Ryan Spong

Forty Under 40 Winner 2015: CEO, Food.ee, 39 

Ryan Spong and his business partner had been running a prefabricated buildings firm for three years when the bootstrapped entrepreneurs began facing cash flow problems due to a problem client.

“We had to lay people off; we had to sell the assets,” said the CEO of Vancouver-based Food.ee, an online lunch delivery service.

“People talk about success. The thing is, you don’t learn much from success … but with failure, you have a lot of time to sit around and think about what went wrong.”

Spong began his own professional career with a lot of time to sit around and think.

As an English literature graduate still trying to figure out what he wanted to do in life, he got a job licking stamps at a stock brokerage in the late 1990s.

He parlayed the mailroom job into a career in finance and later departed Vancouver for New York to work at Barclays Capital upon completing his master of business administration degree.

The construction business came after he returned to the West Coast to pursue his wife-to-be, and for a year or two Spong had to digest everything that went wrong.

But he applied those lessons to his next venture, the Tacofino Mexican food truck.

The experience running a successful business in the food industry – Tacofino now employs about 100 people at about a half-dozen locations – eventually led him to Food.ee.

“I was a restaurant owner with some fundamental problems with what the options were for online ordering,” said Spong.

Instead of having to deliver consumer orders at peak lunch hours, the CEO said he was drawn to a company that had a business model centred on delivering meals to offices.

That means all orders have to be placed and prepared before lunch, allowing the restaurants to generate revenue during slow periods.

“You’re sitting there as a 16-year-old or a 20-year-old or whatever, going, ‘You know what, if this was my joint this is how I’d do it and it would be better,’” Spong said. “Now as an adult I actually have this opportunity to play that dream out.”

Birthplace: Vancouver

Where you live now: Vancouver

Highest level of education: MBA at University of Toronto

Currently reading: Alistair McLeod, No Great Mischief (fiction); Verne Harnish, Scaling Up (non-fiction)

Currently listening to: Rick Ross (to get pumped up), War on Drugs (to chill out)

When you were a child, what you wanted to be when you grew up: Batman

Profession you would most like to try: Lawyer. I love debating, and I think it would curb this tendency at home

Toughest business or professional decision: To leave Wall Street

Advice you would give the younger you: Do what you love; spend 10,000 hours getting good at it young. The rest will follow

What’s left to do: To win this award at home, as decided by my wife and kids 

Join us to celebrate the 2015 Forty under under 40 Awards January 27, 2016 at the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel. For tickets and event info visit www.biv.com/events/40under40.