Michelle Kennedy

Michelle Kennedy, founder and CEO of Peanut

The mother of apps

Michelle Kennedy had her fair share of doubters when she launched Peanut, an app described as the “Tinder for Mums”. A year since its launch, it now boasts 300,000 users and has won the backing of leading venture capitalists...

Unlike most tech entrepreneurs you meet, Michelle Kennedy isn’t a coder and hasn’t always been enthralled by tech.

In fact, she is an M&A lawyer by trade and cut her teeth in the tech sector in 2010 after joining the team at Badoo, one of Europe’s largest dating apps.

“I joined Badoo as an in-house lawyer before working my way up to become deputy CEO and helping them launch Bumble, another successful dating site,” she recalls.

She spent six years at Badoo and played a huge role in helping the company transition from being a web-based platform to a mobile-first platform.

“Joining Badoo was my entry into the tech world,” she added. “It was also at a time when we were really seeing the migration of web to mobile take place.

“When I first started, it was all about building and strengthening the web based platform. However, fast forward a couple of years and the landscape is very different now, native mobile apps are huge and with that, we’ve also seen attitudes towards dating change.”

When Kennedy first joined Badoo, it was one of the largest dating platforms in Europe boasting some 50 million users. However, when she left in 2016, that number had risen to a whopping 350 million.

She said: “Badoo was already very large when I joined. It sounds weird but when I joined, I hadn’t heard of it before despite it having 50 million registered users. It blew my mind!

“By the time I left it was at 350 million. It was a massive, massive, growth story. I oversaw a lot of change.”

Leaving the business in 2016, she then took the brave step of using the skills and experience she garnered from Badoo to set up her own business with the launch of Peanut.

Having witnessed first-hand the impact the shift to mobile had on Badoo and singletons across Europe, she saw a gap in the market to do the same for mothers who were looking to network and seek support.

The app works by connecting like-minded mothers who have children of similar ages and helping them discuss anything from mothering issues to their love lives, interests, and family problems.

She recalls: “I wasn’t dating in my personal life and I’d been involved in this massive growth market already.

“I had this idea to launch Peanut and really wanted to take the idea and do something which could support an entire generation of women. Nothing like this existed and I knew there was a great opportunity to bring it to market.”

Mothers can join Peanut by signing up for a free account, using either their Facebook account or email address. They are then asked to enter the age and genders of their children, or if they’re pregnant, how far along they are.

Then, throughout their journey using the app, they’re gradually asked to submit more information about themselves, so it’s more about the woman and not the children.

“Peanut’s fundamental principle is about connecting women who are mothers, as opposed to creating another baby product which there seems to be so many of,” she said.

“It also helps you connect with women who are near you in your area. The more you use the product and the more you engage, the smarter it becomes.

“This helps it recommend the kind of people it thinks you want to meet. It chooses people it thinks you share characteristics with and would get along with.”

However not everyone shared her confidence in the idea at the start. She said: “When we were building the app, we had people saying, ‘Are you sure women want this?’ and ‘Are you sure women need an app like this?’ Even my own mother was like ‘are you sure Michelle? This is a lot of pressure!’”

It has now been just over a year since the app officially launched and Peanut boasts a user base of over 300,000 mothers and has raised finance from leading venture capitalists. Not bad for an app which started as a trial with 20 of her friends.

This includes investment from Sweet Capital Investment (the founders of Candy Crush), the Female Founders Fund, Greycroft, Sound Ventures (the venture capital firm founded by Ashton Kutcher), NEA, Felix and Partech.

“We’re only a year old and, bearing in mind there were times when people were really asking questions and doubting us, we now have an app which is proving them wrong with 300,000 users and counting. It’s been amazing!”

Like the transition she witnessed first-hand with Badoo however, she is aware that she can’t let her guard down and knows of the importance of continuing to innovate and explore new avenues.

“When you think back to day one and we had 20 mates testing the app out for us, it has been amazing to see it grow!

“That month-on-month growth is now something we have to sustain and we know we have to keep being innovative and pushing it forward to do this. We need to be able to respond as quickly as we can whilst still growing the team and being agile.

“We spend a lot of time speaking to our users and listening to their feedback and we hear amazing stories about women who have met on Peanut and have gone on to launch businesses together, have made friendship groups, or and even set up nanny share agreements. It proves there is a real need for this product and we’re always striving to make it better.”

Also helping her scale up the business and stay on track with everything is her pool of investors who she claims “have been remarkable” in supporting her since coming on board.

“Having the right investor base is really important,” she said. “They can give you very honest feedback which is rooted in data and their own experiences, which is so important.

“You could be the most experienced of tech entrepreneurs but there will also be things you haven’t done and the right investors can shed their expertise on the issues.

“I have a really great relationship with our investors and I have constant dialogue with them, I think that’s really important.

“They also have a pulse on the market and know what is hot and what people are talking about. They have helped me enormously.

“You don’t just want people who are going to praise you when you’re doing well, but people who will also have your back when things are challenging. That for me, is the perfect investor and I’m lucky to have a number of them.”

What’s impressive about Peanut and the story behind the business is also the fact that it isn’t just about making a profit, but also about making a difference to the lives of every day people. Something which Kennedy is rightfully extremely proud of.

“I suppose what I feel most passionately about with Peanut is the fact that, obviously I’m a businesswoman, and I’ve always been looking to build a sustainable business, but we’re also making a difference to the lives of our users.

“We recognised that this kind of product was long overdue for women and we needed something like this to come along, which was why we invested so much time and effort into bringing it to market.

“I feel very responsible for the women who have used Peanut and who have put their trust in the app to say: ‘I want to have a different experience of motherhood’ and have turned to us to help.

“Yes, it was a business decision initially but we genuinely do have a social conscience as a business and we are extremely proud of that.”

The London-based company now employs seven members of staff, which includes one of the original co-founders who is based in Chicago and one other member of staff in New York.

So, what’s next? Kennedy concludes: “More growth! We’ve got lots of product work to do and we’re always looking to make the experience better for all of our users.

“We’ve just got to continue with our momentum, it’s really now about keeping up with that and innovating as much as we can.”