Being a mom can feel like living on a deserted island. Michelle Kennedy aims to build bridges for women experiencing that isolation.
No painted volleyballs required.
She’s the founder and CEO of London-based Peanut, a social networking app that lets potential moms, expecting moms, new moms, experienced moms and empty-nester moms connect with women near them who share their interests, complaints and concerns.
Since its launch in 2017, Peanut has always been about making motherhood easier — while leaving out anyone who isn’t a mom themselves in the process. But even though the app is only available in the U.S., Canada, Australia and the U.K., it has nonetheless garnered international press attention for its “Tinder for moms” model from the likes of TechCrunch, Uproxx and The Bump, a site for expecting and new mothers.
And with a reported user base of over 500,000 women (and rising) who engage several times a day with the app, Kennedy has several valid reasons to believe in her hyper-focused model.
Peanut is all about “womanhood connected through motherhood,” Kennedy explains, and she has built her entire brand around that singular idea.
Starting Up from Experience(s)
Kennedy is a veteran in the world of dating apps. Prior to launching Peanut, she spent 5 years spearheading growth efforts at London-based dating app Badoo. She also played a key role in the launch of American women-centric dating app Bumble.
But while she loved her work, “I wasn’t using the products,” says Kennedy, who is married. “I was getting to a point in time where my friends weren’t, either.” And in December 2013 — two years after she started at Badoo — she entered a new phase of life altogether: motherhood.
Mom to son Finlay, Kennedy was the only one in her friend circle with a child. She spent hours alone during the day while her friends were working, and many lonely nights scrolling through her social media feeds, watching others live the fun lifestyle she once enjoyed.
It wasn’t just the isolation that got to her — Kennedy also had countless questions about her baby’s health, but could never find a reliable online resource for answers. Instead, she found herself Googling questions and scrolling through relevant forum posts, many of them published 5 or 10 years ago and all of them loaded with abbreviations like “DS/DD” (dear son/dear daughter) and “EBF” (exclusively breastfed) to decipher.
“I would not source information for anything else in this way — why would I do it for my child?” she pondered. “I have no idea who these people are. I’m just blindly reading their advice because I don’t have anything else.”
Finding a Facebook group helped somewhat, but conversations there were disjointed, and the page was clogged with numerous threads. Plus, despite it being a social networking app, it didn’t give her the in-person meet-up opportunities she craved. And as time went on, she also felt lost when filling out local school applications or finding nearby childcare.
“I came to realization that it takes a village, but we don’t have a village anymore,” she says.
So Kennedy set out to create one, using her professional experiences and her insights as a prospective customer to make a prototype of what would become Peanut. And she turned to the community she did have available — her professional network — for help realizing her dream.
It was Bumble’s Whitney Wolfe who taught her “the importance of having a very strong brand narrative, and never straying from it,” she says. Kennedy knew she wanted Peanut to be all about moms, and resolved to stay that course.
But she knew she would need more than just a clear vision for her app to succeed.
Learning and Growing
To better focus on Peanut, Kennedy left her roles at Badoo and Bumble but remained on the boards of both companies. As she transitioned into startup life, she began by researching her intended audience — and found she was about to tap into a beast. Moms dropped a reported $74 billion worldwide on gear last year, with that number expected to climb as time goes on.
Excited, Kennedy pitched Wolfe her idea while in New York for a Bumble event. Within 48 hours, she was connected to the person who would become her first investor. That cash infusion kicked development into high gear, as it allowed her to hire the team that would build Peanut out from the crude beta version she had made herself. She and her 4 new employees set to work readying Peanut for launch in September 2016. In February 2017, it became available in the U.K.
The app is both free to download and free to use, so Peanut is pre-revenue (though she has plans to make it profitable down the road). Growth has been funded entirely by investors. That was a tough road to travel at first since, prior to starting up Peanut, Kennedy had never pitched a single VC. The learning curve was steep, and she admits that much of her first funding round was about figuring out how best to sell Peanut to VCs, and what she wanted in return from her investors.
In her second round, she’s “happy to say I was much more methodical and aware.” She knew who to approach, and what she wanted out of those deals, such as connections in the United States or knowledge of the women’s consumer market.
Peanut ultimately got attention — and money — from Sound Ventures, actor Ashton Kutcher’s VC firm, Candy Crush investors Sweet Capital Investments and the Female Founders Fund, among several others in her two 2017 funding rounds. Kennedy declined to disclose the amounts of these investments.
Staying the Course
Kennedy’s son is now 5 years old, and as a mother, she says she’s on more sure footing.
She also seems to be thriving as a business owner. Her team has now hit “the dizzying height of 10” employees, she says with a laugh. But while it’s a small operation, Kennedy’s faith and confidence in that small team and its talents is no joke.
Her short-term goal, with those employees behind her, is to implement new tools for the app — like its riff on the group text, a function she says has increased in-app conversations by 50 percent — and to continually improve upon what the app can already do.
But whatever else changes within the app itself, “Peanut will always be a platform where the thread is motherhood — that’s really important to us,” Kennedy says.