Claire Fuller, 43, co-founded Hnry, a digital accounting service for self-employed people, five years ago with her husband James Fuller, 40. The couple live in Wellington with their daughters Isabelle, 10 and Emilie, 7.
Claire: I’m a Wellington girl but as soon as I finished my tourism and sports management degree, I headed to London.
Three days after arriving 9/11 happened and London didn’t feel like a good place to be, so I moved to Edinburgh where I worked in recruitment for three years. I thought I’d do two final years in London before coming home but that’s where I met James and ended up staying another five years.
I was less than a week out of my previous relationship when we got together, even though I had no intention of getting back into another relationship. James and I worked for the same software company. I was in the finance team and the software I was using was a bit dodgy so James, who was in tech support, was always having to help.
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My team told me James had a crush on me but I was with someone when we met so wasn’t looking for anything. I don’t remember much about the night we got together except there was alcohol involved. That’s what happens when you give free alcohol to staff in their late 20s! A lot of relationships and babies came out of that company.
I was attracted to James’ energetic and dynamic communication style. My previous boyfriend hadn’t been a good communicator but James was so open about his thinking of him, which was really refreshing.
We moved in four months after getting together. It was quick but when you know you know.
It was a big ask for James to uproot his life and come to New Zealand. I always thought I’d stay there but having a child in London was isolating and we had no support. So we came home nine years ago.
We started the company mainly to solve our own tax issues as contractors. We were a bit naive thinking that because we’d worked together previously we’d be fine. But we were in different departments back then, so it has been a learning curve.
James has all these new and fantastical ideas and is constantly looking to make things better. It’s a great quality but sometimes he needs to be reined in.
We have rules about not discussing work at home but we break them all. We’re also really bad at having date nights because we’re usually so exhausted by the weekend. It’s got to the stage where our babysitter will call and say, isn’t it time you two went out?
We have an immense amount of respect for each other and genuinely like each other. Because we were friends for six months before anything romantic, we had that solid foundation. Our relationship has definitely got tighter as the business has grown.
James: I’d been single for a while when I met Claire. I’m from the UK but after doing a computer science degree in Manchester, came down to London to work and was having fun being single.
I think Kiwi women have a different attitude to UK women and I found Claire really open, down to earth and genuine, which was refreshing. We had a strong connection and a shared sense of humor, which I don’t think I’d had with anyone before.
We’d been together three and a half years when I proposed. I handwrote a letter to Claire’s parents asking for their blessing di lei and a friend of Claire’s helped me pick a ring.
Claire had never been to New York and always wanted to go. I was going there for work so I bought her a ticket and hid it in our flat di lei. I called her the night before the flight and gave her directions to find it.
I’d recced the spot in Central Park the day before. While walking there, Claire tried to hold my hand di lei but it was in my pocket holding onto the ring, which I was terrified of losing.
We got to the spot and I got down on one knee and proposed. Claire’s first words were, “Get up, you’re making a scene!” I said, was that a yes?
What I love about Claire is that she brings a sense of positivity and spontaneity to everything. She was so excited about everything in London that I was frustrated with, which made her refreshing to be around.
Claire always said I was my best self when I was on holiday in New Zealand and as soon as we moved here, it felt like home. The plan was to stay a couple of years but after four months I was like, we’re never going back, let’s sell our London home.
People always say, how can you work with your partner? But to me, that’s exactly who you should work best with. Being partners is what has made our business so successful. We both know what’s going on in the business and have the same context, which means we know what the other person is going through and can solve problems together. We’re really well suited and it’s fun being on this journey with my best friend.
We also complement each other, not just at work but also in our personalities. For example, if one of us is down, the other will be up. So we can step in and offer support.
Because we’re both competitive people and have strong opinions, it can be difficult to let the other person get a win. Compromise is something we’ve had to work at.