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How Jooyeon Song turned a manicure idea into an innovative beauty company

She didn't have hours to spend at the nail salon — so she came up with a solution.
Jooyeon Song is the CEO and co-founder of ManiMe, which brings DIY gel manicures right to your doorstep.
Jooyeon Song is the CEO and co-founder of ManiMe, which brings DIY gel manicures right to your doorstep. Manime
/ Source: TMRW

We are all works in progress; even the successful women you see owning it on Instagram faced stumbling blocks along the way and continue to work hard to stay at the top of their game. In this series, we're sitting down with the people that inspire us to find out: How'd they do it? And what is success really like? This is "Getting There."

Ever wish you could have amazing nail art without going to the salon? So did Jooyeon Song, which is why she created ManiMe, a company that uses 3D modeling to create customized, stick-on gel nails that people can apply right at home.

Song, who is originally from South Korea, has made the Forbes 30 Under 30 list and Fast Company named ManiMe one of the most innovative beauty companies of 2021. The 29-year-old co-founder and CEO spoke to TMRW about the confidence it takes to run a business and how the pandemic helped people realize that press-on nails aren't what they used to be.

TMRW: Where did the idea for ManiMe come from?

Jooyeon Song: It came from my own personal pain point. Growing up in South Korea, I was the biggest fan of getting designer manicures, but crazy working hours made it pretty impossible to go to the nail salon. That led me to start this venture. When I came to Stanford (where Song earned her MBA), I met my co-founder and we started developing this technology of 3D model rendering. We render a unique 3D model based on the 2D pictures we collect from customers and laser cut the gels to the exact shape of their nails.

ManiMe offers solid color manicures as well as complex nail art designs that people can easily apply at home.
ManiMe offers solid color manicures as well as complex nail art designs that people can easily apply at home. ManiMe

Once you had your business plan, what was it like getting the company off the ground?

I was pitching this idea to investors while I was still in school. Most of the investors in (Silicon Valley) are male. They didn’t get the concept and they didn’t really understand that there was a pain point around getting your nails done. One of the investors said, “Oh, I think my wife and my daughters are really enjoying going to the nail salon. Why is that a problem?” So I had to explain that there was a problem to solve.

It’s true that going to the nail salon can be fun and relaxing. Is ManiMe meant to replace professional manicures or do you consider it an addition to those services?

I think we are offering a new category in the nail care industry. I don’t think we’ll fully replace the nail salon. I certainly enjoy going to the nail salon — when I have the time, right? But often, I don’t have the time. We hear this really often: Don’t look at my nails. Oh, my nails look terrible right now. We all enjoy the feeling of having a fresh manicure. We want to be able to offer that feeling — so people feel ready to rock, ready to go — without having to go to the nail salon.

It seems like people have gotten really into ManiMe during the pandemic.

When I used to present this idea to people, one of the very first questions people were asking me was, “Oh, is that similar to the stick-on nails I tried 10 years ago?” So people had this stigma of ready-to-wear nails. But during the pandemic, I think people were more open to trying new products, and looking for an at-home solution.

Also during the pandemic, nail artists were really excited about the fact that they could broaden their reach through ManiMe. You can imagine, for many nail artists, their main income came from working at a salon or in editorial, doing photo shoots — and that was limited, so they were excited about being able to monetize their nail art by leveraging our technology. I'm so proud we could offer them that platform.

ManiMe offers some really cool designs. Where do you find the artists who create them?

Mostly on social media! The hashtags #nails and #manicure are so popular and nail artists often put their designs online.

What is your favorite part of being your own boss?

Being able to build a culture that aligns with my values, where I can help every team member grow and feel excited about working, and have them feel included. It’s also a great responsibility. Being my own boss really pushes me to the limit. When I came up with ManiMe at school, I did not know about building a team, building a culture. Being responsible for my team’s growth and ManiMe’s growth pushes me to grow every day — that’s the best part.

What advice do you have for other women who want to launch businesses?

We tend to be less confident. We should train ourselves to feel confident, to say yes to things that we’re not 100% comfortable with yet. I really like the mantra: "Fake it until you make it." I always encourage my fellow female entrepreneurs to just say yes. Nobody feels 100% confident when they’re asked, “Are you ready?” Sometimes you just need to believe in your gut and say yes.

I’ve had many friends come to me and say, "I have an idea, Jooyeon. What do you think?" And oftentimes the ideas are really fascinating, but few of them actually take action to realize the idea. You don’t have to wait until you’re ready.