In a talk to Stanford’s graduating seniors DFJ Investor Heidi Roizen advised the students to leave space for good and random things to happen to them.
From a serendipitous meeting with Apple CEO Tim Cook, who eventually became an advisor and investor, to participating in Y Combinator and launching three months early, an open mindset has fueled the team to sell over 12,000 shower heads; Exceeding their Kickstarter goal by 3,000%
I had the pleasure to sit down with Philip to gain deeper insight into the team’s story, ideology, and goals for the future.
In today’s featured interview, he walks us through the team’s evolution from idea genesis to production, highlighting critical learnings gleaned along the way.
After meeting his now co-founder Carlos Gomez Andonaegui and his father Emilio, who have been reimagining the shower since 2010, Philip joined the Nebia team in 2013 while working at Endeavor in Mexico City.
Their journey catapulted with the decision to move operations from New York to Silicon Valley to target and work with a demographic that would be eager to test their idea.
“We knew that if we wanted this to reach the world it had to be somewhere where we can actively be in touch with the best talent and people who are open to new ideas,” Philip explained.
They installed a prototype in a hotel bathroom, invited design firms to come and try it, and “took coffee with anyone who would talk to them about their showers.”
“One in 10 meetings would lead somewhere, but that one out of 10 really made the difference,” Philip said.
Each new relationship – which he credits to the Valley’s thriving pay it forward culture – led to a new opportunity or contact.
In less than three months, Nebia conducted pilot programs at Apple, Google, Equinox, and Stanford where nearly 300 individuals came to test the product.
Reflecting on his experiences, Philip’s advice to founders leading early trials is to mentally prepare for a myriad of feedback; Keeping in mind that a significant portion will be negative.
“It’s really hard to have people tell you to your face ‘I really don’t like your product,’ and then put on a smile and ask them ‘Why?’ when really you just want to kick them out of the door. Particularly when it’s time after, time.”
It’s important to remember that constructive feedback isn’t personal.
“People being brutally honest with you is the best thing that can happen because either you are wasting your time or you need to figure out how to make it better,” he affirms.
The Nebia team was quickly encouraged to apply to Y Combinator where President Sam Altman shocked them by taking a shower during the accelerator’s characteristically brief 10-minute interviews.
“We were three minutes into the interview and Sam Altman says he’s going to take a shower. We all looked at each other and were like, ‘Wait a minute? You’re going to take a shower?’”
“We didn’t even bring a towel! All we brought was a dirty hand towel for installation. He said that worked, and went in.”
“Sam’s actions proved that YC was a phenomenal community of people who were really going to roll up their sleeves and help us,” Philip explained.
Four team members at the time, Nebia participated in the accelerator’s Spring 2015 class; Shaving three months off their launch date after joining.
“Our initial reaction was, ‘This is hardware. Once you launch, you’re set. Making changes in hardware takes a long time, if you can even make them at all.”
YC partners Luke Iseman, Head of Hardware, and Kevin Hale, combatted the assertion by urging the team to start selling the Nebia prototype immediately.
“We built a Squarespace website, integrated Stripe, and got $2,000 in sales. It felt amazing to see the dollar signs come in. It meant that people were actually going to put their credit card in and be charged for this. That’s a totally different sign than saying they would be interested in buying it.”
As 200 sales amounted over 10 days, many of which Philip attributes to YC founders and partners, the team “committed to the plan and stuck with it.”
“YC instills an intense amount of focus that you need at that stage because there are so many things that you could be pursuing but you can’t. You can only do the things that are essential to getting you to where you are trying to go,” he reflected.
To navigate the speed, and ensure that they didn’t miss any small but meaningful details, the team created weekly Gantt charts outlining their ‘need to do’ tasks in a sequence based on dependency.
This was pertinent to organizing their Kickstarter campaign – where they eventually raised over $3 million – which required a functioning prototype to film the videos and shoot product photography; Two of the most vital assets of successful crowdfunding campaigns.
The time was also dedicated to working with a design firm and networking with the press and influencers to promote the upcoming campaign. If you are currently launching a crowdfunding project Philip goes into greater depth on these topics in his interview.
“At the time, we were four and five people…Everyone was going to Bed Bath and Beyond to buy towels when we ran out…We all took turns sleeping on the floor in the office the night before we launched, and spent the three weekends here leading up to it.”
“Kickstarter had been in the works for about five years. It was the make it or break it for the launch of the company. We had a lot of expectations weighing on this one event.”
The Kickstarter crunch not only unveiled the team’s unity but demonstrated the value of deadlines in giving “you an artificial sense that ‘This must happen at this time because it’s do or die.”
The same holds true for YC’s program where more than a 100 startups have three months to prepare to pitch their products to a room filled with over 400 investors.
“You can’t sustain working this way forever, but cyclically it can be a very good opportunity to give you the right sense of urgency to really focus on what’s important,” Philip said.
You can achieve far more than you can imagine in a set period of time.
In addition to the product, the team was critically focused on their messaging and approach to positioning Nebia as a personal and welcoming brand.
“Water is a basic element that people interact with and depend on every day…We are transcending that we are just building a cool product that works really well, is thoughtfully engineered, and designed.”
“The purpose of Nebia is to change how people think about water in their daily lives. The way we do that is by building great experiences and products.”
During their YC days, Nebia co-founder Carlos spearheaded this by using Nancy Duarte’s presentation strategies to create a story arc for their video. (Soon to be crowdfunders: Watch the Nebia video below and learn more from Nancy here.)
“At first, we were trying to convince people to come to my house to take a shower…That’s why I lived in SoMa. So I could say it was a live-work situation,” Philip explained.
While having an office was an important step forward, asking individuals to come in, get naked, take a shower, and share their experiences is a challenge; Making it all the more critical for the young team to develop an inviting brand.
This is especially important because their best market research results from honest conversations with their users.
“When you really start to ask people about their showers they are keen to tell you what it means to them because it brings them back to an experience. Some people are really passionate about it, others are less, but for everyone, there is a personal connection to it.”
“They are by themselves. They are naked. They are vulnerable. For most people it’s the first thing they do every day. That’s really what we try to hit on…A shower can mean many different things to different people.”
Each of these conversations enabled the team to thoughtfully design their landing page to display the selling points with the highest resonance.
These are the four they had to choose from:
- Experience: “A shower is an experience and the website should evoke a warm, welcoming sensation.”
- Design: For interior designers, the photography should showcase the shower head as an item they want to display in their home, hotel, or gym.
- Environment: Nebia conserves 70% of the water used by your traditional shower. “Everyone has a consciousness that we need to live more sustainably.”
- Economics: Using Nebia drives hundreds of dollars of savings.
“We were really cognizant that we couldn’t highlight all four of them; Only the one or two that are key…You learn that through talking to people and pitching the product every day.”
As you’ll see below, Nebia’s landing page is all about the experience. The photograph represents the design, and the screen is filled with water to emphasize the product.
“If that gets you intrigued, you can scroll down to learn more,” where the team details savings (It practically rains money), science (It really is rocket science), and installation.
Two years after moving to Silicon Valley, the Nebia team is hard at work operating to send 12,000 backers their highly awaited shower heads.
Among their chief goals is designing an experience that is delightful, from the moment the box is delivered to your door, to its installation, and use.
“We see it as a brochure that’s going into someone’s home. If we can get a high percentage of people really excited about unwrapping it, installing it, and their first few days using it that will multiply.”
Reflecting on advice from Tim Cook, “when you really focus on product, customer, and experience everything else falls into place,” Philip affirmed.
“It’s easy to get sales and convince people to try it when people really love your product.”
Similar to Casper, the mattress that’s delivered in a box the size of a mini-fridge, the team hopes to “foster a continued conversation where users are sharing Nebia with their friends.”
Beyond their first shipment, which is set to reach backers later this year, Nebia is committed to leading a long-term movement to change the way we interact with water.
“We really want to build a company over a 20 or 30-year horizon,” Philip declared.
“We don’t have any intention to sell. We enjoy the process of building a company that can have a real influence in the world. If in 10 years everyone is showering with a technology similar to Nebia’s, whether or not it’s our product, we’ll know that we really made an impact.”
All images retrieved from Nebia.