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Overnight success can sometimes take years, says founder 

Founder Feedback

Akahu CEO Ben Lynch on sticking to your guns even if the market isn’t ready.


Mary Hurley

Akahu enables open banking payments

For the last decade, Akahu founder Ben Lynch has been waiting for the market to be ready for his product. He thinks his patience and hard work is finally paying off, mainly due to looming regulatory changes.

Akahu enables open banking payments, commonly used in payroll services, payment apps, e-commerce and other payouts, to securely transfer money from one bank account to another.

Lynch compares it to telecommunications provider Chorus, saying the company acts as a piece of infrastructure that multiple people can connect to.

Akahu was founded during Lynch’s time working in bank feeds at accounting software platform Xero. Frustrated by the unreliable intermediary data integrations available, he decided to build his own.

That project evolved into Akahu in December 2020 and became available as an application programming interface (API) to external developers. Co-founder Josh Daniell joined the same year.

Akahu has 50 B2B customers connecting to its infrastructure and is bringing on a new customer every one to two weeks, says Lynch.

The company has just completed a $1.4 million investment round, with Westpac New Zealand’s venture capital arm, Red Bird, slightly increasing its stake to a third, with smaller stakes held by the Tindalls’ investment arm K1W1, and NZ7 Investments – the investment vehicle of Peter Masfen. Red Bird’s latest investment adds $900,000 to the $2 million it invested in 2020.

Although Westpac is yet to publicly use the product, the bank has participated in internal trials with Akahu.

Lynch says that due to open banking and consumer data rights legislation on the horizon, it won’t be long before Westpac and other banks have to use an interface like Akahu.

“[The banks] have a date on the calendar. They know they have to do this now and that their customers are already doing it regardless of whether the regulations are here,” says Lynch.

What do you wish you knew starting out that you now know?

I was talking about this with someone yesterday. If I knew everything, going back, say, even 10 years to when I first started, I probably wouldn’t have started, to be honest.

I think most startup founders would say that. If they knew what they were getting themselves into, it would have been way easier to get a high-paying job at a bank or in the tech scene and say ‘sweet’.

In the early days, the industry didn’t want [what we were offering]. But slowly they came to realise that they were going to have to provide it. So now it’s working out. Then, of course, there’s the politics between dealing with different banks and that sort of thing.

Had I known that, I probably wouldn’t have started. But I’m here now, so that ignorance is a good thing.

Co-founders Ben Lynch and Josh Daniell

What went wrong along the way and what did you learn?

Something goes wrong every day. That’s just the nature of it.

Luckily, we’re still here, so I haven’t made one of those fatal mistakes but something will go wrong whether you have any control over it or not.

I’m hesitant to point to any one thing because as long as you wake up and your company is still working, you try and survive till 5pm or 6pm or 10pm. Then you start again. 

What outside forces has Akahu been subject to?

It’s one of those things where we have a good product in the market but without the banks’ participation, it’s really hard to scale.

If you came to me tomorrow and said ‘I’m going to give you $100 million to scale this’, it doesn’t change the game at all; it doesn’t motivate the banks to participate.

I had a bank executive say to me years ago – and I'll never forget it – he said ‘look, everyone knows you’re doing what is required, and this will eventually work. But you’ve got to exist until such a point in time when the banks are ready to participate. The banks are on their own timeframes. As long as you’re still in-market when the banks finally say ‘we need to do this piece of work, who can do it for us?’ then you’ll be fine.’

We’ve tried to right size the company for that moment, which I think is between now and the next 12 months.

That’s unique in a startup sense where a lot of your ability to scale and win the market is completely out of your control and in someone else’s hands.

Who have you worked with that’s been really helpful?

I hesitate to name names because you can leave so many people out. But when doing something like this, having your family’s support is most important because you take a huge risk.

Like I said, I could have just gotten a job at a bank, been paid heaps, and lived pretty sweet. But that was never what I was going to do. You have to have that support.

Then there are many people that keep in touch that may have no vested interest in what you’re doing other than to say, ‘that’s pretty cool’, and check-in. I really appreciate that.

From an investment point of view, we’ve had the Tindall Foundation and K1W1 from day one. And, in my opinion, they are, for the way I want to run a company and my personality, by far and away the best investment company in New Zealand that I’ve dealt with. They know who they are, they know what they’re not and, most importantly, they don’t try to be someone they’re not.

What’s the best advice you received?

You’ve got to be willing to be misunderstood for a long period of time.

In the early days, everyone said, ‘oh, that’s never going to work’, ‘I don’t even know what this is’, or ‘why would people want to do this sort of thing?’ You have to be single-minded, focused and keep going.

It’s almost been 10 years, but eventually we might become an ‘overnight success'.

I don’t know if anyone gave me that advice; I probably read it somewhere. I think Bezos said it. I get most of my advice from reading. I read one to two books weekly about people who have done successful things in and around business.

My wife’s a yoga teacher and right into philosophy, so I’m right in that space as well. It’s about being more conscious and looking further than most other people are looking.

When you’re a founder and you’re running a million miles an hour, you can get distracted and find yourself looking five minutes ahead or a day ahead.

Understand what is happening on the horizon and build towards that instead of focusing on what may or may not happen next week, or next month, or next quarter.

Akahu interface

Would that be the advice you would give?

We have a group of companies that sort of spun out of Akahu and the overarching company is called 2120, which essentially holds my shares from the two companies I have founded [Akahu and Dolla].

2120 is 100 years from when I set it up, so that’s the focus. If you’re building for 100 years in the future then you’re competing with no one. You’ve got a lot more time.

There has been and continues to be this kind of short-termism in the markets – hit the metrics, hit the goals, hit the quarter, hit the revenue targets – which for certain things is perfectly acceptable. But when there are still many unknowns and there’s still plenty of water to go under the bridge, it’s much easier to measure your success against the long term.

I must say, no one piece of advice about what I’ve gone through is going to be exactly right for others. You’ve just got to consume as much as you can. Know what's relevant to your situation, throw out the rest and don’t look too hard into it.

If you keep getting up every day and having a crack, you have a pretty good chance.

What was your first entrepreneurial moment?

I grew up in Queenstown and Arrowtown in a family of entrepreneurs. I was probably the first one to actually have a proper job.

My father was a musician, and I’ve got a twin brother, a younger brother and a sister, and we all got sent off to violin lessons when I was about two or three, which we did for 10 years. His grand plan was to start a family band – which we did.

My first entrepreneurial moment would have been being trundled off to somewhere like the Queenstown Mall with my siblings, playing violin and busking for money. We would have been three or four.

We would also get tourists taking photos of us because they thought we were cute. They’d give us $5 or $10. I think we made a killing.

Founder Feedback is a weekly series asking founders a set of questions to profile their startup journey. If you have a story to share, reach out at


Mary Hurley

Mary Hurley brings three years experience in the online media industry to the Caffeine team. Having previously specialised in environmental and science communications, she looks forward to connecting with founders and exploring the startup scene in Aotearoa New Zealand.

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