The Inventor of the Nailbot Tells Us the Story Behind Her Awesome Nail Art Printer
Nailbot definitely wasn't built overnight, and Pree and her team have spent years iterating and making it better so an official Nailbot unit can start shipping this year. We got the chance to chat with Pree to find out what inspired the Nailbot and made it possible, and why it's so critical for girls to pursue science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM.
(Courtesy of Pree Walia)
SH: Where did the idea for Nailbot come from?
PW: In my first job in business school I worked for an LED lighting control startup called Lunera. After that job, I took a summer off. I was in Europe trying to get my nails done and it cost a lot of money and I had to wait two days to get an appointment. I thought that there had to be a better way.
Around that time, those LED Sally Hansen nail dryers hit the market. I realized that women were comfortable sticking their hands in an at-home device to do their nails. I thought that was clever, and I connected the dots and realized something similar could be used for nail art.
That made me want to create a whole family of Nailbots. Right now we're starting with art, where you can decorate your nails with emojis and your own fun designs, but eventually we're going to paint the whole nail. I've been working on that for some time and it's going to happen in the next couple of years.
(Courtesy of Pree Walia)
SH: Once you had that concept in mind, what were all the steps to creating a company around the Nailbot?
PW: Working on the Nailbot for so long has taught me that I'm an inventor at my core. Nailbot is an awesome product, but in order for it to be successful it needed to be powered by a community of smart, dynamic, creative people.
I decided to build a bigger company around Nailbot, which become Preemadonna. It sounds a little narcissistic, but it's meant to be about being smart as well as beautiful. I love pushing my mind, but I still love getting my hair and nails done, and I think many women feel the same way.
To get started I iterated on a lot of prototypes and went through a lot of concepts, but my co-founder Casey Schulz, was really integral to getting the device ready. She's the ultimate Preemadonna and MakerGirl. This girl can hack and build and wear a tiara at the same time.
Casey and I lived in the Guangdong province in China in 2015, and we learned a lot about the prototyping process, how to bring a product to market and how to set up a supply chain. We were surrounded by other hardware startups and had a great mentor system as well. I think that was a key turning point for our company.
We tested the first couple of generations of prototypes with users through nail parties that my old bosses would host for us. We really emerged out of stealth at TechCrunch Disrupt a little over a year ago, where we launched onstage and did live demos, which was really fun.
I'm also very proud to announce that we're part of L'Oreal's Beauty Accelerator, which gives us access to their senior management and executives. I pitched directly to the CEO and chief digital officer of L'Oreal. That kind of access and leveraging those relationships as we build and manufacture are also key.
We didn't have any of these relationships before we started the company. We built our prototypes in Casey's garage, so it's really been a dream come true for us.
(Courtesy of Pree Walia)
Sweety High: Did you pursue STEM fields in school?
Pree Walia: Ironically, I actually have a liberal arts and business background, but during and after business school I worked for hardware startups in Silicon Valley. My hardware background is from the field. Even when I was in college, I never imagined that I would be in that kind of role, and I definitely didn't think I would start my own tech-focused company.
I always thought I was going to be a lawyer, and I love politics, so that's where I spent the first portion of my career. I really loved making things from the ground up, and for me that meant working on campaigns and at early-stage startups.
Casey has a more traditional STEM background. She has her undergraduate and Master's degree in mechanical engineering. She's always had a focus on robotics and I think the two of us have great synergy together. Some of our biggest supporters are the MakerGirls. They're really dynamic and they're natural entrepreneurs, and a lot of them are super outgoing, but they still like to design, code and hack. I think that's the best of all worlds.
SH: How did falling into a science role show you the importance of women in STEM fields?
PW: I believe it's important for girls to believe in themselves at a really young age and through each chapter of their careers. We have the power to build an idea into something very big. That's the core idea of entrepreneurship.
Whether it's something you're making with your own hands, like the Nailbot, or you're coding an app or building a movement of people behind a cause, you're an entrepreneur. Building a hardware prototype is all about teamwork, whether you're the one building it or the one recruiting the people with that technical knowledge, and that can be the hardest part of building something. Had I not worked in hardware before I started this venture, I wouldn't have known where to even start. I knew I couldn't build it myself, so I needed to get the right people on my team.
I'm also a firm believer in failure. I've failed in so many things, and I still fail a lot, which can make some people cautious as they get older. Those types of risks start feeling more monumental, but every time you need to get back up and try again, you keep trying.
SH: What made you decide to turn to crowdfunding on Kickstarter to get Nailbot off the ground?
PW: I'm a big believer in the power of the crowd. If people believe in something enough, I think it can change the course of history. Working in politics helped me understand the power of reaching out directly for support, and that's what Kickstarter and Indiegogo let you do.
You have to put yourself out there and ask people to support your idea and make it a reality. That comes with another set of challenges. When people feel like they're invested in your idea, it means you're also publicly held accountable. If Nailbot fails, it's my face and name out there.
We actually launched an early beta campaign on Indiegogo. It didn't raise a lot of money, but it was really critical in developing an early group of backers. We're working overtime to ship their beta units by the summer, and they're getting official units for free when they're available. They're so loyal and they helped put us on the map. We got a lot of coverage out of it as well, and a lot of community partners followed up as well as retailers like L'Oreal, so we got traction just by putting the idea out there.
For our Kickstarter, I had my fingers crossed it would work, and I was really pleasantly surprised. These backers get direct access to me, the person inventing Nailbot and running the company, to answer their questions directly, and they're going to be the first to get their hands on it. I hope that means a lot to them, because you can't get that with a bigger company.
(Courtesy of Pree Walia)
SH: What are you most excited to see once Nailbot launches?
PW: The CEO and product developer in me wants critical feedback as soon as that happens, because we have many generations of the Nailbot on the way. Whether it's a print that takes one pass or multiple passes, or it can dry your nails at the same time and eventually paint your nails, there are so many iterations of the Nailbot we want to push out. Critical feedback is how we can improve and bring the price down over time.
But will be very lasting for Nailbot and the girls and boys who use it is the ability to design your own nail art in the app and externally, and print instantly. Your nails are going to be a creative canvas. It's not just for folks who want to decorate their nails—it's for those that want to design for other people to print. I think the ability to grow and curate that marketplace is going to be wonderful. I can't wait to see what people print.
(Courtesy of Pree Walia)
SH: Do you think Nailbot will inspire girls to pursue science?
PW: That would be amazing. I always think of the Nailbot as serious fun. It's a creative tool for self-expression, and if you just want the Nailbot to print cool emojis and selfies on your nails, it will do that in five seconds. But if you're a young woman who wants to learn about how the Nailbot was made, we've made this very public. You can check out our MakerKit online.
If you want to design nail art, you can learn digital software, and if you eventually want to code your own nail art, we are working on a very cool functionality for that later this year. I hope the Nailbot shows girls that if you have an idea, especially a technology concept, you can build it even if it seems impossible.
I never intended to build a beauty company. I worked in building automation and sold lights, so I never thought that would be my path. But we had a very clever way of building something that transcends beauty. I think nail art is awesome, but I wanted it to be more than a beauty device. Otherwise, I don't think I could have worked so long on this. It's so important to show tech applications in unusual fields.
SH: What advice do you have for young women who want to break into the tech world and entrepreneurship?
PR: First, surround yourself with people who are better than you are and listen to them. My first big investor was my freshman year roommate in college, Diane Donald. She was the first person I told about Nailbot when I got the idea, without anything to back it up. She said, "I'm probably going to lose all my money, but I believe in you," and without her, this company would have never worked.
A lot of my sorority sisters from college have invested in my company, as well as Helen Greiner, the inventor of the Roomba. The women in my life have really pushed me forward and the people who have gotten behind Preemadonna are far smarter than I will ever be. When things are really tough, I look to the MakerGirls. They believe it's going to work and want to help build it, and that's what's really kept me going.
But if I gave one piece of advice, it would be to make sure that you're investing in other young women, and to ask the women in your life to invest in you. That's the only reason Nailbot exists today.
It's always hard to go out of your comfort zone and ask people for money, especially if it's someone you look up to. They may say no at first, but no isn't always no forever. You just have to go work harder and figure it out. You always have to ask other women to believe in you, especially if you have a female-oriented company, and you have to give back. You can't just wait until you're super successful to do that, because you're never get there without that help.
Want a Nailbot of your own? You can join their waitlist to pre-order here.
And if you're interested in pursuing STEM yourself but don't know where to start, click HERE to learn all about the StemBox subscription box.