Jane Park on How the Plié Wand Was Born (& the Unique Way She Holds Hers!)

by Meghan Carlson | 1 Comment

When Julep CEO Jane Park talks about the Plié Wand™, she lights up.

Granted, if you’ve ever heard Jane speak about anything going on here at Julep—from our new iPhone app to the newly customizable Maven program, all the way down to each month’s nail polish colors—you know that she is a passionate person by nature, especially about innovations that help busy women look good, feel great, and have fun with their beauty routines.

So it’s easy to see why she loves telling everyone about the Plié Wand, because that’s what it’s all about.

This week I had the chance to sit down with Jane and find out first-hand how the idea for the Plié Wand came about, the surprising collaborators who helped it come to life, and even the unique way she holds her Plié Wand. Read on for our interview!

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How do you feel now that the Plié Wand is finally out there and Mavens are starting to use it?

Oh, gosh. I always get super anxious right before something goes live, and so the last week before the launch was nerve-racking for me. But it’s so exciting to see it come to life and for people actually use it. It’s hard to imagine as you’re developing something what it will be like when it has a life of its own, in different people’s bathrooms and living rooms. So it’s amazing when people started sending us pictures right away using their Plié Wands. I think it’s so much more exciting developing products in this day and age, when you can see feedback immediately, and it’s been really, really exciting and gratifying.

How did the idea for the Plié Wand come about? Was it a flash of inspiration or did it take shape more gradually?

I think a lot of ideas come from first observing what the problem is. The way things work currently. Just watching women polish their nails and hearing so many of them say they’re not good at it—that made me realize that there must be a better way. So our solution, in a lot of ways, is pretty simple. I mean, any ergonomic tool has length and a counterbalancing weight. In a lot of ways, it’s surprising to me that it didn’t happen before.

I’ve heard a lot of people say, “I can’t believe that nobody thought of this yet!” And to me, that’s always the sign of a great idea, when people say, “How come I didn’t think of that?”

You know, when you’re thinking of an idea like that, you do worry. You wonder, “Why hasn’t anyone thought of this?” But I’m proud to say we were the first!

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Jane leads a group of beauty editors through their first Plié Wand polishing session at a press event in New York City.

How was your design process with IDEO? How did they react to the concept initially, and how did it evolve with their input?

You know, it was one of the most fun things we ever did, working collaboratively with IDEO, because it was actually very physical. We were in this workspace where there were glue guns in the ceiling, and staplers, and lathes. It’s been a long time since I really, physically built something. Probably not since shop class in middle school. So to watch all of these ideas come to life within minutes, where we could just test it out and see if it worked or not, that was really amazing.

And it was great to have people who don’t polish their nails involved. Like, the idea for the bend in the wand came from a super unlikely source. It was a guy who had done design for airplanes, and he was big and tattooed and had never polished a nail in his life. But he had the insight that the way that we were trying to bend our arms to get the right angle to polish, that could be improved. So he said, “When you’re brushing your teeth, the bristles are perpendicular to the handle, because it helps you create a better angle. Isn’t polishing your nails exactly like that? Don’t you want to have the brush perpendicular to the handle?” And we thought that was really brilliant, and moved forward with that. But we also knew that that is an unusual motion for people. So to give people flexibility to figure out which angle worked best for them, we designed a movable, bendable wand.

For the first example of that, we actually used a piece of Lego that had a bend to it, and taped a nail polish brush to it. The next iteration, we used an air vent nozzle from an airplane, so it was twistable in a lot of different directions. There were over 200 different prototypes in the whole product development process when we were trying to figure out the shape of the bend and the length of the wand. To make something super simple actually takes a lot of effort, and we really wanted it to be foolproof. The whole point of this is to make people feel like polishing their nails is more fun, and we didn’t want to make it any harder.

Can you explain what the Julep Idea Lab is and how it came about?

The Idea Lab came about because when we’re doing product development at Julep, a lot of the time we’ll ask each other for input. The low-tech version was that we would put up surveys in the bathrooms, so people could test products at the sink and mark a sheet with their feedback. So we thought, “We should open up the voting to our customers, not just our employees.” So any question where it was possible to get input, we tried to do that. The idea is just, “How do we invite people deep into our product development process as early as possible?” Whenever we’re asking ourselves, “Should we do this or that?” we want to be able to ask the people we’re actually designing the product for.

And with the Plié Wand, you took that idea to the next level and actually asked customers to come down to IDEO to test out the product?

Yeah! So the way that came about was, we were at IDEO on Day 2, and we had a bunch of prototypes that we wanted to run by real consumers. So actually, we just went on Facebook and said, “Hey! Who’s in the neighborhood? Is anybody in Palo Alto who wants to come by and test a new product?” Within minutes, we had hundreds of responses, and that was super exciting. So it was great to get Mavens in the door early. The guys at IDEO were like, “Wow! Aren’t you worried that people are going to steal the idea, or that they won’t get it?” Because it was so early on in the process. But it was fun, and so helpful.

I just saw a tweet from one of our Mavens who was there that day, and she said she was amazed that the final product was so close to the prototype they saw on Day 2. We felt like it went through a long iterative process, but I’m glad that the core of the idea was there, even on Day 2.

Were you surprised at all by the positive response to the crowdfunding effort?

We were worried that nobody would want to buy a product ahead of time, before it even existed yet, but the reason we wanted to crowdfund was to get a real sense of people’s interest in it. And we had to decide what volumes we were going to manufacture. So we picked a number. We thought if we had 5,000 people who were interested in buying it, that would give us a sense that it was a real product and there would be more consumer interest out there. We thought it would take us about a month to get to 5,000 people. So it was crazy exciting for it to happen overnight!

Your note in the May Maven boxes mentioned your daughter Yumi and how she was really excited for everyone to get their Plié Wands. Has she had a chance to use it yet?

She has! And it’s super exciting. She’s right-handed, and she says that now she can polish better with her left hand than she used to with her right hand. And I thought, “That’s a great way to put it!”

How have your own nail polish experiences changed since you started using your own Plié Wand?

You know, people think that because I run Julep that I have all this time to go get a manicure and that I should have perfect nails. But I am a busy working mom, and I’m doing dishes. Just like anybody else, it’s hard to find the time to go get my nails done. So I mostly do my own nails at home, and it’s been a source of frustration for me, especially because people look at my nails so closely. In the past it was something I worried I wasn’t good at, just like anybody else. And now I really look forward to it. Last night, I was like, “Oh I should turn on Veep, and pick my color, and get my wine.” It’s something that I actually look forward to, and that’s the most exciting thing about it for me. It’s taken this moment that used to be completely stressful for me and changed it into something fun.

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The Plié Wand’s magnetic tip makes for easy use and an elegant, gravity-defying display.

Do you have a favorite way that you hold your Plié Wand that is unique to you?

It’s funny, because I think I really spread out my fingers, so when I use the Plié, I really end up holding the whole wand. I used to think that you have to hold it only like a pencil. When we were doing focus groups, I was yelling behind the screen, like, “Hey! You’re not holding it the right way!” And Michelle, our creative director, was like, “Jane, there is no right way. Let people do whatever they want to do.” And ultimately that was the right answer.

I feel like I end up holding it differently depending on the day, or for different colors or finishes. If it’s a glitter, I hold the wand differently than I do for a crème when I’m being super exact. So that’s been an interesting thing to explore.

I’m excited to see what the Mavens come up with for nail art using the Creativity Kit.

I know! It’s been so fun to hear from people who thought that they would never be able to do nail art and are now able to do it with the Plié Wand. Nail art is just such a fun way to express yourself, so I love hearing that.

So this month, Julep also unveiled Maven 2.0, with customization. What are your hopes for how that will change the Maven experience?

As we develop, it’s important to me that people get to customize their box. To be able to get those favorites they fell in love with, and try new things as well. I love the idea that everyone will get exactly what they want, and that they have a choice in that. We enable them to choose, or we say, “Let us choose for you,” which is a choice as well.

What has been your favorite response from a customer about the Plié Wand?

I loved the Twitter message we got from the woman who said she has been polishing her nails for 35 years and that this has made such a difference. That’s amazing to me, to take a task that somebody has been doing for so long and to improve upon it. That is huge. It’s so exciting and such a thrill to see that.

Want to learn more about Jane? Follow her on Twitter and Facebook, and read her insights in her regular column right here on the Julep Blog, Jane Says.