Josh Daniell, COO at Jude & ākahu

From shovelling sheep manure to a stint as a corporate lawyer, working for WeWork in Washington DC and now back on home soil as the COO for Jude and ākahu, Josh's career has already taken a few turns. Josh shares his insight into how that has played out as well as some simple advice for anyone considering tech as a career path. Enjoy.

Firstly, how would you explain to your Grandma what you do?

I’ve actually done this with my mum to see if I could explain it well enough! We have two separate businesses:

Jude is a private banking app. You connect your bank accounts, Kiwisaver, and other providers like telco, energy, loyalty, and transport. All that data flows into Jude every hour, so you have an aggregated view of your finances. We enrich and categorise your transactions so it’s easy to understand your spending. Then there’s a layer of automation tools.

So for example you can email any invoice to Jude, and Jude will pay it on your behalf on the last day before it's overdue. You can prevent overdraft and dishonour fees if you tell Jude to automatically flick funds over from another connected account when that situation is about to occur. You can round up transactions and auto-invest that amount. Jude makes it simple to manage your finances.

ākahu is an open banking platform for NZ. We build and maintain data integrations with major New Zealand providers. Then we bundle those integrations and sell them as a SaaS product to other businesses. For individuals: ākahu puts you in control of your personal data.

We make it simple to access the data that organisations hold about you, and to share that data with trusted third parties of your choice. For developers: ākahu enables your customers to seamlessly connect their data to your app. Your customers can consent to sharing their account, product, usage, balance, and transaction data. They can also consent to initiating payments directly from your app. No one else provides this functionality in New Zealand.

Was working in tech something you dreamed about doing as a kid? If not, what was?

Nope. I have a terrible memory for this sort of thing. Growing up on a farm in a rural area, I probably wanted to be a farmer like my dad. My mum tells me I wanted to “save the whales”. As a teen I remember reading a book that made me want to be a doctor. I’ve mentally flirted with many different paths, but I don’t think there was a consistent dream.

Tell us a little bit more about your career journey and ultimately about how you ended up working at ākahu/Jude?

My first job was digging out sheep manure from under the woolshed on our farm. In my late teens I rented some land from my parents and ran crops and steers. I’m really grateful that my parents nurtured that sense of working for myself - it helped me realise that opportunities are out there waiting to be taken, and I don’t need to rely on finding a job from someone else. It’s something I’d like to replicate with my kids.

After uni I did a stint as a corporate lawyer, then went freelancing, then ended up joining the founding team at Snowball Effect and leading that business through its launch and first few years in market. That was a steepest learning curve I’ve had. It was intense, but really rewarding.

Then my wife got posted in a role in Washington DC, so we spent a few years there, and I worked at WeWork. Initially in the office space business, and later in an awesome tech training bootcamp called Flatiron School that WeWork had acquired.

We arrived back in NZ in early 2020 with one kid in tow and another on the way. I was keen to jump into a startup with a compelling product and team. I’d heard about Jude, and started speaking with the founder Ben while still in DC. We spent some time talking when I was back on home soil, and the timing aligned with commercialising some of the amazing software that the team has built over the last 3 years.

“You either moved to another firm overseas, or you went on your “OE”. Anything else was likely to raise eyebrows. ”

Can you share some more insight into what that transition was like?

I guess the main transition for me was moving out of law. Back in those days, there were two well-trodden paths from your first gig as a lawyer. You either moved to another firm overseas, or you went on your “OE”. Anything else was likely to raise eyebrows.

In my case, I was just excited about being in business. I enjoyed my stint as a lawyer, but felt like I was on the sidelines of the game of business. I had a few things I was planning to do in the year I left - CFA level 1, a trip to Europe with my now-wife, and freelance work with some people and companies that I wanted more exposure to.

The freelance stuff was a real gamble, and I think it could have been a flop. I just got lucky and a mate basically tee’d up my first gig from a random conversation he had with a guy in a coffee shop. The initial freelance work led to more freelance work, so it all flowed pretty well. But I want to stress that it could have been much harder to get started, and that could have caused me to lose confidence in that path.

The transition into joining the founding team at Snowball Effect was another major forking of the path. Again I made the decision based on what seemed the most exciting thing to do with my time.

These days, I reckon there’s probably too much dissing of corporate work and professional services, and too much hype about startup work. Each path has pros and cons. The key is finding the work that’s a good match for you. And that could well evolve as you go through life.

For me it’s the “creating”. I love breathing life into a product, then nudging it into the world and trying to help it to stay afloat and gain its own momentum. ”

What do you like about working in tech, relative to your past job?

For me it’s the “creating”. I love breathing life into a product, then nudging it into the world and trying to help it to stay afloat and gain its own momentum.

Do you have any advice for people considering tech as a career path and how they might get there quicker?

Ooosh there are so many paths.

One idea is to make things or write about things that you’re passionate about. You’ll end up learning a whole lot, meeting other people that are part of that community, and being able to demonstrate your interests and skills to future employers.

What gets you excited about ākahu/Jude?

I’m intrigued by compound effects. I don’t think that humans find compounding intuitive. When it comes to personal finance, we need to see “worked examples” in order to grasp how powerful they are.

I’m passionate about helping people to set up their finances well so that compounding works effortlessly in their favour. With Jude, we can make good financial settings the default position. Then we can put our customers’ finances on self-driving mode. The positive impact becomes massive over a long timeframe.

With ākahu, it’s about providing a critical piece of infrastructure. ākahu’s mission is to empower individuals to gracefully manage their personal data and financial lives. We won’t be the consumer-facing part, but we work with developers who’ll deliver that promise through their products.

Lastly, akahu/Jude continues to grow. If not right now, what kind of people might be a great fit for the team in terms of experience and attitude?

Experience will depend on the role. But in terms of attitude, we want people who care deeply about the products we build and the customers that we serve. We want fast learners who can adapt as our businesses evolve. We want our team to inspire each other to do our best work.

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