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INNOVATORS VS COVID 19

App prototype building platform Thunkable saw the number of clients swell during the lockdown, Arun Saigal tells us how they deal with the growth

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Arun Saigal & Weihua James L

First of all, how are you and your Family doing in these COVID-19 Times?

Arun Saigal: My parents tested positive for COVID-19 in March, and my dad spent 29 days on a ventilator. 

The statistics for someone in that position are not good, and we knew it. Given the uncertainty of COVID-19 at the beginning of the outbreak, every day felt like a year. It made me realize that while we have some amount of control in our lives, we also have no control at all. Remarkably, they are both ok now and have been steadily recovering.

Tell us about you, your Career, how you Founded Thunkable

Arun Saigal: I met my Co-Founder, Weihua James Li, while we were studying at MIT. 

Fun fact about Wei, he was the founder and President of MIT’s first Karaoke Club. 

But it wasn’t our love of karaoke that brought us together. It was our passion to empower students by teaching them computer science. In 2009, I joined the MIT Scratch team. Scratch is a blocks-based coding platform that teaches young students computer science principles. Coding boot camps are huge right now, but back in 2009, our goal was to teach computer science to students as early as five years old. After working on Scratch, I joined another blocks-based coding platform called MIT App Inventor. 

MIT App Inventor enables anyone to build apps for Android devices using the coding blocks from Scratch. Wei joined one year later, and over the next few semesters, we saw this college project turn into one of the largest app-development platforms in the world for non-developers, with more than 4.5 million registered users.

Seeing the potential for no-code platforms, we made a bet that people would want to design their own mobile apps, but only a small number of people would know how to code. This would prevent the vast majority of smartphone users from having any say in what their mobile experiences would look like. 

So we asked ourselves, how we can enable everyone — including people who don’t know how to code — to build mobile apps. 

From there, Thunkable was born.

How does Thunkable Innovate?

Arun Saigal: Customer feedback. We constantly interview current and potential users to get feedback and validate experiments. If you’re not doing this, you’re in trouble. Sometimes we have to dig deep for insights. Other times, the answers are very clear. For example, you can build mobile and web apps on Thunkable without coding, but 6 months ago, it wasn’t possible to build web apps. Users had been asking about this feature for weeks. So we figured out what it would take to make it happen, and then we did it. 

We also pay close attention to the no-code market. Where is it going? What problems need to be solved? Who’s doing what? 

How the Coronavirus Pandemic affects your Business, and how are you coping?

Arun Saigal: Since the pandemic, user growth is up, and we are working to meet demand. We have a lot of users who use Thunkable to build app prototypes and test ideas. It’s a lot harder to do that when your team is remote. But with Thunkable, we make it very easy to share your work across teams and immediately test changes. 

Did you have to make Difficult Choices, and what are the Lessons Learned?

Arun Saigal: Our team really loved our office. Big windows, great views of downtown San Francisco, and lots of plants. But we had to give it up. We still have no idea when it will be safe to work in person again, and the most important thing is the health and safety of your team. 

How do you deal with Stress and Anxiety? How do you project yourself and Thunkable in the Future?

Arun Saigal: When my dad was on a ventilator for 29 days, I learned a lot about the power of prayer and meditation. When you’re dealing with uncertainty, sometimes the best thing you can do is articulate your fears, give them to a higher power, and focus your mind on your breath. 

Music also helps. Who doesn’t love a dope beat?

Who are your Competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the Game?

Arun Saigal: Our competitors are Bubble, Figma, and Adalo. But building mobile apps is hard, and no one has really figured it out yet. Hopefully, we can get there first. 

Your Final Thoughts

Arun Saigal: The most important thing is your health — physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. This pandemic is going to last a long time, but at some point, we are going to make it to the other side. Take care of yourself and make sure that the important people around you know that you love them. 

Your Website? 

http://Thunkable.com

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