Arun Saigal

Co-Founder of Thunkable

Arun Saigal is the Co-Founder and CEO of Thunkable, the platform that enables anyone to build their own apps without coding. Recently named to Forbes 30 Under 30 for Consumer Technology, Arun has held a variety of leading roles and positions at technology companies, including Quizlet, Khan Academy, Aspiring Minds, and Google.

At Quizlet, Arun was the lead Android developer and helped grow the platform to over 10 million users. He holds an SB and SM, which he received in 2013, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Outside of the office, Arun conducts orchestras and plays viola and mridangam, and beatboxes in several SF-based music groups.

Where did the idea for Thunkable come from?

When the app building market started to develop, we made a bet that people would want to design their own mobile experiences, but only a small number of people would have the technical training to code apps.

This would prevent the vast majority of smartphone users from having any say in what their mobile experience would look like.

So we asked ourselves, how can we enable everyone — including people who don’t know how to code — to build mobile apps? From there, Thunkable was born.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I wake up at 8:00 AM to check my email and Slack. If there isn’t anything urgent, I’ll start my yoga practice and prayers.

I arrive at the office at 9:30 AM. Besides a lunch break with the whole team at noon, I work until 7:00 PM leading meetings, speaking with investors, and strategizing on what comes next for Thunkable.

In the evenings, I usually have a music rehearsal or performance. I beatbox and play several instruments — the viola, a variety of Indian drums, and the trombone. I also conduct the San Francisco Civic Symphony in the summer.

Timeboxing my schedule allows me to budget and use my time efficiently. That’s probably my best approach to maximizing productivity.

How do you bring ideas to life?

If I have a new idea, I try to prototype it and get feedback as quickly as possible. I usually try to connect with experts in the space, friends, family, or team.

Build. Launch. Iterate.

Google Docs and spreadsheets are my friends.

What’s one trend that excites you?

This is a bit of a cop out, but the Low-Code/No-Code movement is changing the world. For so long, knowing how to code was a requirement for building world-changing technology. Only a small number of people were defining what mobile experiences looked like. But now, Low-Code/No-Code tools are enabling everyone to solve their own problems and harness their creativity at a scale that was previously impossible.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Focusing intensely on something else.

By spending time conducting a symphony or playing an instrument, I think intensely about something else for a couple of hours a day. Then, when I come back to my company, I can approach things with fresh eyes. I also come back with new ideas and lessons in leadership from being a symphony leader.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Relationships are everything.

Invest in your friends and colleagues. Help each other grow and develop.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

1. Software engineers will become commoditized and the future will be led by creatives.

2. Caffeine makes people sleepy, and chamomile tea is a great way to start the day.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Post-mortems. When a project, a job, a stressful life situation etc. comes to an end, discuss how it went and why. What was good? What could have gone better?

History repeats itself — let’s hope the mistakes don’t.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Telling everyone about the business. A lot of people say you should keep your business idea quiet until you are ready to launch. By telling as many people as possible about it, you get a lot of feedback and opportunities to improve it. Also, it often leads to new investors and new users.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I liked making every user happy. I would invest in building something to help one person instead of focusing on projects that would have a bigger impact.
The solution was to set goals and metrics every time we built something new, so that we could better measure the value and impact of our work.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Right now, small companies are not incentivized to talk to lawyers because they get charged an arm and a leg every time they do (I still love our corporate counsel!).

Small companies can’t afford to bring a lawyer in-house. Making a law firm where startups are not “penalized” every time they speak with a lawyer would probably save a lot of lost money in lawsuits down the line.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Therapist/Coach. I have a very supportive network of friends and family, but it’s even more helpful to have a trained professional who can work with you to process problems, stresses, and tricky situations.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Here’s another cop out: Google Calendar.

I use Google Calendar for everything — scheduling meetings, blocking off time, writing down information, todo lists, etc. Having an app that handles the logistics of my week is crucial because I can save my brainspace for more strategic work. “Time management is important” – Adults.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. It focuses on how to be a good person, which, in turn, will make you a good leader and a good friend.

What is your favorite quote?

“I have always admired the ability to bite off more than one can chew and then chew it.” – William C. deMille

Key Learnings:

  • The No-code/Low-code space is changing the world by giving people of every background, education, and experience the tools to build great solutions for their most immediate problems.
  • Life and work are intertwined. Make sure you leave space in your life for the people and activities that matter to you. This will improve the quality of your work.
  • Entrepreneurship is a rollercoaster. Sometimes you have a great idea and it fails. Sometimes you have a ridiculous idea and it succeeds. There are no guarantees, but there are lessons everywhere.