James spent the early part of his career as an application developer, before moving into technology strategy and consultancy, where he held senior roles with firms such as Thomson Reuters and Deloitte. Having left the world of consultancy, he became an independent consultant, working with startups, corporate and government clients to help them drive scalable change using lean, agile and customer-focused principles.
Being self-employed and having to deal with the burden of tax and financial admin led James to create a simple home-made system for calculating and paying his taxes. After a few friends asked to use the same thing, James got together with co-founders Claire and Richard to create Hnry - a service designed to eliminate all financial admin for freelancers and contractors.
Co-founder of this innovative FinTech company, James Fuller chats with us about overcoming milestones, smashing goals, and company and personal growth. Don't miss out!
James: Hnry is an all-in-one service that takes care of all the financial admin for contractors, freelancers and the self-employed - allowing them to focus on getting the job done, rather than worrying about tax and compliance. Hnry provides a pay-as-you-go service, handling Invoicing, Expenses, Payments, Taxes and filings. Hnry helps thousands of individuals to focus on doing what they do best, without having to worry about the burden of financial admin.
The idea for Hnry all started a few years ago, when myself and my co-founders came out of permanent work, and started doing contract and freelance jobs. We were stunned by just how much time we were expected to waste, fiddling around in accounting software, waiting to hear back from our accountant, shuffling payments around and having to learn about tax - all the while never actually being sure if everything was being done correctly. It just seemed really inefficient!
James: For our business, a lot of the exposure came somewhat naturally. By providing a product that combined together really strong customer service, simple and usable technology, as well as a solution that genuinely solved a big problem for people, we found that word of mouth spread quite quickly. Over the last year alone, over 40% of new customers have come from friends and family referrals. That tells us that we’re really providing a service that people want, and that genuinely solves a problem. Obviously when this kind of growth happens, we also get our fair share of media attention from both local and global outlets, which has just served to further amplify the message that ‘things don’t have to be so hard any more’ if you’re self-employed.
James: I think the biggest lesson about company growth for us, was that as a consumer-facing FinTech business, you have to earn the trust of your consumer. When we first started Hnry 3 or 4 years ago, we had a great idea and awesome tech, but no social proof. Conquering the market overnight through digital marketing and SEO alone wasn’t an option - and so we needed to broaden our horizons, and have our customers tell their stories as a way of showing the value of the service. Given how much time, money and hassle we were saving for our customers, we didn’t even need to ask them to refer Hnry - they just did it themselves so that their friends and family could get the benefit as well.
James: One of our biggest challenges is that no-one is googling for ‘an all-in-one accounting service that does everything for me and is pay-as-you-go’. It’s very hard to market a service to people online, when they have no idea that it actually exists. The idea of having such a service, that genuinely took the pain out of self-employment, was just a pipe dream for customers, so we had to find different avenues to get our message across. Being content-led in our marketing, providing lots of information on our website (even for those that don’t go on to upgrade to Hnry), and being present at community events were key to supporting our exposure.
James: As a company, we’re continually innovating. We have to take an approach that we need to continuously improve, to surprise and delight our target market and make it a no-brainier for them to upgrade to Hnry. With all of the things Hnry does for you, compared to the alternative of having to be hands-on with your accounting and spend more of your time and money, we need to continually ensure it’s an obvious choice. That’s what drives us forward and ensures our growth. There’s no time to sit back and say ‘cool, we’re done for a while’ as there is always more value you can add for your customers.
James: I think the only limitation for our growth was in the very early days of Hnry. In the first few months after starting Hnry we hadn’t built all the tech or the features that customers wanted, and we didn’t have a full team to develop it out yet. We kept getting customers signing up, but had to deal with them all manually. The customers didn’t care though - they still got their problem solved by a team of experts - however as a team we didn’t feel we had as much room to scale, because we hadn’t built the base tech yet. Luckily it wasn’t long before we got that base in place, and could easily scale to support thousands of customers.
When I think about ‘peak’ moments, we probably have a few - throughout every month there are amazing things happen that boost the growth of Hnry - and this has been fairly consistent for the last few years. One to remember was probably getting our first mainstream press exposure - we got featured in a national publication on a Saturday morning, resulting in a massive uplift in customer enquiries. I remember being at one of my daughter’s friend’s birthday parties, and my phone was going crazy!
James: I think the key thing about performance optimisation, it’s that it’s a continual process. It needs to happen on a daily basis, and be data-driven right from the start. To do it really well, it requires dedicated resources, with high levels of experience. As a founder with a tech background, I used to do a lot of the optimisation myself in an amongst other things, however I was never able to dedicate myself to it full time. It was only when we got full-time resources involved in our performance optimisation that we really started to see the results, and it became clear just how inefficient it was having an amateur like me playing around with it!
James: I think my key advice for anyone is to always start with the customer first. We started our business with a couple of spreadsheets, a one-page website and an email address. We didn’t have a flashy UX, or an app, or lots of features and complex pricing plans - we focussed on this one question: “What is the simplest and easiest way for us to solve the problems of our customers”. If you really challenge yourself on that, you can probably find a way of achieving it without having to spend thousands of dollars and many months crafting the ‘perfect user experience’ or trying to make everything pixel-perfect. All too often we see businesses try and focus too much on product, assuming that a good-looking product will attract customers. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll get a few via that method, but if you’re not actually solving the root of the customers’ problem, they won’t be with you for very long.
Winner of the Emerging Gold Service Award at the Wellington Gold Awards 2019, and a finalist in the New Zealand Hi-Tech Awards 2019, Hnry is a FinTech company that is revolutionising the industry.
In one year alone, 40% of their new customers have come from friends and family referrals. By making complicated matters uncomplicated Hnry has optimised their user benefit, captivating their niche, and diminishing the stress that comes with the burden of tax compliance and other financial admin matters for contractors, freelancers and the self-employed.
This is a company that makes complicated matters uncomplicated allowing the self-employed to get on with what they do best.
Start with the customer, always and focus on this question: “What is the simplest and easiest way for us to solve the problems of our customers”. Challenge yourself to work with what you have at peak value. You don't need thousands in disposable income from the outset to achieve great things. Give it your best shot. Your first go wont be as perfect as your 50th but to get there you need to make a start! Continually optimise your performance on a daily basis and with data-driven research from the get go. Always functioning at your personal best is the best and only thing you can do.