurau learning Te Reo Maori with our Ngati Porou whanau there.
Nati Link: Who are some entreprenueurs who inspire you?
Nikki Kennedy: All the Maori in Aotearoa and overseas who are running their own businesses and are doing well. There are heaps of them. I follow a few on instagram and have met a few. They are people doing what they love and have inspired me to do the same.
Nati Link: Do you see potential opportunities for other Ngati Porou who also want to become social entrepreneurs and develop products which assist Reo revitalisation?
Nikki Kennedy: Definitely, there is heaps of potential. We were born innovators and inventors. It’s about using what we have in our hands and running with it. The idea might be unrealistic but unless we take small steps at a time then no distance will be made.
Nati Link: Finally what advice do you have for people who have a great idea for a business but don’t know where to start?
Nikki Kennedy: My advice is to give it a go. You don’t know unless you’ve tried. The opportunities and ideas are out there and I believe those ideas are given to certain people. If you don’t activate it then someone else will.There are great business people out there who don’t have a degree in business management and haven’t attended university.
If you lack business experience talk with someone you trust who knows, research the net and attend whatever class or presentations you need to gain the knowledge. Sometimes at the end of the day it’s about the people you know and doing something about it. Just get out there.
Nati Link: Kia ora Nikki mo to korero. Taputapu koe!
Paeahua: instagram.com/ taputapu_design/
Ripene whakaata: Taputapu on You Tube
(Photographs courtesy of the University of Waikato)