By Amy Feldman
Jooyeon Song, a native of Korea and former BCG consultant, spent many hours in frustration getting her nails done. Studying for her MBA at Stanford Business School in 2017, she teamed up with classmates David Miro Llopis and Grace Chiang (who left when it was still a student project) with an idea to cut the hassle of going to the salon so often. “It was nearly impossible for me to sit in the nail salon for two hours,” says Song, now 29. “I quickly realized that it was not just my personal pain point.”
Her startup, ManiMe, based in Santa Monica, California, makes custom-fit, stick-on gel manicures. With ManiMe, consumers simply take a photo of their nails and send it to the company, which uses 3D modeling and a laser cutter to create a custom fit.
“Other items on Instagram, you can click and buy, but nail art you could not do that. Now you can.”
It’s a fun idea for custom manufacturing, but not frivolous given how much time and money many women (and some men) spend on their nails. ManiMe, which went through the Techstars accelerator and officially launched in October 2019, has raised nearly $9 million from VC firms Canaan and Trinity Ventures. With salons either closed—or seemingly too dangerous—during the pandemic, ManiMe’s revenue is expected to surpass $3 million this year.
“Covid has been a huge tailwind,” says Canaan partner Maha Ibrahim, who first met ManiMe’s founders when they were pitching their idea at a Stanford startup class and subsequently invested. “Women have been anchored to salons for decades, and this allows them the flexibility to not be specifically connected to a salon.”
The nails, which cost between $15 and $25 a set, range from basics (all shades of nude) to nail designers’ one offs. New York nail artist Madeline Poole was the first to sign on last year. On ManiMe, she offers designs that include clear nails with butterflies floating on them and a nine-colored knit pattern on a glossy black background.
“Stickers are so cool,” she says. “I have done 15 or so of them. Some are classic things that I have handprinted. Some are totally reimagined for being on a sticker. The butterflies I would not have the patience to paint, but you can do it on a sticker.
Since Poole signed on, 10 more nail artists have followed, including popular Instagram nail stylist Hang Nguyen and Brooklyn manicurist Kia Stewart, who is known as Lux K. The nail artists get a small slice of the revenues for each time one of their designs sells on ManiMe, as well as stock options in the startup. Song and Miro Llopis hope to build a community of nail artists that will let customers wear popular designs rather than just scrolling past them on social media.
“Every time we onboard a new designer, we see a spike in sales,” Song says. “Other items on Instagram, you can click and buy, but nail art you could not do that. Now you can—and that is appealing to nail art fans like me.”