A robot that decorates fingernails and inspires minds.By Pree Walia (Inventor of the Nailbot)
I like being smart. I like feeling beautiful. I like being a girl.
I am also the lead inventor of the Nailbot.
This is the story behind my product. We are more than a beauty company. We are more than a tech company. We are a community of dynamic women and men who like seriously fun technology.
What’s the Nailbot?
The Nailbot is a device that instant prints art directly on your nails with your smartphone.
How does it work? Prep your nails, select your art with our app and tap print. In about 5 seconds, that art will appear on your fingernail. We leverage your smartphone’s vision capabilities and processing power to make the Nailbot affordable and accessible.
The Nailbot is a serious piece of connected hardware with appeal to girls and women of all ages. But the Nailbot has more utility that just decorating nails. It’s an innovative robot for fun, creativity and play.
Through nail parties and workshops, we involved girls and women in our product development process to ensure we built something girls would really love. To develop our prototypes, we lived in Shenzhen, China as part of the Hax Hardware Accelerator for four months. Since September 2015, we’ve racked up the following serious tech awards: TechCrunch Disrupt Startup Battlefield Finalists, Robot Launch First Runner Up and Girls in Tech/Lady Pitch Night Finalists.
Our current $150,000 Nailbot crowdfunding goal is high and extreme by almost any measure, but it is realistic (and quite frankly still too low to ship a well designed product — so we are still raising additional capital elsewhere for NRE costs).
How Nail Painting Robots Became My Passion
At 29 in 2012, I was on an uncharted path. I had no children, boyfriend, employer or huge responsibility. Instead, I had a crazy idea. I wanted to build a nail painting robot.
As with most startups, the lightbulb moment came from my own life experience. If you’ve ever painted your nails, you know how difficult it is to keep your non-dominate hand steady to paint evenly. Getting to a salon to keep your nails beautifully manicured can get expensive and inconvenient. But what if your personal nail-painting robot could do all the work? What if you could switch up the art on your nails as often as you wanted? And what if you could do it with friends?
I wanted to bring this nail painting robot to life, and I knew that if I worked hard enough I could make it happen. The Nailbot has defined the past three years of my life — and counting.
As we worked on countless prototypes, recruited team members, tried to raise money, I failed over and over again. (We were, in fact, rejected from one specific accelerator three times).But we kept going. I painted potential investors’ nails, tested products on real girls, pivoted our product line, filed for patents, maxed out credit cards, and tried to let competition inspire me rather than deflate me.
I received criticism left and right. Some investors didn’t “get” our product. And if they were men who never painted their nails before, how could they? So I would bring a fake hand to meetings so investors could try painting nails. This is just one of the many hurdles we’ve encountered so far, but we knew our product could make a difference in a bigger movement.
The push to inspire a love of math, science, engineering, technology and entrepreneurship in girls is being accelerated through role models like Megan Smith, CTO of the United States, organizations like Alexa Café and MakerGirl that teach STEM concepts through 3D printing workshops or tailored all-girls instruction, and hardware startups like Jewelbots and Linkitz that use friendship bracelets to introduce girls to coding principles.
My contribution to this movement may seem unconventional because the Nailbot is an overtly feminine product. But, our vision is to create products and a community where girls can embrace any aspects of traditional “femininity” that they enjoy and still be technology creators. We’re building a platform for girls to invent, design, code and make an art marketplace together.
With our Maker Kit, our community can build and program one of our original prototypes using Arduino- an open source platform. Our team is also putting together video and in person tutorials to show girls how to design their own digital art using software programs. Their art will be featured in our mobile apps starting in early 2016. We will include information on notable women in our society in our mobile app. In time, we will open up parts of our mobile app for girls to build new experiences with the Nailbot using their computer science skills. Our community partners include the girl powered tech camps and startups listed above and grassroots Girl Scout Councils that are piloting Maker Badges for their troops.
As we build our products we have a personal and authentic message we wanted to communicate: You are not a contradiction. You are dynamic! You can rock heels, a fabulous manicure and be a respected CEO. And you can still be a technologist and build awesome products. We encourage girls to be their dynamic selves and embrace all the interests and passions that make them unique.
We also understand that many teen and pre-teen girls really just want the Nailbot to paint their nails so that they can feel pretty. And this is OK too!
The Nailbot is Part of a Bigger Movement
When I started on my entrepreneurial journey with the Nailbot, I had to take a hard look at who I am and who I am not. I’m a girl’s girl. I have always found my solace in my sisters and female friendships early in my childhood and throughout each chapter of my life. It was where I found my truest self and felt smart and beautiful. Where I was appreciated for my humor, ability to change, sarcasm, insecurities and wild spirit. My first investors were my college best friends, business school girlfriends, sisters, and accomplished female inventors like iRobot co-founder, Helen Greiner. The women in my life have been my excelsior - the Nailbot would not exist without the support of these dynamic women.
I’m also known as the hustler. I know how to build partnerships, recruit teams, inspire communities, raise capital, sell vision and hardware, invent the unknown and push myself intellectually.
But there are things that I am not: I’m not an engineer. I don’t have a traditional STEM or technology background. The Nailbot can truly inspire more girls who may not think it’s cool or relevant to pursue their interests in STEAM or start their own businesses. So how do I do this without being a phony and opportunistic?
Well, it starts with the people that believed in us from the beginning. It starts with my incredible co-founder Casey Schulz. Casey is a robotics engineer, building quadcopters, satellites, cartesian robots and small motion control systems. She holds an MS in Mechanical Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University.
What does our company represent to her? I asked Casey on video that question, and here’s what she said:
“It’s a way to validate what I went through as a little kid. I was all these different things. But most everyone saw me as as the smart girl or the quiet girl. But I was a lot more than that, and I had trouble reconciling all these different things, but only being known for one. And wondering why they don’t see everything else. That’s what our message is about. You’re not a contradiction. You can do a bunch of different things. And you can be really good at all of them.”
Casey and the team members that believed in us from the beginning are makers. They are builders. They are engineers. They are hackers. They are technologists. They are also crafters, best friends, big sisters, athletes and artists. They are amazing, smart, and beautiful. They are dynamic. And they have mainly been women. Without them, the Nailbot would only exist in sketches. Everyone who has had a hand in the Nailbot shares our vision to impact mainstream popular culture for the next generation of girls. Our Indiegogo campaign closes January 9th — the links in this post will give the Women 2.0 community a VIP perk for special access and discounted pricing.
It’s bigger than just increasing the number of women in STEM & STEAM, it’s bigger than changing the ratio of women in venture capital or female CEOS — it’s about channeling the power of being born or identifying as a woman, with all of its gender constructions and assumptions, into something extraordinary using our consumer power and by supporting other girls, women and feminists.
Believe in us. We will make you proud.
About the guest blogger: Pree Walia is the lead inventor of the Nailbot & CEO of Preemadonna. She is passionate about causes that impact women and girls. Pree previously spent time working at high growth venture-backed hardware start-ups, on progressive political campaigns, and holds an MBA from the University of Chicago. Follow her on Twitter at @preewalia.