Meet Donna, your new mobile personal assistant

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It’s Thursday afternoon and I know I have a morning meeting at nine, a work event at 6, and drinks with friends sometime after that. When it comes time for me to leave I will look for the address, directions and hope to get there in time.

Let’s be honest, keeping track of everything is difficult. And, with most of our phones being “smart”, its only a matter of time that the virtual personal assistant apps take rise.

Apple’s Siri helps you get things done just by asking. Google Now, formerly exclusive to Android, has also crossed the pond to iPhones and iPads through the updated Google Search app. Donna is another free personal assistant iOS app that’s the latest example of personal productivity apps popping over the last few months, including apps like Sunrise, Sherpa and Tempo.

Donna is named after iconic television assistant Donna Moss from The West Wing. It works by seamlessly grabbing data from your existing calendar to mimic the work an actual personal assistant that keeps your schedule for you. The app puts your phone to work using your phones location, and the location of where you need to be next, via push notifications. Donna tells you where and when you need to leave to make your next appointment on time, taking into account transportation methods like walking or driving, and other information such as parking and getting to the building.


“Donna learns about you, anticipates your needs, and only gives you the information you need when you need it,” said chief executive Kevin Cheng, who founded the San Francisco based company, Incredible Labs (Donna is the branichild). The tech company’s co-founders include Scott San Filippo, Arshad Tayyeb and Spence Murray.

Cheng said that while the personal assistant space is getting crowded, “there’s a lot of information out there and not many filters, Donna is the filter to your world.”

One way that Cheng and his colleagues developed the app was by talking to personal assistants, executive assistants, and people who employ them to understand the attributes that makes for a good assistant. That might explains the ease in using the app. Donna’s approach is to come to you with information.

Donna is good at telling me how many meetings I have today and tomorrow, and anticipates my next event. Over time, Donna gathers your personal habits such as your favorite places and can start to predict where your home and work are, where you will be leaving from, and where meetings are without you entering exact addresses. If you are running late, Donna can use your location to automatically tell individuals how far away you are (if the meeting location has been entered into the app).

Other features include a straight dial into conference calls or Skype if you are scheduled for an online meeting.

The startup worked a lot behind the scenes during its private beta to make sure the app doesn’t drain the iPhone’s battery as quickly and the app runs faster. Cheng said there’s an opportunity to build in more features over time and with more traction, there’s the possibily to charge for a subscription fee. He also said an Android version is in the pipeline.

Incredible Labs has raised a total of $2.5 million from a group of investors that includes Khosla Ventures, Betaworks, Maynard Webb, CrunchFund, Ashton Kutcher, and a group of other angels.

Follow @JessicaNaziri on Twitter



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