Founder and CEO of Preemadonna
Pree Walia is the CEO and founder of Preemadonna, and the inventor of its first product line, Nailbot, that prints custom art directly on nails with your phone in 5 seconds! As Pree explained to BusinessWire: "Our mission is to power creativity through interactive smart hardware. We view ‘nail’ as a category that is fun, playful, social and creative that also blends art, STEM, and beauty.”
Pree earned her BA from Northwestern and her MBA from the University of Chicago. After graduating she started working as a community organizer and fundraiser in grassroots politics, eventually making her way to Silicon Valley to start Preemadonna.
Pree in front of sketches of the Nailbot.
Pree’s journey with Preemadonna proves what a talented and capable founder she is, when she hit a wall raising capital she found creative ways to adapt and move forward. The Preemadonna team participated in accelerators and competitions and found alternate routes to early funding. The team lived in Shenzhen China as part of SOSV’s HAX Hardware Accelerator, they were part of the Founders Factory accelerator, they were one of six finalists at Techcrunch Disrupt. Pree shared: “We pitched hundreds of angel and smaller seed funds - many of them multiple times before they said yes. While building a large investor base takes up precious time, it has network effect advantages.”
Pree has been so generous with her time and advice, it truly has been such an honor connecting with her, read the full interview below and let us know what you think.
Firstly, how did the idea for the Nailbot first come about? What were some of the first steps you took to make it happen?
There were a few "Aha" moments coming together! I had been working in led lighting and building automation and saw the shift from analog to digital happening there. Then I saw all these at-home LED dryer systems hit the market where consumers were comfortable sticking their hands in devices sold with polishes and nail cosmetics. I like to say it was the LED light that went off in my head. I set off on a mission to build a whole family of at home Nailbots that decorate your nails with art and eventually custom polish - at a price point that is affordable and accessible.
What were some of the obstacles you had to overcome? How was your experience applying for a patent?
We currently have over 8 granted patents and additional applications pending. My experience is to be patient. The process can be long but if you have conviction in your inventions, it will be worth the time spent.
The unparalleled Nailbot!
Although this number has slightly fluctuated in the last few years, less than 3% of VC funding goes to female founders, how was your experience pitching/seeking investment?
Our funding story is one that is common amongst many hardware founders that raise seed capital, made all the more challenging being female and a person of color. We raised capital over several years to build Nailbot. Each check was hard fought and generally required rounds of diligence. Here are five things that we did to build and capitalize a consumer beauty hardware product.
1. Adapt: Many traditional venture capitalists on Sandhill found it difficult to understand a vision for a consumer beauty hardware product in part because they are typically focused on software. So, we adapted. We started to change our style of pitching: showing what we’ve been able to accomplish with little capital and the organic communities we are building around Nailbot. If you can’t convince someone to give you the $5M at once, should you give up? Or should you find an alternate way?
2. Raise in Tranches for Product Progress: With each capital infusion, we've made steady progress on our hardware and software development through each stage of NPI.
3. Find & Mobilize a Village: I started my professional career after college in politics as a fundraiser and political organizer. I learned that it takes both a grassroots approach coupled with larger institutional funding to get a campaign funded and candidate elected. As a founder, I took a similar approach to our capital raises. Our path has been paved with checks from accelerators, pre-seed, and seed funds, over 60 individual investors and from the power of the crowd. Ultimately, we found investors that believed in us, the immediate problem we were solving and our bigger vision - these key investors also happened to be predominantly female. Incredible women have powered Preemadonna over and over again - from Jesse Draper (Halogen Ventures), Angela Tran (Version One), and the numerous female angels and pre seed/seed funds led by women that believed the Nailbot would be truly transformative product.
4. Consider Unconventional Pitches: We entered numerous pitch contests – to win cash, meet others in our industry and engage with potential partners or investors.
5. Believe in Yourself: I’ve overcome “imposter syndrome” many times on this journey. I’ve had to dig deep to focus on our purpose and mission even through all the nos, failure, and a draining bank account. My advice to other entrepreneurs that are starting out is to believe in yourself. Your mental mindset is one of the biggest competitive advantages that you have as an entrepreneur.
Pree Walia presenting at TechCrunch Disrupt
How do you want Preemadonna to evolve?
Our mission at Preemadonna is to power creative expression in beauty! We have a company motto that we “make magic happen,” and we incorporate that playful experience in our products. We do this in three main ways:
1) We build affordable and accessible at-home smart hardware (Nailbot) that decorates fingernails. The hardware is accompanied by a mobile art marketplace that complements Nailbot printing experience where users can create, share, and eventually sell their designs!
2) Our community is primarily composed of Gen Z young women who are the heaviest users of DIY nail cosmetics in the USA. Nailbot is not only a beauty tool, but also a gateway for STEAM engagement as our community designs digital art and learns how Nailbot was made. We have a unique and privileged opportunity to engage, and co-create with these dynamic cultural agents who are makers, artists, hackers and coders.
3) We picked “nail” as our first creativity category because it is playful, artistic, and social. Our product and platform vision to build and power interactive creative printers and robots that extend beyond the $15B nail industry to other maker markets like henna, tattoo, and craft.