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Getting to Know… Hnry's James Fuller

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In three years, Hnry has become Aotearoa New Zealand's fasted growing tax agent and happily calls itself your 'financial sidekick'.

It's an ideal option for freelancers as it provides all your invoicing, payments, expenses and tax services in one place, with no need for a separate accountant or complex software.

We caught up with CEO James Fuller about the rise of Hnry, how it works and why it can change the world of freelancing.

What was the inspiration behind Hnry and how have you brought that to life?

I suppose this all started when my co-founders and I first started contracting and freelancing a few years ago. Having always been in permanent employment, we had no idea about all the masses of financial admin that came along with being a freelancer. We were suddenly having to deal with this whole mess of spreadsheets, accounting software, accountants, expenses apps and insurance brokers. All of the admin effort and time (and cost!) involved just to be able to freelance seemed totally disproportionate. We knew there had to be an easier way – and that’s where Hnry started – as a service that takes care of all that financial admin, so that freelancers can get back to doing what they love.

How can Hnry relieve the admin load for creative freelancers?

One of my biggest annoyances as a freelancer was having to chase clients for payment. I had great relationships with my clients, but sometimes they were late paying my invoices and it was really awkward having to chase them up. It may be a small feature, but I love the way that you can set up invoice reminders in Hnry, and if your clients don’t pay your invoices by the due date, we follow up with them and remind them that there are balances outstanding.

That means that freelancers don’t have to wade into conversations about unpaid invoices, and we can help get them paid faster. It’s just one of those little helpful features that we’ve packed into Hnry, to genuinely save freelancers time and effort. The other part of our service I’m particularly proud of is that our team is always on hand to help freelancers with their expenses. When I was freelancing I was always worried that I was claiming things that weren’t correct, and that I’d get into trouble with IRD. With Hnry, our team of specialists check all your expenses in real-time, to make sure no-one gets into any bother with the tax man, and we have heaps of online guides that let you know what you can and can’t claim.

Who did you work with to create the Hnry brand?

The Hnry brand has really evolved a lot over the last three years or so. When we first started, I did all of the branding work on the website and the marketing collateral myself – and I’m not ashamed to say that it was all pretty terrible! We soon realised that we needed professional help if we were going to create a compelling brand look and feel, that fully represented who we were as a business.

We got support from a bunch of awesome freelancers along the way, but things really clicked when we started working with Tracey from Tango Charlie. Tracey has absolutely taken our brand to the next level, and she’s our ‘go-to’ when it comes to anything brand or design-related. I love the fact that Tracey is a freelancer herself, so she totally gets our target market, as well as the fact that her design methods align with the agile way we work as a team. We’re big believers in supporting the freelance economy, so it’s always great to partner up with designers who fully embrace that economy themselves.

How big was your team when you started and do you have a recruitment ethos?

Way back when we first started, it was just my co-founder Claire and myself – working evenings and weekends around our existing jobs to get Hnry started. After quite a few months, we realised that we had something that freelancers really liked. Our friend Richard joined us as our CFO, and soon after that I decided to quit my job and go full-time, unpaid on Hnry. It was a good few months before we hired our first developer (a contractor) and another 4 or 5 months before we brought our first permanent members of staff. We’re now up to over 10 people full time working at Hnry – which is amazing considering that 2 years ago we didn’t even have anyone working full time on it at all!

Our big ethos about recruitment is that we’re not here to hire an army of people – we want to hire a core group of exceptional talent that all share the same passion and enthusiasm for what we’re building. We always reach out to our networks of contractors and freelancers to help supplement our core team – whether that’s for design and development work, videography or original photography. It’s a growing trend for organisations to have a flexible workforce of both permanent, and freelance staffers, and we love being one of the early adopters of the model – particularly when those freelancers can be our own customers!

What advice do you have for those looking to start a business?

My main piece of advice is to thoroughly test your idea with your intended customers. Even as a basic prototype, there’s no substitute for engaging with your customers and hearing what they think of your product or idea, directly from them. You always find a load of hidden gems of insights when you engage directly with customers, and so I can’t recommend highly enough that people really engage with theirs, and truly understand the problems they have, as that’ll make whatever you’re building so much more relevant for them.

Does Hnry offer more, such as investment advice and recommendations?

If you’re into investing, the Hnry app provides some awesome options for you to pay into your investment accounts every time you get paid by your clients. We’ve partnered up with the likes of Simplicity, Sharesies, Hatch, Booster and other awesome services to make it really easy for you to get into investing, pay into your KiwiSaver, or to grow your wealth. One of the things that freelancers have traditionally struggled with is the idea of putting money away into investments or KiwiSaver, and Hnry really helps make that a reality, without it being a drain on your finances or causing you lots of bother to arrange.

What is your vision for the future of Hnry?

For me, the key thing I want to achieve is to make it really easy for anyone to be a freelancer or contractor – regardless of where you live, the sort of work you do, or how much you earn. Our main vision is about making a fair, equitable service that makes it simple, affordable and accessible for anyone to earn independently.

For far too long, being self-employed has been a confusing and daunting experience, full of cost, jargon, paperwork and elusive accountants – we’re changing all that. As we start to expand beyond New Zealand and into other markets, one of the things that we really reflect on is that having been freelancers ourselves, we know the pain of all that financial admin first-hand – and that’s a great driver for us to constantly look for ways for us to make things simpler and easier for freelancers everywhere.

This interview was first published on Design Assembly.

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