Sam Altman’s fund invests $3M in a startup blending AI and human oversight for productivity.

Wed Dec 20, 2023 - 3:47am GMT+0000

Shelpful, a Portland, Oregon-based startup, merges artificial intelligence with human empathy to assist people in staying focused and completing tasks. Recently, it achieved a significant milestone by securing $3 million in funding from Apollo Projects, a venture fund led by OpenAI CEO Sam Altman and his siblings.

The company, named to imply “super helpful,” offers reminders for various activities like medication intake, exercise, and project completion. These reminders are sent via text message and are created by either human accountability coaches, known as “Shelpers,” or an AI productivity assistant named HabitGPT, or sometimes both in a group chat.

Founded in 2021 by Sharon Pope during the pandemic, Shelpful emerged from her personal need for a support system. Pope, a seasoned marketing professional with experience at companies like Y Combinator and Poppy, launched the company amidst her busy life as a startup employee and a mother of two. The service primarily operates over WhatsApp, where after signing up, members share their goals and interests, receiving tailored reminders based on these inputs.

Pope, who didn’t initially aspire to start her own company, was driven by the unique need she identified for such a service. Teaming up with Lydia Swift, a friend and Microsoft PR expert at WE Communications, and Chris Morse, former Amazon Alexa developer, they brought Shelpful to life. Sam Altman, whom Pope knew from her time at Loopt and Y Combinator, showed interest in her venture, leading to the significant investment.

Shelpful offers three subscription models: HabitGPT (AI) for $35 a month, HabitGPT with a human assistant for $65 a month, and HabitGPT with Zoom coaching for $165 a month. Built on OpenAI’s GPT-4, HabitGPT can suggest recipes, podcasts, and provide comforting responses to users’ vents.

The tool has been particularly beneficial for Pope, aiding in her ADHD management and providing support after a medical emergency. Besides the three founders, Shelpful employs a software designer and around 20 contracted Shelpers. The startup is enhancing its AI capabilities and exploring new features like advanced reporting, AI-hosted Accountability Groups, and calendar integration. Pope emphasizes the ongoing importance of the human element in their service, believing in the unique value of human interaction amidst AI efficiency.