Failing Slow

This Month in Seattle Tech: A ‘Genius’ Debuts a Personal Assistant App

Plus: Robots at the airport, and molecular…coffee.

By Benjamin Cassidy September 28, 2021

A thriving innovation scene is not only an incubator of talent but also, almost by definition, of guinea pigs.

So it wasn't surprising to learn earlier this month that Seattle got the first crack at enlisting the services of Yohana, a Silicon Valley–based wellness company founded by former University of Washington professor and MacArthur "genius" grant recipient Yoky Matsuoka. The Google X cofounder and Nest vet received backing from Panasonic to create an app that pairs parents—especially mothers, its marketing stresses—with real live personal assistants to help them check off items on their to-do lists. While users in other cities will have to linger on waitlists for now to get matched with "Yo Assistants," the bevy of affluent millennial moms and dads here can start outsourcing their searches for, say, puppy groomers, cake-makers, and family getaway destinations at a price of $149 per month.

The venture stems from Matsuoka's own experiences juggling career and family. The mother of four told Fast Company that Zoom schooling exacerbated the existing burden of handling all the big and small tasks that come with raising children while trying to stick it out in the professional realm. Many mothers have already exited the workforce during the pandemic, and a McKinsey report suggests at least one-third of women are considering changing or leaving their jobs.

With Yohana, these moms aren't merely hiring corporeal Alexas to google stuff for them. After chatting with users via the app, the assistants will go ahead and book appointments or buy goods through a network of vetted third-party local professionals. Data will help inform those decisions, a marriage of artificial intelligence and human experience that draws from Matsuoka's background in neurorobotics.

The makeup of the third-party businesses will undoubtedly receive scrutiny as Yohana grows, as will its price point; only a certain subset of working parents can afford a $150-a-month service. But burnout is a very real problem in this city right now, and it's nice some won't have to wait around for a potential boost.

Robots Now Deliver Food to Gates at Sea-Tac

In less living-and-breathing assistant news, Sea-Tac announced in early September that its new Order SEA mobile food ordering service includes delivery by robot. The airport soft-launched the program this summer, so you may have already seen these odd Gita carriers tailing humans as they bring meals from places like McDonald's and Pei Wei to hungry travelers' gates. Navigating Sea-Tac's teeming terminals can be a hassle, but isn't it advisable to stretch your legs pre-flight? Anyway.

Remitly Goes Public via IPO

Who needs a SPAC? Remitly, the fintech company that aims to make it easier for immigrants and others to transfer money across borders, went the traditional route to Wall Street last week. After its IPO, the Seattle-based unicorn's share price opened higher than expected, but it has since come down a bit.

Bits and Bytes from Amazon, 98point6, and Atomo Coffee

Great reporting here from The Seattle Times on a third-party seller, Chukar Cherries, that was barred from listing its products on after an apparent mix-up, highlighting the e-commerce giant's imperfect efforts to curb fraud on its site. Geekwire got the scoop on 98point6 cofounder Robbie Cape's sudden, and unusual, departure from the health care startup. And coffee without coffee beans? It's officially a thing now, with a "molecular cold brew" created by the local startup Atomo.

Hello! This is monthly column recapping news at the intersection of local tech and culture—happenings you may have missed in this mercilessly fast, and often quite nebulous, cycle of innovationBut even the beat writers can’t keep up with everything. Do you know of a Seattle startup doing things that don’t make eyes glaze over at parties? A corporation behaving badly? A developer trying to hack the Mercer light cycle? We’re interestedSend your tips to [email protected] or @bybencassidy on Twitter. DMs are always open.

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