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Founder Spotlight: John Fong on stepping back from a leading company to recharge and create f28 Studio

The seasoned CFO gets candid about his experience in burning out from the ‘sandwich generation’ press that led to hitting a ‘hard reset’ and starting his own company

Welcome to Vancouver Tech Journal’s founder spotlight, where we get into the backstory of the people leading Vancouver’s must-know companies.

On the outside looking in, John Fong was leaping from one milestone to another in 2020 — bootstrapping a company to IPO, raising millions, and leading acquisitions in Canada and the U.S.

Throughout those 12-hour working days, Fong also juggled raising two young children and caring for his aging parents — all the while making sure his family was safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Fong didn’t even realize he was burnt out until it chipped away at him to the point he made a decision that’s easier said than done: quitting his full-time job to start his own company.

Along with wanting to create a work-life balance, Fong recognized a need to help more startups and SMBs survive today’s economic climate with high-level strategic finance guidance — no matter what stage they're at or their size.

So, Fong founded f28 Studio, where he draws on not only his 20+ years of expertise but also his passion for helping startups and SMBs achieve life-changing financial events. 

Fong took the time to sit with Vancouver Tech Journal to share more about his journey in:

  • Slowing down to pursue meaningful work

  • How startups and SMBs can add horsepower without breaking the bank and; 

  • The importance of approaching your business like a science experiment.

Where were you born?

I was born in Hong Kong.

How old are you?

I’m old enough to have experienced a few global recessions, the birth of the smartphone, and the rise and fall of CDs. Yet I’m still young enough to see the rise of AI and, most likely, GAI.

Do you have kids?

I have two amazing kids who keep me young at heart and see the world as one big opportunity.

What did you want to be when you were a kid?

I wanted to be either an architect or an urban planner, mainly through countless hours of playing Sim City.

Favourite class in school?

My favourite classes were shop class, woodworking and drafting. I had a great shop class teacher, Mr. Mckinley, who was a great influence in that aspect.

Previous job before f28 Studio?

I was previously the CFO of Numinus Wellness, a healthcare company focused on psychedelic-assisted therapies. I spent an amazing four years taking the company from bootstrap to IPO, raising $80 million, and acquiring 15 clinics to expand across Canada and into the US — all during the midst of COVID-19. 

Prior to Numinus, I spent five years in the tech industry in various senior finance leadership roles. And before my tech days, I spent 15 years in the natural resources industry, where I honed my accounting and finance experience with various gold, silver, and natural gas companies.

Payton Nyquvest, Michael Tan, and John Fong on Numinus’ first day of trading on the TSX

How do you commute?

From my bed to my home office, it’s a flight of stairs.

What time do you normally wake up?

6 a.m.

What’s the first thing you do when you wake up?

Make coffee.

What time do you normally sleep?


What’s the last thing you do before bed?

Listen to sleep sounds to doze off to sleep.

What are you reading right now or listening to?

Slow Productivity by Cal Newport. It’s an interesting read about how we need to slow down to create meaningful work so that we’re not always overloaded and need to multitask, all the while burning out. The book encourages taking a timeless approach to pursuing meaningful accomplishments.

Lately, I’ve also been listening to Laufey, an Icelandic and Chinese singer-songwriter.

Where do you normally work from?

I work from home.

Elevator pitch — what does f28 Studio do?

F28 is a fractional CFO studio that works with founders and CEOs to turn their messy financial data into actionable strategic business insights towards meaningful financial events — whether it be more revenue, fundraises, IPOs, or life-changing exits.

Why did you start f28 Studio?

There are two main reasons why I started f28.

First, I was burnt out. Burnt out from working 12-hour days while building Numinus. Burnt out from taking care of my aging parents who eventually passed away recently. Burnt out from making sure my family was okay during COVID. 

It got to a point where I needed to make a decision to make significant changes in my life. So I stepped away from my full-time job to start f28. I wanted to create a working condition where I could truly create a work-life balance. If I wanted to work more, I’d hustle to get more clients. If I wanted more downtime, I’d take on smaller projects or say no to new clients.

Secondly, there’s a misconception that startups and small businesses only need a CFO at a certain stage or size. Companies would try to rely on a finance team member that could get the day-to-day aspects of the job done, but would struggle when the founder, CEO, or business owner needed more high-level, strategic direction from them.

Last year when the Silicon Valley Bank collapsed, a Wall Street Journal story noted that many startups operate without a CFO and relied on their investors or banks for strategic financial guidance. That’s like having a chocolate shop owner be your doctor as well. Having an independent voice to manage your cash could have helped many of those startups mitigate their cash risk during that collapse.

Why I started f28 is for this very reason. Every startup and SMB, especially in this tough economic climate when capital is uncertain and customers are more tight with their budgets, you need a strategic finance leader to guide you through it. Startups and SMBs are vital to our economic recovery and growth. They need every chance to succeed.

John Fong and f28 Studio’s first client: Jamie and Carmen Booth from Booth and Partners

What do you wish you knew when you started?

Market positioning is so important when starting a company. Knowing what problem you’re trying to solve, what skills you have that can solve it at the highest value, and then how to share that to the right audience.

What’s one of the biggest challenges you’re facing right now?

The biggest challenge right now is educating companies that there’s such a thing as fractional CFO, or fractional executives, that can give them the added horsepower to build their company. 

The days of waiting to hire a full-time CFO, CMO, or CHRO are over. Having a fractional executive for one day a week can tremendously impact businesses at a much lower cost than hiring full-time.

What’s the most memorable milestone in your career so far?

My most memorable career milestone was taking Numinus IPO on the TSX Venture Exchange, then graduating onto the TSX main board a year later — which is pretty rare.

What are you learning right now?

I’m learning to say no more. When you’re starting a new company, there’s always an urgency to get more clients — which means that generally, you would say yes to every paid opportunity that comes your way. 

For me, the learning is to be very clear about the highest-value contribution that my skills can deliver and only focus on clients who have a particular problem that I can solve with that contribution.

Do you have any mentors?

I have a group of people I like to call my personal board of directors. These are people with a certain skill set who I can call up and chat with about things. They include my therapist, an executive coach, a marketing specialist, etc.

What’s a recent habit you’ve picked up that’s made a difference in your life?

I’ve devoted one day a week to spend with my wife while the kids are at school. No running errands. No home chores. Recently, we’ve been going on epic long walks around the city, getting over 10,000 steps in and enjoying the many cafes or eateries along the way.

Where do you see yourself in 3, 6, and 9 years?

In three years, I envision f28 and my other company, Quarter Mile Partners (QMP), becoming the go-to business-building partners for startup and growth-stage companies.

In six years, I’d love to have launched a few different ventures and products that complement f28 and QMP’s mission. Profitability and access to capital are vital for an ecosystem to thrive. If Vancouver wants to be a place where companies can start, grow, and stay, I want to help build the business-building ecosystem to achieve that.

In nine years, my wife and I have this dream of opening up a dog therapy service to support seniors — especially those living in assisted living centres. People living in the last legs of life should have some love from those who can give it unconditionally.

Quarter Mile Partners founding partners: Kraig Docherty, Elaine Lai McAnally, and John Fong

How do you prevent burnout?

I was burnt out living the “sandwich generation” over the past four years. I was building Numinus and achieving professional success while trying to raise two kids and also looking after both my aging parents who eventually passed away.

A few things I’m doing now to never be in burnout position again:

  • Build a circle of professional support. Start with a therapist for your mental health and a coach to help you grow and navigate your career.

  • Know my limits and never overcommit to things. This means learning to say no a lot and prioritize what can make the most impact in my professional and personal life.

  • Getting outdoors as much as possible.

  • Play and let loose. Doesn’t matter if it’s video games, sports, dancing around with the kids. Just play.

What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?

Approach building your business like a science experiment. You’re always testing, learning and iterating to, ultimately, get more customers. 

Start with the simple statement, “If I do X, it will lead to Y.” There are usually a few steps you’ll need to take before a customer buys from you. 

If you can identify these steps and apply the “if-then” statement, you have a list of tasks you need to focus on over the course of your experiment. 

Make sure you time-box the experiment to make the best use of your time. 

What’s your favourite coffee shop in Vancouver?

There’s two coffee shops I love for various reasons:

  • Isetta Cafe Bistro in West Vancouver. It’s my destination spot on my Saturday morning drives.

  • Cafe U Place on Main Street. It’s a small Korean-owned cafe that not only has good coffee but also some great Korean dishes. Best of all, it’s nice and quiet. Perfect if you love to read or journal while enjoying your coffee.

What’s your favourite restaurant in Vancouver?

That’s difficult because I love food and there are so many amazing restaurants in the city that range in price and cuisine. However, if I had to choose, and you’re asking for one, I would have to go with Savio Volpe.

What’s your favourite vacation spot?


What website or app do you visit the most?

  • The Athletic for my sports fix.

  • Health app to track my sleep and steps.

  • Notes app for writing thoughts, blog posts, and book notes.

  • ChatGPT for everything else.

What’s your favourite show to binge watch?

The last show I binged was Star Wars: The Bad Batch.

Who’s one person or brand everyone should follow on social?

Rich Roll.

Do you support any charities? If so, which ones and why?

BC SPCA because I love dogs. Every animal should have a loving home. Those that unfortunately can’t find one deserve as much love and support until they can find their forever home.

BC Cancer, as this horrible disease has impacted my family greatly over the past few years. I’ve seen first-hand the amazing care that my family had during their treatment, and it’s all because of all the years of financial support they’ve had. Ongoing support today will help families in the future to hopefully find a cure.

What does Vancouver’s tech ecosystem need the most?

Government support through better innovative tax incentives for entrepreneurs to keep capital in Vancouver to invest and scale local world class companies.

What kind of support can you offer the community?

Two things I’d love to support the community with:

  • Educate companies on building healthy habits to operate toward profitability.

  • Educate entrepreneurs on how to properly start a business, which is usually at the intersection of what you’re good at, what problem you want to solve with those skills, and how you can make money doing it.

John Fong and longtime friends he met while working at Invoke Co.

How can people connect with you?

You can email me, find me on LinkedIn, or check out f28’s website.

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