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Arnold Leung's Appnovation Technologies defies the startup norm

Courtesy of the Business Development Bank of Canada

In 2007, a 22-year-old Arnold Leung, having just graduated from university, founded Appnovation Technologies, a computer application development company specializing in open source platforms. Despite having very little business experience, it only took Leung two years to lead Appnovation to generating $2.2 million in revenue, and three years to expand to 30 employees.

If you own a small business or know someone who does, then you’re aware of the heart-wrenching stories of young entrepreneurs who spend years fighting tooth and nail to make ends meet. The all-too-familiar pattern of sleepless nights, 70-hour work weeks, and the pressure of delivering on pay day. Then an anomaly like  Leun shows up and you just have to ask, “how the heck did he do it?!”

The accomplishments of  Leung and Appnovation are envied by even seasoned veterans: 

  • A place on Business in Vancouver’s 2010 Top 40 Under 40 list
  • 16th-place ranking on the 2010 PROFIT Hot 50 list for Canada’s Emerging Growth Companies
  • Nomination for Best Company in 2010 Small Business BC Successful You Awards
  • British Columbia’s Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) 2011 Young Entrepreneur Award
  • Youngest member of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO)


As a business owner and business consultant who has had the privilege of helping many businesses achieve -- and hopefully exceed -- their goals, I was captivated by Arnold’s story. I had to know more, so I gave him a call. I took his insights and added some observations of my own to put together the list below, which I hope will provide aspiring business owners with a few valuable lessons.

Strong staff = strong company

Following (knowingly or unknowingly) the “First Who... Then What” philosophy outlined by Jim Collins in Good to Great, Arnold started by assembling a team of disciplined, reliable people. Nine times out of 10, having the right people on board is far more important than deciding on the product or service. Strong people will make a good company great, while a weak team can sink even the largest company.

Surround yourself with success

Highly influential entrepreneur, author, and motivational speaker Jim Rohn once said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” By involving himself with groups like the Entrepreneurs Organization and the Vancouver Enterprise Forum, Arnold has always surrounded himself with creative, driven, savvy business people that he can learn from, share insight with, ask for advice, and bounce ideas off of.

Goal-driven, strategic planning

Arnold’s goal was to build a publicly traded company. So rather than fight the uphill battle of competing with established companies on their turf, he identified an under-serviced market niche and built a strong company focussed on satisfying that specific need.

Driven, entrepreneurial mindset

From business to sports to art, and everything in between, mindset is vital. It’s clear that Arnold is a natural entrepreneur. He had the drive to start a business while in school earning his finance degree. He’s also a risk taker, as evidenced by his decision to start his own business rather than to seek the stability of full-time employment.

Strong business acumen and dedication to personal growth 

Arnold considers his finance degree key to his success because it formed the foundation of his business knowledge. But he didn’t stop learning after school. He also cites the importance of creativity and persistence, which combine to create an ongoing cycle of learning that will help overcome the inevitable obstacles faced by business owners in all industries.

Prepare for the unexpected

But even if you do everything right, there will be hard times. Whether it’s a fire at the office, a natural disaster, or a key team member leaving, obstacles can and will pop up when they’re least expected. So what’s Arnold advice for dealing with this kind of adversity? 

“There are always challenges along the way when you’re building a company, so it’s important to keep a bright and clear mindset," he said. "That way, you know that all challenges will get resolved one way or the other and you won’t get bogged down by them. With the right mindset, challenges will look simplistic and problems will be solved easily.”

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