Here is the full transcript of Sandy Jen’s fireside talk: Rethinking Home Care @ Talks at Google conference.
Moderator: JORGE CUETO
JORGE CUETO: Hi everyone. Welcome to Talks at Google, and it’s great to have Sandy Jen, co-founder and CTO of Honor here with us today. Sandy founded Honor in 2014, and prior to that, she was co-founder and CEO of Meebo, which is a customer internet company that focused on connecting publishers and consumers socially. And she led their engineering team and then joined Google, actually, in the social team when Meebo was acquired in 2012. And before that, she also got her BS from Stanford University in computer science. So it’s great to have you with us today, Sandy.
SANDY JEN: Great to be here.
JORGE CUETO: I’d like to get started by having you tell us about what Honor is in your own words.
SANDY JEN: Sure. So Honor — our mission, basically, is to change the way that our parents age. I think aging is a topic that a lot of us don’t talk about with people, especially our own parents. There’s a bit of sort of child fear when talking about issues like that.
And so Honor’s goal, really, is to remake the way that folks can age at home specifically. So we really focus on non-medical home care, which means that we help folks with what we call ADLs– so Activities of Daily Living– things that you and I take for granted — brushing your teeth, getting out of bed, going to the bathroom. And we have a whole host of really awesome care professionals that go and do that work.
JORGE CUETO: And what inspired you and your team to start Honor?
SANDY JEN: Good question. So three of the four founders are multi-time entrepreneurs, and so we all kind of cut our teeth on social media. I’ve obviously been at Google for a little bit. And once we sold those companies and took a little time off and we really wanted to do another venture, we really wanted to think about, OK, well, what would make us really want to work hard — like really, really hard? Because startups are a lot of work. And we ended up thinking about what’s important to us, and we were a little bit older a little bit more mature. Some of us were having kids, and we really wanted to have impact. That was the biggest thing.
And so when we were getting together, we thought about, OK, what are big problems that we could solve? And we thought about unemployment, poverty, labor, childcare, health care, elder care. And then my co-founder from Meebo went home one day to Connecticut to visit his mother. And he likes to tell the story that she gets speeding tickets in Montana, which you just don’t get, because there’s nobody monitoring the freeways in Montana. And she was driving really slowly, so he started to get a little freaked out about, wait a minute, why are you driving so slowly? And she was like, well, it’s just getting a little harder. And so he was like, well, I live in California, you live on the East Coast.
When you’re older, what am I going to do? I don’t want to pluck you away from your house. And so that sort of spurred the idea. We really started to do some research in caring for seniors, and it’s a really, really big space. And then we really honed in on the non-medical home aspect of it, because it was very broken. And when you find something that’s really broken as an entrepreneur, you kind of get really excited, because you’re like, what can I do to fix this? And so we started to explore that idea.
JORGE CUETO: How do you feel like your experience working on Meebo in the social space has influenced your work here with Honor?
SANDY JEN: So I would say doing a prior startup to doing Honor was definitely a pre-req to do this type of venture. Honor is complicated. Home care — you’re touching people directly. It’s a very, very hands-on experience. And so in order to solve such a big mission, you need to know how to execute, how to gather resources, hire — a lot of the sort of nuts and bolts that I learned in my first startup.
And so my experience at Meebo really taught me generally how to form organizations, how to run a team, how to hire. There were a lot of mistakes we made at Meebo, which, as an entrepreneur selfishly for a second venture, I want to be able to not make the same mistakes twice. So it was a good opportunity to take all the learnings that we had gathered in our previous experiences and then really consolidate all that learning into a new venture. And so far, it’s worked out really well.
JORGE CUETO: And how long have you guys been available to consumers actually?
SANDY JEN: So we’re about three years old, but we’ve been giving care for about two. And so the first year, obviously, a lot of us didn’t know much about home care. I had some personal experiences with my grandparents, but really digging into the industry– it’s been around for a really long time. It hasn’t changed much in 30 years, but there are a lot of nuances and complications and considerations in home care that, without really doing it, you don’t really get exposed to it. And so the first year for us was a ton of learning, and then we started to take those learnings and execute on them.
JORGE CUETO: Prior to the interview, I was just reading on this market. And it’s actually a huge business opportunity in terms of how much money people spend on home care and elderly care every year, but it’s something that I don’t think tech has addressed up to this point. Why do you think that is?
SANDY JEN: It’s interesting, because people think technology, they think old people, and they’re like, they just don’t mix. And the way we thought about it is– if you think about your grandparents or your loved ones who are older, they use microwaves and toasters and TVs and cars. And that’s all technology, but it’s not in their face as technology. And so you have to sort of rethink about how you use tech to address needs for that kind of audience.
And so for us, I think there’s just been that stigma in Silicon Valley– and just generally in technology as a whole– that seniors don’t do well with technology. I think it’s a mistake to kind of over-cater to a senior audience by having giant buttons and giant font and basically treating them as children without really understanding the problem you’re trying to solve. And so we definitely don’t think of ourselves as a technology company. Honor specifically positions itself as a services company, because at the end of the day, our product is a person. And I say this very often, that we are a human services company.
The person that we send to your home to help you do your activities and daily living– that’s our product. And so all the technology that we build is in service of that. So a lot of stuff that we build, the end consumer never sees, but it’s completely built to deliver the best care possible.