The image of how a successful American family with children lives has been engrained over decades by relentless marketing and Hollywood glamorization.
The go-to image usually revolves around a lovely home. But of course, there are also lavish-yet-balanced family meals, and a lifestyle complete with vacations, birthday parties, extended family visits, soccer teams, music lessons … the list goes on, and on, and on.
While the so-called American Dream has its allure, maintaining it all tends to be exhausting. And although tech startups have long churned out productivity tools for the workforce, families don’t have a lot of dedicated offerings tailored to their needs.
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Increasingly, startup entrepreneurs and investors are addressing this gap as part of a burgeoning sector that goes by the catchphrase famtech. Think digital tools to manage household responsibilities, track what the kids are doing, find care and even free up a little personal time.
Oftentimes, founders are building the kinds of tools and apps they wished they had.
“I feel that an impossible thing is being asked from the modern family these days,” said Yoky Matsuoka, founder and CEO of Yohana, a Panasonic-backed startup offering a service to help families outsource or streamline more of their routine tasks and projects.
As a parent of four and former Nest CTO, Matsuoka speaks from experience about the time-pressed lifestyle of juggling a full-schedule family life and a demanding career. Particularly for those who don’t have a large local support network, she believes dedicated tech can go a long way toward alleviating everyday stresses.
A big, wide-open space
Looking at recent funding tallies, famtech does look like a growing space. For a sense of where the money is going, we used Crunchbase data to put together a sample list of 25 U.S. companies that raised funding in roughly the past year.
It’s a varied lot, spanning from transportation to care-finding platforms to tools for keeping up with to-do lists. It’s also a pretty well-funded one, with list members collectively pulling in over $600 million to date.
Probably the most recognized brand in our sample is HopSkipDrive, a Los Angeles-based startup that provides vetted drivers to give kids rides to school and activities. The 8-year-old startup has raised around $124 million in funding to date, including a $37 million Series D in September.
Yumi, a provider of organic meals and snacks for babies and toddlers, was another top funding recipient, with $99 million in known funding since its founding a decade ago. While it’s a bit blurry whether Yumi qualifies as famtech, we included it because of the company’s focus on saving time with online meal planning and direct shipping.
Among earlier-stage companies, meanwhile, one climbing the funding ranks quickly is New York-based Otter. The 2-year-old startup, which matches parents who need child care with caregivers in their communities, has raised $30.8 million to date, with Sequoia Capital and Andreessen Horowitz as lead backers.
Startup investors are also carving out famtech as a focus area. Among them is Halogen Ventures, a Santa Monica firm that invests in women-led consumer technology startups and lists parenting tech as a key vertical. In a recent, famtech-focused survey, the firm concluded that “solving childcare” is the biggest untapped business opportunity in 2022 coming out of COVID.
It takes a tech-enabled village
Despite high demand from parents for life-simplifying options, building a market for family tech might entail changing some of our conceptions about how and where to get help.
Yohana’s Matsuoko points to the old proverb about how it takes a village to raise a child. While there’s truth to that, there’s also the stark reality that many working parents have little to no family support network nearby, let alone a village to share responsibilities for child care and chores.
For some families, Matsuoko said, a more feasible option is to pay for services to help tackle day-to-day duties, such as setting doctors appointments, hiring a plumber, or making birthday party arrangements. That’s the premise behind her startup, Yohana, which will launch nationwide later this year with a subscription service aimed at freeing up parents’ time.
Families may also need to adjust to the idea of adding another device or two to their lives. That’s the case Monica Plath, CEO and founder of Littlebird, is hoping to make for her connected device startup, which sells a wristband for toddlers that tracks location and wellness, as well as a paired app.
Her inspiration, Plath said, is the notion that even when parents aren’t with their children, they still spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about their well-being. “I was just trying to worry a little bit less,” she said.
At the end of the day, it seems what famtech entrepreneurs are selling more than anything else is a tech-centric path to what everyone wants: a little more free time and a lot less worrying.
As the market matures, we’ll get a better sense of the two great unknowns: Whether startup-driven technology can deliver those things and, if so, whether consumers will be willing to pay for them.
Illustration: Dom Guzman
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