Welcome to the future of nail art. (Photo: Jon Paterson)
When you imagine robot devices for children, you may envision a Transformer-like humanoid sitting on the shelf in the gendered “boys” section of an old-fashioned toy store — but Preemadonna co-founders Pree Walia and Casey Kute Schulz are changing the face of consumer robots with Nailbot, a robot that does your nails for you. The motor-driven bot, which was unveiled at TechCrunch San Francisco 2015 in late September and was a finalist at TC Disrupt Battlefield, retails for $199. All you have to do is put on a white or light colored polish and use an app on your smartphone to guide the inkjet print onto your finger. You can make a custom design or choose from a set of available designs, like emojis. There are robots that vacuum, robots that hold conversations, and robots that provide full body massages nowadays, so the invention of a robot that gives you nail art in a few minutes seems like a logical extension of our wannabe-Jetsons world. Today, the startup, which raised $250,000 in seed funding in September, launches its Indiegogo campaign.
The Nailbot prototype. (Photo: Courtesy of Preemadonna)
“I came up with this idea in the summer of 2012,” Walia tells Yahoo Beauty. “I was in Europe for a friend’s wedding, and I got a manicure that cost me a lot of money. There was literally a lightbulb in my head — I wondered if I could get a smartphone to control my nail art.” Walia doesn’t have an academic tech background — she studied history and gender studies at Northwestern University and holds an MBA from University of Chicago, and she originally moved to Silicon Valley to work on the unsuccessful California governor campaign of venture capitalist Steve Westly. “Turns out, early-stage startups are a lot like political campaigns,” she explains, regarding the energy and pace of the work. After working on the campaign, she started working in hardware technology for a venture-backed LED light startup called Lunera and a connected device startup called Cloudbeam. She calls her co-founder, Schulz, a “force of a nature.” Schulz, who holds a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Carnegie Mellon University, has worked extensive with robot design at NASA Ames and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
The smartphone app for Nailbot. (Photo: Courtesy of Preemadonna)
“I’ve been supported by amazing, wonderful people, especially women,” Walia says, citing her two older sisters and college freshman roommate for their unrelenting support for Preemadonna. She also credits Jan Peterson, a former boss at Cloudbeam who is now an advisor, and Helen Greiner, co-founder of the iRobot, who invests in Preemadonna. Taking this mentorship and sisterhood ethos into her company, Walia is also working with Girl Scouts, Alexa Café (an all-girls tech summer camp), and University of Illinois’ MakerGirl program. One of the new variations of the Nailbot will be a bot that you can build yourself. “We’re authentic girls and we’re building a company and we’re showing girls how we’re building it,” Walia explains. Currently, girls can sign up to be Ambassadors on the website, where they can learn how to build their own Nailbot, design their own art on Illustrator and Photoshop, and learn about marketing.
The Nailbot is being marketed towards tween and teenage girls who love changing their nail art, although Walia makes clear that in their focus groups, there were boys who loved the robot, too. 92 percent of teenage girls decorate their nails, and 14 percent do it daily. A teenage girl might not be able afford a professional manicure for $40 or more, but the $199 Nailbot may pay off if she uses it on a consistent basis. Walia’s heard the criticism online, but she isn’t trying to reinforce gender stereotypes with Nailbot. She wants Nailbot to be an example of how technology is a source of fun and inspiration — and, of course, convenience.