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Scaleup leadership lessons: James Fuller of Hnry

Scaleup leadership lessons: James Fuller of Hnry

One of the fastest growing fintechs in New Zealand began as a spreadsheet to simplify tax payments for a group of friends

Credit: Hnry

If you do things in small increments, there is no such thing as failure. It is just you learn along the way

James Fuller, Hnry

Before becoming a startup CEO, James Fuller worked in ICT-related roles such as business analyst and developer and as a management consultant for Deloitte and Davanti.

When he shifted to contract work, he and his friends who did the same thing often talked about a common complaint: “The pain of dealing with our own financial paperwork.”

Fuller says he developed a “really basic spreadsheet” to solve this problem, and he shared the system with his friends.

“I had to manually put numbers on a spreadsheet, make payments manually,” he explains, and adds that he still had to have an accountant.

Fuller recounts what he thought back then. “What if we did all of this stuff as a service, on a pay as you go [basis]? And it is just one place to go do  everything, from invoicing, to raising expenses?”

This led to the launch of Hnry, an-end-to-end tax agent service,which uses automation to calculate, pay, and file all tax obligations. 

Credit: Dreamstime

We would like to partner up with other startups and businesses to create an ecosystem that benefits our customers

James Fuller, Hnry

According to Fuller, Hnry was designed to support non-permanent workers in the government sector, the film industry, as well as the creative and freelance sector across NZ.

He prefers to call them “independent earners”. 

The term, he says, can include people returning to work after looking after children or relatives. Maybe they can commit to a few days a week or do flexible number of hours per week. 

He says people are also having a ‘portfolio career’, having two or three different styles of work. 

“A small part of our customer base even have permanent jobs and doing ‘hustle work’ on the side. 

He explains that, “It’s a really flexible service, it unlocks the opportunity to earn independently.”

“It doesn't matter where you get paid from or how often you earn,” he says.

With Hnry co-founders Richard Freestone and Claire Fuller Credit: Hnry
With Hnry co-founders Richard Freestone and Claire Fuller

Fuller stresses that no particular sector gravitates more to Hnry. 

“If you can imagine it, we probably have it,” he says. “We have freelance bookkeepers, people working in financial services, barbers, physiotherapists,midwives, tattoo artists, real estate agents, personal trainers.”

“They are all facing the same problem,” he states. “It is not about how much they earn. It is not about whether they enjoy doing their own taxes. For the vast majority of people, it is just a necessary evil.”

“There are many millions of people who are facing exactly the same thing and sitting there and going, ‘surely there must be a better way’.”

“Which” he adds, smiling, “is how a lot of startups begin.”

Hnry charges 1 per cent of self-employed income, capped at $2,000 per annum.

The fintech was recently a finalist for the Kiwibank Hi-Tech Innovative Services category in the New Zealand Hi-Tech Awards and won the Emerging Gold - Services Category for the Wellington Gold Award.

Fuller says the recognition confirms the need to support the growing segment of society that are non-permanent workers.

He knew the service was resonating with their growing number of customers when parcels started arriving at their Wellington office.

These were bottles of wine, cookies, and cakes from people who used their services. 

When customers bear giftsCredit: Hnry
When customers bear gifts

He shares that one of their customers created a five-minute video about Hnry and how it helps him deal with tax as a freelancer

“What we provide is ‘service as a software’,” he states.

“It’s not just about providing a software package to people. We tell them, you have a team here. We have registered tax agents. Whatever you are doing, we are there to help. We make sure your taxes get filed. You have a genuine sidekick.”

“You can sign up within 60 seconds. You will get help from a team,” he says. “It is an easy way for people to take advantage of being self employed in whatever form.”

Failing - and learning

He says starting one’s own business has a prime advantage. “You’ve got the opportunity to design the culture right from the ground up. It is hard trying to change the culture when you are already five to six years in the organisation.”

Thus, when he started Hnry, one of the first things they did was decide how they would like to work. They kicked this off by discussing what they enjoy, and don’t enjoy, when they come to work.

They then worked out the tools they would use to enable them to work the way they would like. Some people, for instance, like to have headphones on, he discloses.

“We find a happy medium, that sits in the middle. We do this regularly, because we have a team now.”

Every week, the group meets, usually on a Friday afternoon, to discuss what worked - or did not go well.

“Regardless of what their role is in the business, everyone has a say to how we work as a team,” he says.

Fuller explains their process. “We start off with a hypothesis. We think if we do something differently, it is going to have this result. Then we go and try it and measure it. 

“If you do things in small increments, there is no such thing as failure. It is just you learn along the way.”

He adds, “If you don't achieve it is because you had unrealistic goals. Whereas if you set short achievable goals and you don’t make it, it is part of learning.”

This, he says, is a lesson he is imparting to his daughter. 

“When you're at school, you don’t fail if you get it wrong,” he tells her. “You are learning.”

Part of their culture is ensuring everyone, even those in management, such as the CTO, answers customer queries once in a while.

“This allows us to stay close to the customer.”

Currently, they have 10 staff members, but they are looking to hire additional staff in the coming months.

When they came out of a fintech accelerator last year, they acquired an office space that at that time seemed massive. 

They were around six people in the staff then. “We did not expect to get so many people. We have been there less than a year and we are already overcapacity.”

They also have a different approach when they welcome new staff.

He says traditionally, organisations will talk to new employees about health and safety, and the flowchart for staff.

“We start small,” he relates. “When a new developer comes in, we get them to push code into production on day one. Just one small change, so they get that win. And then, we really celebrate what that means. 

“Then we gradually introduce different concepts of the business.”

Credit: Dreamstime

Startup ecosystem  

Fuller has another goal, to link up with more startups and related businesses across New Zealand. 

“What we [would] like to do is partner up with other startups and other businesses to create an ecosystem that benefits our customers.”

These could be for a range of services like remortgaging, insurance, and financial advice.

So that every time you get paid, you can pay a percentage of your income to anyone or put it into savings, utility bills, or investment accounts.

“It gives people a bit of financial freedom,” he explains. “They can plan where their money goes, and give them confidence that what is in their pocket is theirs to keep because they have paid the bills.”

“It is really empowering for independent earners who may in the past felt they could not get that kind of control,” he states.

From his work as a consultant and with startups, he shares some insights on moving the organisation to more agile ways of working for the digital economy.

“Try to take tiny manageable bites,” he says.

He advises taking a group of people to work on a small project and “prove the value” of what they are doing.

Then, he says, “you can make it bigger.”

Read more: Japanese researchers build robotic tail to keep elderly upright

“The principles you use in making that change are so similar to and probably based on what we do in the startup world, where you go out and test. You build and you measure and you learn.”

Fuller points out that, “It does not start with processing and tools, it starts with culture, with changing the way they work. They set themselves goals and incentivise themselves.”

“None of that comes from putting software in place,” he states. “It comes from a mindset change.”

He concludes by noting, “You pull everyone along for the journey, then other people in the business ask, ‘how do I get into that?’”

Credit: Hnry

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