She succeeded in the fiercely difficult world of startups, but Michelle found herself seeing the world differently when she had her son, so she founded Peanut, the app which connects new mums
Words Holly Kirkwood
Absolutely Mama talks to Michelle Kennedy, founder of new social app for mums, Peanut.
Like so many of us, Michelle Kennedy went into motherhood guilelessly, not really knowing what to expect, but assuming everything would work itself out/fall into place/come together. And her experience, like so many new mums, was a shock to the system.
As a highly successful businesswoman, Michelle had started her career as a lawyer working at online dating company Badoo, and witnessed the exponential growth of Tinder, followed quickly by a huge number of dating apps.
The leap from dating websites to dating apps happened fast, and she had a front row seat. Having worked her way to Deputy CEO at Badoo she’d gone on to serve on the board of Bumble, a dating app loved by many women, as it put the girl in control.
Having had such a fulfilling life, literally working on apps which connected people looking to meet for dates, she says she was surprised to find how lonely motherhood could be, regardless of the smartphone in her hand.
Having had her baby boy Finn she was finding filling the hours difficult: “I hadn’t really thought through the isolation part,” she explains. “There isn’t a rulebook for babies and working out the best ways to cope with all his needs myself was a struggle. Particularly in winter: January was very tough.”
“I didn’t have any friends who had a baby at the same time as me, and the NCT route just didn’t work out in terms new pals, so I was left at home with a very young baby, and I became quite lonely,” she explains.
Even after she returned to work she found it hard to connect with other mums. With Finn in nursery she was keen to meet the parents of his new friends, but she wasn’t able to stick around to go for a coffee with other mums after drop off as she was headed into work.
“When I went back to the office I spent a lot of time wondering why I’d felt so isolated, when there are online forums, and Whatsapp and Facebook groups, so I looked at the market again and it turned out that nobody had made the leap from the web to apps for social connections. Which seemed crazy: why shouldn’t we be able to meet likeminded people, the way we look for dates, on our mobiles?’
“It’s against the social norms to be in your thirties and to feel lonely but a little hello or a message can change your day enormously,” she maintains. “I knew that Bumble was already exploring the idea, and the tech was all there so we decided to give it a go.”
Peanut launched this year in London and New York
Launched earlier this year, Peanut works much the same way Tinder does. It uses a swiping mechanism to connect potential friends in your area – you sign up, and scroll through a load of profiles. Swipe up to wave to another mum; swipe down and you skip their profile. But instead of playing the hot-or-not game, Peanut focuses on helping users find others with shared interests, and children of the same age.
It’s very easy to use – your profile is linked through Facebook to ensure you are who you say you are – and it feels friendly getting a wave from another mum locally when you’re feeling a bit blue, although having tried it out I now harbour a (very British) fear of running into someone you’d swiped down on, and having to hope they didn’t recognise you. But there you are. In my part of leafy Dulwich I’ve had lots of lovely waves, and when I have my next baby in the summer I’m hoping perhaps I’ll make a few new friends.
The group chat function means up to ten mums can chat together and even schedule meetups within the app, making it super easy to connect people. Michelle is also aiming at adding a section for mums doing IVF, for instance – so helping people going through the same challenging times.
This is the whole idea: Michelle wants to give mums a tool they understand to help them to navigate the scary territory of new motherhood, whether a friendly wave just makes them smile for a second, or whether they actually go on to chat and meet up.
‘When I felt at my most low, in those darkest moments when Finn was really little, looking back, it could have made a huge difference to me, just to get a little wave, or a hello from someone else awake in the middle of the night”, she explains. “He had bronchiolitis when he was tiny, and it was the most frightening thing to go through on my own – I didn’t know anyone else in a similar position, and had nobody to talk to: I couldn’t ask anyone for advice.”
Now she’s back at work, Michelle still sees her Peanut friends regularly, and they help to keep her sane. She says users have forged everything from friendships to businesses together on the app, and back at the office nothing is better than getting messages from mums they’ve helped over the hump of lonely motherhood days – it shows the project is really working. And with over 400,000 London users in just ten weeks, Peanut can certainly be considered a success even though it’s still in its infancy.
In terms of Michelle’s own life, running a startup and having a toddler – who is now three – isn’t easy. She’s juggling a very demanding job with family life, again like so many of us, but she says her husband is an enormous help.
“Richard is completely brilliant. He also works hard but we are a team: for instance he’ll take Finn out on a Saturday morning so I can sit in a café and try and get a couple of hours of work done. Then that’s it. I always make sure I have a whole day where I can just put my phone away and really focus on the family – it’s important for me and also for Finn. I don’t want him growing up thinking all we do is stare at our phones all day.”
“It’s all about finding the right balance, but of course we get it wrong. I fail almost every day, from forgetting the money for a school trip to missing an email I needed to respond to.. but we also need to realise that the expectations of what we are expected to deliver as mums are often too high. Both expectations we place on ourselves, and those others place upon us.”
“If we spend more time being kind to ourselves, and being realistic about what we can achieve, then everyone will be happier,” she says.
The most important thing about Peanut for Michelle is that it’s been built to help women to support each other; the company are very open to ideas (they brought Android forward on the roadmap as so many users were asking for it), and long term they’d like to be part of the conversations around everything from mental health to postpartum care.
For the moment they are looking at careful expansion – they’re getting requests for the app from all over the world but launched in London and New York to begin with – and the business model needs to fall into place. Having raised an impressive amount of funding, the app now needs to generate revenue, but Michelle says it won’t come from ads, and connecting on Peanut will always be completely free to users.
So watch this space. And if you’re feeling lonely in the middle of a night feed, why not give Peanut a go? Who knows? Your new best friend might be literally around the corner…
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Take a look at Peanut