Yoky Matsuoka and Panasonic’s Yohana aims to help busy moms

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In some ways, Yoky Matsuoka is exactly the kind of individual you’d count on to begin a tech firm. She cofounded Google X (now recognized merely as X); spent two excursions of responsibility at Nest (each as a startup and arm of Alphabet); developed well being merchandise at Apple, and created and led Carnegie Mellon’s Neurobotics Laboratory. So when she announced last June that she’d been working for a 12 months and a half on a startup referred to as Yo Labs, the largest shock was that she was doing it inside Panasonic—an enormous, acquainted model, however not the obvious touchdown spot for somebody with Matsuoka’s Silicon Valley credentials.

Now Matsuoka has revealed what Yo Labs has been engaged on, and as soon as once more, it’s one thing you wouldn’t have predicted in the event you’d tried to guess from her background. Yohana is a private assistant service designed to help busy mother and father—moms specifically—streamline mandatory on a regular basis duties to release time for probably the most significant points of life.

[Photo: courtesy of Yohana]

Yohana is a service and an app—in addition to Yo Labs’s new company model—and it definitely leverages synthetic intelligence and different applied sciences that Matsuoka has deep expertise with. However don’t let the time period assistant lead you within the fallacious route: It’s not a rival to Siri or Alexa or every other service whose help is offered by an artificial persona. As a substitute, it affords on-demand help from precise human helpers for every part from organizing a celebration to planning a kitchen renovation.

“We’re going to be a wellness firm centered on serving to households discover extra steadiness, prioritize well-being, and be extra current for one another,” Matsuoka explains. “One of many issues that I discovered by utilizing this as a subject trial is that I’ve slightly extra of that psychological house to be with my children and take pleasure in these moments once I used to at all times be like, ‘I simply want to do another e mail!’ Moments that, little by little, I’m ready to really purchase again. And it’s been simply completely great.”

Beginning over

The Yohana story begins when Matsuoka was nonetheless in her previous Google job, engaged on Nest merchandise and considering her future. “Two years in the past inside Google, I spotted that what I actually wished to do was to make house a spot the place we are able to maintain your well being from finish to finish,” she says. That includes every part from applied sciences that might anticipate when somebody goes to turn out to be sick to ones that permit older folks dwell at house with dignity. She thought-about attempting to observe this imaginative and prescient inside Google earlier than finally deciding that it made sense to discover it elsewhere.

Matsuoka spoke with what she calls “the standard suspects” about potential collaborations earlier than deciding on an uncommon one: Panasonic. People are doubtless to affiliate the Japanese mega-corporation with consumer-electronics merchandise. In recent times it’s had a comparatively low profile within the U.S.; it even stopped selling TVs here in 2016. However Matsuoka says that the extra she dove into Panasonic’s historical past, the extra excited she obtained about partnering with the corporate.

Founder Kōnosuke Matsushita began Panasonic—previously referred to as Matsushita Electrical Industrial Co.—in 1918 to make lamp sockets. After World Battle II, the corporate expanded right into a dizzying array of industries, together with home equipment. However on the highest stage, Matsuoka says, Matsushita noticed this enterprise not as promoting washers and dryers however fairly as a method of releasing ladies from time-consuming drudgery so they might commit themselves to extra rewarding pursuits, reminiscent of studying.

“I assumed, Man, this man will get it,” Matsuoka says. “He’s actually attempting to use expertise in the suitable approach, to make folks give you the option to turn out to be who they need to be. That’s me. And I actually resonated with that founder.”

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[Photo: courtesy of Yohana]

Matsuoka and Panasonic agreed to collaborate with no definitive concept of what they’d construct collectively, past the truth that it might contain wellness and may tie into Panasonic gadgets. Then the pandemic hit. Matsuoka, who had 4 youngsters in the home—plus ailing mother and father in Japan—felt overwhelmed.

“I had to do every part from house, when all my children [were] doing Zoom [schooling] from house, screaming ‘Mother, I want help!’” she explains. “I spotted that every part was form of falling aside round me. However then I spoke with different moms, and they had been going by way of the identical factor. I wasn’t alone. This drawback was one thing that everyone was already experiencing.”

That epiphany led to the conclusion that serving to folks unload a number of the distracting challenges of their lives might be a type of wellness. And that notion prompted the creation of Yohana, which has grown to make use of greater than 100 folks. (In accordance to Matsuoka, the “Yo” within the title references “Yo Labs”—a reputation her colleagues got here up with when she was touring—and “hana” comes from the Japanese phrase for flower. “There’s one thing very particular about giving and receiving flowers,” she says.)

The way it works

The Yohana service is launching first in Seattle, which has a focus of Matsuoka’s goal market of millennial households with a family revenue of at the least $150,000. She says that the comfort of it being in the identical time zone as the corporate’s house base in Palo Alto, California, additionally got here into play, as did the truth that she’s a former Seattle resident: “We picked, selfishly, a metropolis that I and a lot of our staff can relate to.” The plan is to broaden to a number of different cities inside a 12 months.

The human assistants who energy Yohana embody staffers and contractors positioned all around the U.S. However Matsuoka has discovered that it’s vital for a few of them to be within the Seattle space, since important information—reminiscent of how to preserve children entertained on wet days—may be extremely localized.

For now, individuals who subscribe to Yohana will get devoted help from a particular assistant whom they know by title. However Matsuoka says that every of those assistants is backed by a bigger workforce of individuals with various areas of experience, and that the software program Yohana has constructed orchestrates the entire expertise to make it environment friendly and approachable.

[Animation: courtesy of Yohana]

“It seems that human belief with help from AI within the background is an effective way to go,” she says. We are able to actually perceive who the member is, what the member’s household is like, what sort of issues they like.”

As for the kinds of duties these assistants can sort out, Matsuoka says they fall into three classes. There are those that Yohana can deal with by itself in two hours to two days, reminiscent of on-line procuring, scheduling appointments, or planning a weekend getaway. There are ones that it gained’t do in any respect: “We don’t purchase weapons. We don’t purchase alcohol.” After which there are duties that require outdoors specialists that Yohana can help facilitate, reminiscent of a house reworking undertaking.

For this final sort of help, the corporate is assembling its personal listing of service suppliers reminiscent of contractors, in addition to working with current networks of such firms. Like extra standard service-provider intermediaries like Thumbtack, Yohana will gather a price from suppliers for introducing them to clients.

Which brings up how a lot shoppers can pay for a Yohana membership: $150 per 30 days.

Matsuoka acknowledges that she was initially involved that this price ticket would intimidate potential subscribers. However she provides that extra business-oriented distant assistant companies—Time And so on is one instance—usually price rather more. And he or she brings up a typical level of value comparability that may be referred to as the Starbucks Check: “Would you surrender one Starbucks espresso in a day to have any individual that was sitting in your shoulder that you would be able to delegate duties to? Virtually all people says sure. So we’re feeling superb about it,” she says.

Panasonic stays a behind-the-scenes monetary backer: The corporate isn’t even talked about on the Yohana house web page. “They’ve offered all of the sources to give you the option to do that,” Matsuoka says. “Nonetheless, I constructed this firm from scratch as if it was a VC-funded startup.”

However keep tuned. Matsuoka’s wellness imaginative and prescient remains to be far broader than providing an assistant service offered by way of smartphone. And although she isn’t but spelling out precisely the place she needs to take her firm, she does say that it includes quite a lot of kinds of sensible {hardware}: “In a kitchen, in a bed room, in a toilet—we’re in all completely different rooms, caring for folks . . . and every part has the Panasonic model on it.”

In different phrases, the day could come when Panasonic’s involvement in Yohana is much extra public—and feels totally logical fairly than slightly stunning.