The world of nail art is a vast and vibrant scene, from the bold structural designs of Alicia Torello, to the pop-inspired styles of London’s WAH Nails, to the cheerful abstractions of Japan’s Nail Salon Ava Rice, there’s big business and high art in cuticle creativity. Now, with the creation of the automated, smartphone-powered, mini nail printer Nailbot, technology’s entering the fray in a big way. Paint your nails with a light base coat, use the mobile app to select a design, stick them under the machine’s cradle, and print: simple as that. Pree Walia, co-founder of the Nailbot and CEO of Preemadonna, talks about the circuitous path she took toward the creation of the Nailbot, and how her company’s using a grassroots movement to get the word out.
“There wasn’t just one ‘Aha!’ revolutionary moment,” Walia says of the invention of Nailbot. “It was really an accumulation of choices that I’ve made in my life. I was in between jobs and I’d been working in connective hardware. I started working on the transition from analog to digital in the professional building space, and the smartphone is really controlling everything.” While thinking about the importance of the smartphone it all came together while trying to get a manicure on a European vacation. “There I was trying to get a manicure and it was extremely expensive, and when I try to paint my nails myself it doesn’t look very good. So I saw that problem and I wanted to build a device that will paint my fingernails, and very early on I knew I wanted to use the smartphone as the controller. Not just because it’s accessible for so many people, but also we could really bring that price point down.”
Walia doesn’t come from the world of nail art and cosmetics, instead she has a background in politics and news. “I’ve always marched to the beat of my own drum. If I was passionate about something I’d go do it.” Walia describes her core passion as building up other people’s dreams, “I know it may sound a little cliche, but if I was inspired by someone I would work on their mission. So I worked in Democratic politics and progressive politics when I graduated from college. I used some of those same community building tools that I learned in politics to launch this company. In some ways, we’re getting out the Nailbot similar to how we’re getting out the vote. It sounds a little bizarre, but I think you have to go back to what you already know.”
So how does the device work? “You open up the Preemadonna app [not yet released] from the App Store and you select the image you want on your fingernail. You can choose from any emoji you want in your gallery, any picture from your camera roll,” Walia explains that they’re also in talks to develop a licensed art section, and eventually users will be able to design their own art in the app. Once the art’s selected, paint your nails with a light-colored base coat, then an ink-receptive coat, “then you put your finger in the cradle of the machine, tap print on your phone, and within three seconds the art’s going to appear on your fingernail.”
The success of Nailbot won’t just come from the device itself, but from a collaborative community of testers, hackers, designers, and nail art fans—all early adopters Walia recruits via her Preemadonna Ambassadors program. “Nailbot is an awesome product, but it’s really platformed by our mobile experience. And it will just get better and better over time the more girls and boys we have using the Nailbot and contributing to our marketplace.” Walia’s partnered with nonprofit partners including Maker Girl to help test, design for, and the get the word out about Nailbot.
Nailbot is currently in beta, with a limited trial release heading out later this year, after that, they’ll head into mass production. To get in on the action, join the waitlist over at Preemadonna.