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Presso : How we spent our first $1000

From the first impression, $1000 doesn’t seem to be a lot of money to build anything of significance, especially when it comes to physical products.
Nishant Jain

Founder & CEO of Presso

May 29, 2020

Presso is a 2.5-year-old startup at the time of this writing. Presso (originally LaundrySucks) is a robot that can clean and press clothes in less than 5 minutes.
We’ve come a long way over the years - iterating on our product over 10 times, getting backed by HAX, being featured on Forbes and TechCrunch. Today we are a thriving startup with a team of 9. This is the story of our humble beginnings, how we got our first $1,000 investment - awarded to us by 1517Fund in San Francisco - and how we spent it.

From the first impression, $1000 doesn’t seem to be a lot of money to build anything of significance, especially when it comes to physical products. Many hardware founders end up spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to build their prototypes and millions to take them to market.


However, with this true story, I want to show just how much you can do with a $1000, even if you don’t have domain expertise or any product building/manufacturing experience.


My intention with this story is to share what hacky prototypes and strategies we employed to go from zero to one. I hope it sheds light on the early days of starting a hardware startup that are usually hidden from the public view and not taught in entrepreneurship classes.


I would also encourage you to check out 1517Fund, as they give $1000 equity-free grants to founders to pursue their crazy ideas. Once you test your prototypes with some customers and see something valuable, check out hax.co and sosv.com, the go-to-investors for early stage hardware.


Equally crazy was this idea when I first pitched it.


3 Day Startup Purdue


It was the 3 Day Startup (3DS) Hackathon at Purdue University where I first pitched the idea for creating a “microwave of laundry”.



With an ongoing startup project already, I was there only to meet entrepreneurial students, with no intention of starting another project. What I didn’t know at the time was that Nick Arnett, a principal at 1517Fund was on the judging panel of the event and was going to change the direction of the next several years of my and several other people’s life.


The idea was so far out of my comfort zone, knowing literally less than a layman about laundry, that if it wasn’t for that $1000 grant from Nick, Presso would have never existed.


How we spent the $1000 grant


1. $100 – Gift cards and customer interviews
The first step, as I learned from advisors and Y Combinator Startup School lectures (highly recommend these — they're thebest online resource for founders in my opinion), is to deeply understand your customer’s problems. At the time we were targeting cleaning clothes in gym locker rooms so I went to the Purdue gym and set up a booth, offering $5 Jimmy Johns and Amazon gift cards for anyone who would talk to me (it became quite expensive so I changed it to a raffle after giving away $30).

After 10 interviews, I learned the right questions to ask. After 30 interviews, I started seeing a clear division in different user segments and their problems. After about 50 interviews, I knew exactly what the top 3 problems were for the best segment within the gym market.

2. $100 - The First MVP
Time to launch: 2 days


Parts used: Lamp reflector, PVC tubing, a lampstand, bicycle basket, hairdryer, lots of zip ties, handheld steamer.


After a month of researching (watching videos on YouTube about laundry) and experimenting with cleaning techniques on my own dirty gym clothes, I decided that it was time to test out an MVP. The objective was to test the hypothesis that people will actually believe that clothes can be cleaned in just a few minutes. After spending 4 hours in Walmart and taking a few items from my apartment, I hacked together a prototype that could steam and dry clothes.
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I took the prototype to the gym and set it up with a booth, giving people gift cards to interview and try the prototype with their actual sweaty clothes. The entire operation was manual with me spraying the garment and toggling the steamer and hairdryer.
Nevertheless, to my amazement, some people put their sweaty clothes back on after “cleaning”. The MVP served its purpose and proved the hypothesis.


3. $500 – Second iteration
Time to launch: 14 days


Parts used: Arduino, transistors, LEDs, switches, heat-forming plastic, plywood, PVC tubing, spray paint, plastic hanger, relays.
The second iteration had to be a big step up as the facilities director of the gym wanted a higher-fidelity prototype to allow me to test it in the locker room (our target segment). Coming from a software/electrical background and Indian lineage (meaning I had never used tools other than a screwdriver perhaps), everything I had to do since then was something I had never done before in my life.

The left image is how I recruited some industrial design students to help out
Luckily, I was going through senior design in school along with classmates who were from the mechanical engineering major. So I spent time with them learning how to use an electric drill, saw wood, heat form plastic, etc. In Matchbox Coworking Studio, a maker space near Purdue, I found some more nice people like the lab manager James, who taught me how to spray paint and make things look nice. I went to a hardware store (Menards) for the first time in my life! These places are heavenly…
This time, except for the cleaning liquid spray, everything was automated using an Arduino. All one had to do was press the green button to start and red button to stop. When I took this to the facilities director in the gym, he was so impressed that not only did he let me test this prototype in the locker room, but he also told everyone in the gym staff about this project and garnered their support.


4. Remaining $300 + $1200 of my own - Third iteration
Time to launch: 2 months


Parts used: Server rack from a scrapyard, cheap Android tablet, Arduino, hairdryer, high power steamer, LED light strips, magnets, storage bins, Bluetooth HC05, PVC piping, 3D printer.


This iteration was another massive step up in the product’s fidelity. There were a lot of people involved in different capacities to make this happen, like mentors, advisors, friends, other college students, and co-working friends.


At this point, I couldn’t even imagine what to do next. This is where James, the lab manager at MatchBox maker space, offered to consult for me. With James figuring out how to make it look like an industrial machine using a server rack from the scrapyard, I took my own skills and experience so far to develop the electronics and software platform. Since I had experience building Android apps, I bought a $50 Android tablet from Amazon and built an app to look and work like a professional gym machine.
To take this machine to the gym, I had to drive a rented truck for the first time. This time my gym contact let me leave the machine in the men’s locker room but only turn it on when I was physically there to monitor it. Following that, I along with a friend helping me at the time spent 6–9 hours a day standing in the men’s locker room getting people to try the machine. As you can imagine, it was quite uncomfortable and I definitely would not want anyone to go through it (unless, of course, you are starting a startup 😉).


Within 6 days, we had 74 users with some repeat users and user feedback started getting saturated. So we pulled the machine out and started working on implementing upgrades based on the feedback.


Where Presso is Today


Today we are a robotics company creating a new market for “instant clothing care” and we are cleaning costumes for the film industry.

$1000, although a small amount, can enable you to get actual customers even with a shitty prototype. That is enough traction to get interest from angel investors, accelerators, more customers, potential co-founders, and team members.


Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. Learning fast is the strongest skill you can sharpen at this stage. You’ll need it for the rest of the life of the startup.
Focus on finding out and doing the right things. People often (including me in previous ventures) ignore hard steps like talking to the customer. Many things about starting a startup are counterintuitive so don’t blindly follow your instincts. Instead, look at YC Startup School lectures.
Don’t spend too long to develop your MVP (minimum viable product). It is supposed to be a MINIMUM prototype that can test the single, most important hypothesis.
Be resourceful and don’t be afraid to ask for help. You’ll need all the help you can get for this mission. Engage with your community and share your problems with people around you to get lucky.


Stay lean and iterative. It’s probably going to take several product and market iterations to eventually discover a fit. Early on, stay on the hunt for a customer with a high and frequent pain point and let it be your Northstar. (Can’t stress this enough)


I hope this sets an example of how scrappy most startup founders need-to/can be. We are not alone in this as I have heard countless stories like ours from other hardware founders at the HAX accelerator.


I’ll share our journey from “LaundrySucks” to “Presso” through HAX in a different article at a different time, so stay tuned for that!


If you are a hardware startup (or any kind of startup for that matter) and need any advice on how to get started, feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn.


Best of luck!

Presso is a 2.5-year-old startup at the time of this writing. Presso (originally LaundrySucks) is a robot that can clean and press clothes in less than 5 minutes.
We’ve come a long way over the years - iterating on our product over 10 times, getting backed by HAX, being featured on Forbes and TechCrunch. Today we are a thriving startup with a team of 9. This is the story of our humble beginnings, how we got our first $1,000 investment - awarded to us by 1517Fund in San Francisco - and how we spent it.

Nishant Jain

Founder & CEO of Presso

May 29, 2020
HAX is the most active early stage investor in hard tech startups, empowering founders building with robotics, internet of things, digital health, consumer products and industrial technologies. The HAX Seed Program combines hands-on co-development with our experienced product development team, multi-stage venture capital investment, and collaboration with our global founder community building hard tech startups. Since 2012, HAX has invested in over 250 startups meshing hardware and software across its locations in San Francisco, Shenzhen and Tokyo.