Michelle Kennedy is the CEO and co-founder of Peanut, an app that works to bring together like-minded mothers through connection and conversation. Dubbed the app for “women who missed out on Tinder” by The New York Times, since it's launch in 2017, Peanut has become a prominent voice for modern motherhood, garnering a community of over 300,000 women. We spoke with Michelle about her journey so far.
WHERE DO YOU CALL HOME?
BEFORE LAUNCHING PEANUT, WHAT DID YOU DO?
I was Deputy CEO of Badoo, and board adviser and director for Bumble, so dating! Before that…I was an M&A lawyer!
WHAT EXPERIENCES DROVE YOU TO LAUNCH PEANUT?
Peanut was born out of 2 main issues.
The first was the emotional aspect of becoming a mother. Before Fin arrived, I felt prepared. I had bought everything I needed, I'd read a few books. Turns out, the arrival of a baby isn't just about planning. There are feelings and demands that you can't plan for. My girlfriends weren't at the stage in their life where they were yet having children, and even if some of my wider friendship group were, we all lived in different parts of the city (and leaving the house to go anywhere further than 10 minutes from home with a newborn felt like a military operation). I suppose what I felt most prominently, which isn't particularly comfortable for a 30 something woman to admit, is that I was lonely. I had lots of friends, I was successful professionally, and yet, when I was at home, I felt lonely. This was further compounded by the fact that I was working in an industry (dating), where it was my day to day to produce products people could use to find a match or a date, and I was struggling to find a woman who was like-minded to go for a coffee with. A little like dating, I also experienced a lot of "I have to introduce you to my friend, she's a new mommy too", only to go through an awkward date where you realize the only thing you have in common is the fact that you both have a child. You don't share the same outlook on life, values, interests. That's actually even more isolating to be honest.
The second was my frustration with the existing products on the market aimed at Mothers. I didn't recognize the tone of voice the products used or the look and feel of the products. They felt outdated, old-fashioned, and in some cases patronizing. To me, I didn't feel like I'd suddenly aged, or become less modern, less cool, just because I'd become a mom, and yet, the products seemed to have that expectation. I found that confusing. I still had an expectation of great user experience, from products like Uber, or Instagram, but I wasn't getting that.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES YOU'VE ENCOUNTERED ALONG THE WAY?
The stark reality is, 2% of venture-backed business last year were founded by women. 2%. And yet, we’re 50% of the population. It’s terrifying and frustrating in equal measure. Particularly because we KNOW businesses which are led by, or have senior women at the helm perform better. We KNOW therefore that women have a tremendous impact on business. Yes, I’ve encountered challenges. I’ve been asked whether I’ve wanted to do something “sexier” than an app for modern motherhood, or the ever-frustrating “you know, I’m not sure, I need to ask my wife/sister/daughter/niece/assistant”. That is infuriating. You want to scream, “no, you just need to look at the business, I am presenting you with a business proposal”. But, to say that is every VC is reductive. There are brilliant VCs out there, men and women, who are gender blind. Who are only interested in business opportunities, who are feminists. Do your research, take references from other founders, and you will find those people. I did. And the more conversations you have, the more successful your business is, the easier that will become. I spoke to an investor just today, who said: “Women never want to over promise and under deliver, and yet, I’ve never met a male founder who doesn’t overpromise, and yet, we know the guys are getting the funding”. Her point wasn’t too over promise, her point was, women have to be more confident. We must be, and we can be if we support each other.
HAS YOUR EXPERIENCE IN THE TECH WORLD CHANGED SINCE YOU LAUNCHED PEANUT?
I think we’re having more conversations around women in tech, which can only ever be a good thing. We’re focused on highlighting issues, whether that is the funding gap, right through to inappropriate behaviour/power imbalance. There are incredible women who are supporting female founders and having “Women’s hour” drop-ins. There are women in tech initiatives in the workplace. The more we have conversations about women in tech, women in any industry where they are a minority, the easier women in the future will find it to enter these industries. That is the key.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO WOMEN STARTING OUT IN THE TECH INDUSTRY?
Be at peace with failure. Failure is good. It’s how you get to the correct answer, it’s how we all improve. Be tenacious in your research to understand every area you want to be involved in. Seek out mentorship, approach people you admire and don’t be afraid to ask for their help-what is the very worst that can happen?! They say no! No big deal, on to the next. When you connect with people who are helpful, inspiring, kind, keep in contact with those people. You never know when you will need their help again in the future. Test every new product which is interesting to you. Work out why you like it, why you don’t. Watch people. What are they using, how, why? Go for it, you might just build something which changes someone’s life. How cool is that?
DO YOU BELIEVE IN WORK/LIFE BALNCE?
NO! It’s a myth! There is no such thing as balance. We juggle. Sometimes we’re brilliant at work, sometimes we’re brilliant at home life, sometimes, very rarely on the same days, do these collide. If we tell women there is a balance, and they don’t have one, they feel they are failing, and that, is fundamentally wrong.
WHAT KEEPS YOU GOING?
My son. My desire for him to see how hard mommy works, what you can achieve from hard work, that if you see a problem, you can be the one to fix it. It might not be easy, but you can. I want him always to question things in the world, particularly if there are things which aren’t right.
WHAT'S NEXT FOR PEANUT? HOW DO YOU CONTINUE TO BUILD A COMMUNITY THAT'S EMPOWERING?
More growth! More features! I continue to spend countless hours speaking to the women who use Peanut. To understand what they want. I continue to spend time using other products too. What works? What doesn’t work? Why? Is there something there which Peanut can help with or develop? Problem-solving I suppose, that’s how.
HOW DO YOU DEFINE SUCCESS?
Peanut becoming synonymous with Modern Motherhood. Just that little thing.