I’ve always been motivated by a desire to create technology and solutions that allow people to be who they want to be. It’s why, as a professor, I worked to combine neuroscience and robotics in a way that had never been done before. It’s why I started a foundation to help kids and adults overcome physical and learning challenges. And it’s why I headed to Silicon Valley where I could put my research into practice — co-founding Google X, developing the Nest Learning Thermostat, and playing pivotal roles at Apple and Google in healthcare.
About a year and a half ago, that mission brought me to a new chapter in my career. I decided to leave my role at Google and start a new company, Yo Labs, as an independent subsidiary of Panasonic. With everything going on in the world since then, it hasn’t felt like the right time to share this personal and professional update until now. So here goes.
In the U.S., most people think of Panasonic as a consumer electronics brand. But in Japan, Panasonic makes just about everything — and, more importantly, they’re one of the oldest purpose-driven brands in the world. When Konosuke Matsushita founded Panasonic in 1918, his goal was to contribute to the development of society and the well-being of people around the world. Later, Matsushita founded an institute and published a monthly magazine devoted to happiness and a better society.
Those guiding principles spoke to me. And so, in late 2019, I left Google to start a new independent subsidiary at Panasonic. We’re currently operating in stealth, but I can share that we are building something entirely new and different from Panasonic’s current offerings, inspired by our shared principles, values, and vision for the future. We will be sharing the name and scope of this joint venture soon, but for now, let’s call it “Yo Labs.”
From the beginning, Yo Labs has been focused on improving people’s physical and mental well-being so they can be who they want to be — especially people who have never had technology designed to care for them. Our mission became even clearer during the pandemic.
For me, the pandemic made life oscillate out of control — just like it did for millions of other women. And it brought both the problem and a potential solution into focus.
As a mother of four, I’ve always been a juggler. I’ve always wanted to make a meaningful contribution, both professionally and personally. I always dreamed of raising a family, enjoying time with them, and helping them leave the world better than they found it, too.
That means I’ve always taken on a lot: working on health tech, starting a non-profit, making sure all four kids are set up for success. It has never worked perfectly. In my life, something is always broken or completely falling apart.
At first, working from home during the pandemic felt like a dream come true. All four of my kids were in Zoom school under the same roof while I was in back-to-back Zoom meetings. We couldn’t go anywhere, so I appreciated those extra few minutes each day — usually spent running around or in the car — that I now had back to spend with my family.
What I didn’t realize was that work and family were blending in a way that became completely unhealthy.
When I was with my family, work was there even more than usual. Sometimes, when I was in a Zoom meeting and my kids came in excitedly to show me something, I’d have to mute myself and tell them to go away — which made all of us feel sad. There was never any “between” time. The second after I was done with my Zoom meetings for the day, my family needed me. I never had a spare minute to think, take care of myself, or even go to the bathroom. Around the same time, both of my parents in Japan became sick. As the only child, they needed my help from 6,000 miles away.
As a result, I had to make some incredibly difficult decisions — including stepping down from the board of Hewlett Packard. I felt like I was letting everyone down. But the more people I talked to, especially other moms, the more I realized I wasn’t alone.
Even people like me who are used to juggling a crazy amount can reach a point where we have to choose what’s most important. It’s part of the reason why almost 3 million women in the U.S. have dropped out of the workforce in the past year: an exodus that’s been called a national emergency.
Like many other women, I’ve been trying (and failing) to stay afloat and meet the impossible expectations that moms know all too well — and the pandemic made everything worse. The only difference, I realized, is that I might be able to help, even in a small way.
When I first joined Panasonic and started Yo Labs, I knew I wanted to create technology that helped families. But I also knew there were many paths we could follow.
As we worked over the course of a global pandemic, I realized the answer was right under our noses: we needed to provide support for busy families who are overwhelmed and pushed to the edge. It was a group of people I knew well. I was one of them. And while technology was supposed to be helping, the existing solutions often end up making the problem worse.
Over the past year and a half, Yo Labs has become a company full of mission-driven people who are working to build amazing products to help families prioritize well-being and be more present for each other.
We may never be able to completely fix the problem of women and families being stretched too thin, but we can start with a few simple things at home.
Thanks for reading, I’m excited to share more soon.