Michelle Kennedy is the founder of Peanut, an app that connects moms in the U.K., U.S., Canada and Australia with one another. Since launching in February 2017, London-based Peanut has reportedly grown its user base to over 500,000 women (and rising), most of whom engage with the app several times a day.
Kennedy credits much of her social app’s growth to her hyper-focus on mothers, as well as the knowledge gained while working on dating apps Badoo and Bumble. But just as it takes a village to raise a child, it also takes a team to grow a business. And whether she was seeking hires or investors — like Sound Ventures, the VC firm started by actor Ashton Kutcher, among numerous others — Kennedy took the same approach.
Here are her two best pieces of advice.
1. Shout your idea from the mountaintops.
“I see it loads with entrepreneurs and founders now — they don’t want to tell people what they’re doing,” for fear of having their idea stolen, Kennedy says. “I just think that is such flawed logic,” she adds.
In fact, opening up got her in touch with people who have been crucial to her growth trajectory. “I spoke to as many people as I could — old friends, new friends, telling friends to tell their friends.” By aggressively tapping into her network, she says she accessed invaluable feedback and got connected to the people who would comprise her social app’s core team.
And she stayed focused on networking with those who got her passion for reaching women. Experts agree meaningful connections are best. Patricia Lenkov of Agility Executive Search, who wrote about how to effectively network for The Story Exchange, cautions against indiscriminately pushing the business to anyone with working ears.
“Networking, when done well, involves having a meaningful conversation and consequently a connection with someone,” Lenkov says. “A conversation where both people speak and learn about each other.”
2. Never apologize for making the ask.
“It’s hard to walk into a room and tell people you’re building a product related to moms,” Kennedy told us.
She recalls worrying about the judgments her mompreneur status could invite, and had to internally dissuade herself from asking permission to speak. “I was really nervous about what people would think of me because I was doing this product. I had to really change that.”
To help her feel more secure, she relied upon the numbers — specifically, the ones pertaining to the mom market’s buying power. She would let those facts serve as a foundation, then show people where Peanut fit into the landscape.
Experts encourage women entrepreneurs, in particular, to push past negative social messaging around being assertive to do what’s best for the business. “The issue of business pricing and value brings up so many issues of personal worth for women,” Ali Brown, an investor and entrepreneur, says. “And a great step — versus years of therapy — is to just imagine you are indeed bold and ballsy … and go ask for the deal.”
Serial entrepreneur Jen Groover, meanwhile, suggests keeping other women in mind, if all else fails. “Since women typically feel more comfortable asking for things for other people … visualize that you are actually asking for the girls of generations to come, because essentially you are.”
Kennedy does aim to improve women’s lives, and she believes her social app has the power to do so. “The sooner you start believing that, the more people listening to you believe it,” she says. “If you go in apologizing or excusing what you’re doing, you’re giving up before you even start.”