Michelle Kennedy took her experience in the world of online dating to launch a groundbreaking new networking app designed to connect like-minded mothers. Aiming to help women through what can so often be a lonely and isolating time, Peanut matches mums based on various shared factors – such as their interests, parenting styles, the age of their children and their location.
The idea for the app came to Michelle after the arrival of her son Finlay, who is now four. She had built a sucessful career as Deputy CEO at Badoo, the European dating behemoth and had also been instrumental in the launch of the dating app Bumble, where women message first. She tells us: “Motherhood for me, came when I had just reached a place in my career that I had worked so hard for over many years. A mixture of fortune, and panic ensued. Fortune that I was lucky enough to conceive, panic that I would have to step away from the position I so dearly loved.”
In addition to this, she found herself struggling to build the support network she needed. Many of her girlfriends hadn’t yet reached the baby stage, and as her friendship group lived in different parts of London, it wasn’t easy to just pop out for a coffee with a new baby in tow. She found herself looking for a way to connect with other mums online, just like in the world of dating apps. But what was out there already fell short.
She tells us: “I was presented with an assortment of web 2.0 forums, Facebook groups, or books written by women decades earlier. What I craved was a tech-focused product, with great UX/UI to connect and seek advice on motherhood from women like me. It didn’t seem like a huge ask, after all, women are responsible for trillions of dollars in household spend. Thinking about social, and the impact of social networks on motherhood was somewhat of an inevitable step.”
From what it’s like to be a woman in the tech world, to what she keeps inside her Jem + Bea MAMA clutch, we caught up with Michelle to find out more. Read our interview with her below...
Peanut has been dubbed the ‘Tinder for mums’. What was it like going from dating apps such as Badoo and Bumble to launching a product into the mum market? Did you encounter any marketing / strategy differences?
As I’d spent over five years in the tech industry connecting people romantically, I found connecting mamas to be almost inevitable in some ways I suppose. What is completely different? I just feel a huge sense of responsibility to the women who were using the product to make a positive impact on their lives. That in turn means that the strategy of the business is always tied back to that social good, to that desire to have an impact. As for marketing... well, you know, the best thing about women? We’re amazing sharers. Word of mouth is incredible for Peanut, it’s the most effective way we’ve grown.
The app has completely revolutionised the way mums are able to meet each other. What was your own maternity leave like? Did you try the usual routes to meeting other mums, like NCT and baby activity classes?
My own maternity leave was WEIRD! I thought I was looking forward to taking some time off from working (I’ve worked since I was 15). The reality was, i’d previously had so much of my identity tied to my career, to not be going into the office every day was a complete culture shock. Prolonged periods of time on my own, at home, with my new arrival led to feelings of isolation, and feeling insecure about my own parenting styles. I did NCT, and I went to baby classes, but I didn’t feel I had that crucial commonality, the point that made me able to really connect on something more than just both being mothers. I wanted more! I wanted to find real connections.
We love Peanut’s tagline: ‘Meet as Mamas, Connect as Women’. Do you think perceptions of mums are changing and did you feel like your own identity had shifted when you became a mother?
Perceptions of mums are ABSOLUTELY changing. There will always be stereotypes and prejudices, but in this day and age, people are starting to understand that mothers can handle being hard-working business women and great mothers at the same time. When I had Fin, I felt that I was still me, but I did feel a shift in the way I was treated by the people around me, as if there was a club I wasn’t a part of. I felt isolated and this pushed me to want to fight for the mothers that felt the same way. There are so many mamas out there and mothers are responsible for 2.4 trillion dollars of household spend, so I knew there was a market out there. A market not just for a product, but for thousands of women to be connected and to learn from each other, find solace in each other and to prove to each other that you are still YOU when you become a mama.
Did you use the app to meet your own mum gang? Do you have any stories about connections you’ve made through Peanut?
I regularly use Peanut myself - I’m so proud of the amazing community we’ve built. I even hired a member of my Peanut team, a mama who was different to the others around her, as she was younger, so came onto the app to find women she could connect with. I met her on Peanut, and now she’s part of the marketing team!
We love how you can form groups on Peanut and poll times for meet ups. Where are the best places for mama hang outs in your local area?
There are some great places in Hampstead for mamas. My go-tos are Roni’s, for killer authentic bagels and baked goods with an artisan style, and Karma Bakery on Hampstead Heath. As a self-confessed coffee addict, I always head to Starbucks on South End Road, and then for an evening catch-up with the girls over a glass of red, I love The Wells on Well Walk in Hampstead.
What is it like being a woman and a mother in the tech world?
Being in a minority in any environment can be challenging. My advice is always to use your difference to your advantage, disarm people, be exactly what they don’t expect you to be. I’ve changed in the workplace since becoming a mother, I am more patient, perhaps more empathetic. It’s made me a better leader, and I think that can be true for anyone if they use these new skills and challenge their previous methods. Of course it can be challenging when you’re the only woman in the room, when you can’t go to the founders retreat for a weekend because you have family commitments etc. But I work relentlessly to make up for those things, and I have confidence now that I am doing it my way, that’s the most important point to realise, there is no right way, there is just your way.
How do you juggle family life and work life and what’s a typical day like for you?
I wake up at 6.30am, check my emails and check in with the Peanut team. Then Fin acts as my second alarm when he comes bounding into my room, and we go down and spend some time with our puppy, (just as loud as Fin in the mornings). Then I drop Fin at school, do my makeup on the way to work (admittedly), and head to the office - coffee in hand! I tend to spend most of my day on my emails, and will also often attend events or travel, which takes up a large part of the day. I try to make four out of five bedtimes, I hate not seeing Fin before he goes to sleep. It’s not perfect, but we’re getting there.
As a mum in tech, do you use apps with your son?
I love using apps with Fin. There are great apps for kids out there, and he has a whole folder in my phone of his faves. We’re in a 21st century world, so we may as well embrace the positives of tech developments.
We love Peanut’s brand identity – it totally resonates with our own belief that bags are an indispensable part of your style, so why should a changing bag be any different. How would you describe your own style and did you find yourself dressing differently after Fin arrived?
I change up my style, but it is one of my favourite things to play around with when I have the time. I love ‘90s fashion – think high waisted jeans and Gucci loafers. I always want to feel that my personality is reflected in the clothes I wear. I stuck to my style guns when pregnant, but altered what needed changing. The bump looks gorgeous accentuated by tailoring, and I never wanted to avoid wearing dresses either. My go-to is always dungarees – comfortable and stylish!
What do you love most about being a mum, and what do you find the hardest?
I love everything about being a mum. I love learning from him and seeing the world through his eyes, so innocent and questioning. He has this incredible sense of what is fair and just, and I’m constantly surprised by that... I’ll be honest – one of my major issues is that childcare is a nightmare. School holidays aren’t aligned with working days, so whenever he has a lovely long break, I used to have to call for backup in the name of my mum! Now we use holiday camps and my husband and I tag-team childcare when we can. However, travelling for work is that hardest part of being a mum, and I’m thinking about him non-stop. This is why you need a support network in the form of other mums.
What would we find if we looked inside your Jem + Bea MAMA clutch?
Inside my clutch, you’d find the Laura Mercier Almond Coconut Hand Cream, I love the milky, honey smell and use it throughout the day. As I am that woman who does her makeup on the journey into work, in my bag I store tinted moisturiser, bronzer and my brow products, as well as the By Terry CC Lumi Serum, and their Baume de Rose Lip Care.
And finally, what are the five apps you couldn’t live without:
- Calm: this app helps me sleep. They offer varied bedtime stories which send me straight off, when my husband isn’t snoring too loudly!
- Instagram: I love using Instagram for inspiration, for some laughs, or just to get a sense of what people are talking about
- Amazon Prime: Sad, but true. Every mama’s best friend for ordering last minute fancy dress costumes for World Book Day which you’ve forgotten about
- Slack: For keeping up with my team at all times
- Secret Spa: If you’ve ever needed a last minute wax at 10pm the night before you’re due to go away, you will know the importance of being able to have someone come to your home. Literally saved my life so many times