Balancing the Grind with Allen Fan, Co-Founder at CarbonHQ

In our chat, Allen Fan shares his journey from the world of auditing to the innovative field of carbon project development. Starting out in a traditional role to meet family expectations, Allen quickly realized his passion lay elsewhere—leading him to the dynamic world of startups with CarbonHQ.

He talks about the personal growth that came from navigating the startup scene while stepping into fatherhood, drawing an analogy with Lebron James’ career strategy: focusing on self-care and maintaining a steady pace. Allen’s story is all about adapting to new challenges, whether that’s shifting career gears or finding balance as a new parent.

Let’s start with your background! Can you share with us your career journey and what you’re currently up to?

Sure thing! My career isn’t very long (7 years) but I’ve had many roles, so bear with me. 

Both of my parents are accountants, so after uni I fulfilled my parents’ dream and worked as an Auditor at EY. I was very soon bored out of my mind, and found myself more interested in the future rather than what happened in the past, so I made the jump across the road to work as a Management Consultant at PwC. Here I picked up skills such as financial modelling and structured problem solving that became the cornerstone of my career. 

In my spare time I ran a startup accelerator for migrant entrepreneurs, which really kindled my passion for startups. I wanted to become a founder, but didn’t have a problem I was committed to solve. So after feeling like I’ve learned what I can at PwC I went to work for a NZ government VC fund (NZGCP). I worked with countless founders and investors and learned the ins and outs of startups. 

In 2021, I felt like it’s time to move overseas (after all NZ is such a small market), but Covid meant my options were limited so I packed my bags and moved to Sydney. I spent a few weeks working at a family office before being let go due to bad fit.

I needed a new job and came across an Investment Manager role at a carbon project developer called C-Quest Capital. Over the next 1.5 years I worked with some amazing investors like Macquarie and Temasek and structured investments into C-Quest’s community based carbon projects in Africa, India and Southeast Asia. 

We were so good at our job that our project portfolio grew by 10x within 18 months, which made our jobs very difficult since everything was done in excel, emails and pdfs. Things were so painful and stressful that I worked until 3 am on Christmas eve and often struggled to sleep at night. 

I had finally found my problem to solve as a founder! So in mid-2022 I left my job at C-Quest and started CarbonHQ. I’m now a co-founder at CarbonHQ, and working with a team of six amazing individuals to build software for carbon project management! 

We’d love to know what a typical day is like for you. Could you describe a recent workday?

My day usually starts at 6.15 am. I’d make some coffee and spend time with our newborn before leaving home. I live quite far from our office so it’s a good opportunity to read a book on the train.

If I get into our office early enough I’ll go for a quick workout before hopping on a call with our product designer in London. I’ll then check LinkedIn, AFR and Carbon Pulse before responding to my emails. 

The day would be filled with sales outreach, product discussions and investor calls. I try to keep a list of needle moving items and keep myself focussed throughout the day.

I wrap up in the office at 5pm and try to meditate a bit on the train home. I usually have a few calls with potential customers or partners in the evening, since most of our target clients are in Europe/Africa. 

Work generally wraps up at 8pm/9pm and I’ll spend some time with my wife or take my newborn for a stroll around Olympic Park. 

Can you define work-life balance for yourself and share with us your approach in maintaining it?

I’m a massive basketball nerd, and my definition of work life balance is Lebron James. Lebron has been dominating the NBA for more than 20 years, recently broke the league record for most points scored, and is still performing at an elite level at almost 40-years old. That is unheard of in such an intense contact sport where many players have career ending injuries in their 20s. 

Talent and hard work aside, Lebron invests millions of dollars a year to take care of his body and has changed his playing style as he got older. According to other players, Lebron’s secret of having a long and productive career is to never redline and always operate at 80%. But he’s just so good that even at 80% he’s one of the best players on the planet. 

Change is constant, and it’s essential for growth. Have you made any lifestyle changes in the past year to improve your work-life balance?

Absolutely. 2023 was a difficult year for me. I was a first time founder trying to keep my startup afloat, and became a new dad in August. I was thoroughly burnt out at the end of the year, and I knew I must make changes. 

I’ve been managing my anxious mind by picking up new habits such as reading, meditating, and limiting my screen time. 

I also try to get a cold shower a couple of times a week. Saturday morning is a good time for the ritual to wash away the week and create a feeling of ‘turning a chapter’. 

We’re always on the lookout for new resources! Can you recommend any books, podcasts, or newsletters that have helped you in your journey towards balance?

I don’t want to repeat all the classic self-help books (although The Subtle Art was a terrific book), so I’m going to recommend We Were Dreamers by Simu Liu. This book was so personal and I really resonated with Simu’s experience of:

1. Being an immigrant,

2. High expectations from parents

3. Working as an auditor and hating it, and

4. Taking a chance and doing something risky. 

I’m not in any Marvel movies though and that’s where the similarities fall short…

Before we wrap up, do you have any final words of wisdom or insights on work, life, or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

Life is supposed to be fun. If you are not having fun then try switching things up! Thanks for reading my story.

About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.