Silicon Valley start-up targets atypical market: the elderly

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Young consumers are often the first audience that technology companies target with new gadgets and mobile apps. Now a Silicon Valley company, backed by a few big names on the Internet, is aiming at the elderly.

The Honor online service, which is being unveiled on Thursday, aims to make it easier for older people to get professional in-home care to help with everything from taking a bath to picking up groceries, according to the company.

Among the backers of Honor, which has raised $20 million in funding, are venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz and investors such as Yelp Inc CEO Jeremy Stoppelman, former Apple Inc retail chief Ron Johnson and former U.S. Senator Bob Kerrey.

“Silicon Valley traditionally doesn’t do much for seniors,” said Honor co-founder and Chief Executive Seth Sternberg, who sold the previous company he founded, social media service Meebo, to Google Inc in 2012.

“There’s a pervasive belief that anything tech for seniors will fail because seniors can’t use technology,” Sternberg said, noting that he believed such a view was a mistake.

Honor said its service matches customers with professional caregivers based on criteria such as languages spoken, specialized training and even allergies to cats.

An Honor smartphone app gives family members updates about the care a relative is receiving, such as when the caregiver arrived and left, and what activities they did. Elderly customers, meanwhile, get a small electronic appliance that displays information such as what time their caregiver is arriving each day. They can also use the device to provide feedback.

Unlike existing elderly homecare services, which typically require a 3-hour-a-day minimum of in-home care, Honor will allow customers to receive as little as 1 hour a day. And the professional caregivers on its service will be paid a minimum of $15 an hour, said Sternberg, adding that it was higher than the average pay most professional caregivers receive today.