In many senses, Londoner James Fuller fell into the classic Kiwi love story. His wife Claire was doing her big OE in London when they met. They worked at the same firm, and before long they were shacked up with a baby, dreaming of settling in Wellington.
“Clare grew up here,” he says. “We always came back to Wellington for holidays, and it was everyone’s happy place. As soon as I got off the plane, I was at home.”
They made the big move in 2012 – and some huge successes were on the horizon for the couple. Fresh in the city, they did their time at different firms, and it was when James was self-employed that he tinkered around creating a system to help him do his taxes. Just like that Hnry was born. James is the Chief Executive of what is now a 50-strong company, and Claire is the Chief Operating Office.
“It’s really cool to have a tech start-up in Silicon Welly. Claire and I would never have founded Hnry if we’d lived somewhere else – it just wouldn’t have felt possible. When you’re around people that have an endless sense of possibility and opportunity, it’s infectious.”
Retaining company culture amidst a pandemic
Despite their rapid growth – in February they secured $US16 million in investment funding to expand – the pandemic has been hard on company culture.
“We’ve always had a big culture of working together and collaborating as a business. It was quite difficult when we went into lockdown. We got a decrease in productivity – everyone missed working with each other and missed the vibe of being in a scaling business and collaborating every day.”
Staff still have the option to work from home, but many prefer the camaraderie they get from being together in the office, a beautifully designed open space in the heart of the CBD. But the city, James says, is dying at the government end where they’re located.
“The hardest thing for us is the impact that the empty city has had on the vibrancy of our own office. As a citizen of Wellington, you need to feed and water your city. It’s not going to be there if you leave it in a cupboard and walk away. It’s going to die. We all need to do our part in being citizens of the city.”
There’s a dangerous knock-on effect of embedding a WFH culture in our city, James says. He points to companies overseas viewing our WFH populations as cheap labour they can capitalise on – which will only reduce our local labour force. James thinks of his friends back home in London, who have no company culture – they only have to point their laptop at a different company, that might offer better pay, and move on.
Live your values, and the people will come
James attributes Hnry’s success to their company culture and lived values. Any candidates for jobs need to demonstrate values around fairness, doing the right thing, and being respectful.
“I’m excited about doubling or tripling the size of the company but still maintaining those values. We don’t hire people just to put bums on seats – we’re employing them because they already embody our values.”
Thinking ahead to Wellington’s future, and the future of his growing business, James is excited about the burgeoning tech community, start-up to scale-up businesses and education sector, which create the perfect microcosm of creativity and innovation.
“How does Wellington accentuate the things that it already does really well? We should be looking forward instead of looking backward and wondering what we don’t have. We have an amazing community and economy supporting so many businesses, entrepreneurs and creatives, and government workers. In Wellington, if you’ve got ideas, people say ‘oh, you should totally go and do that, and here’s how I can help you.’”
With so much support behind them, they’re now paying it forward to the next generation of tech start-ups.
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