Michelle Kennedy on Launching the Peanut App: 'How I Turned My Struggle to Make Mom-Friends Into a Business'
Michelle Kennedy was an executive at Bumble when she became a new mom and wanted a way to "swipe right" to meet mom-friends. She shares how she launched the Peanut app and offers advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.
If you have been inducted into the messy and wonderful world of motherhood in the past few years, chances are high you've heard of Peanut, a social networking app for mothers. This app has grown from 20 downloads when it was first launched in 2017 to one million active moms today. Like most startups that find success, Peanut was born out of a need for something that didn't exist. In fact, when the co-founder and CEO, Michelle Kennedy, first came up with the idea, she was actively working on another app you've probably also heard of: Bumble—a dating app known for its female-first communication directive.
Once she gave birth to her son, Finlay in 2013, Kennedy suddenly found herself feeling like the odd duck out: She was the only mom in her friend circle. She did find some communities on Facebook, but she still felt frustrated that there wasn't a destination designated only for moms. Or more so, an outlet that could lead to in-person meetups of new parents in her neighborhood, as she desperately sought a community.
"I couldn't go within the group and say with no reference: 'can we go for a coffee'? That would be weird," she says. "I felt most predominantly that the brand narrative around motherhood didn't feel like me as a mother. My journey felt different. And the more women I spoke to, the more common it was." With that in mind, Peanut was born.
Looking forward to 2020 and beyond, Kennedy—now a mom to two— is excited to grow Peanut's community for women trying to conceive, which launched in November. Here, Kennedy shares her advice for aspiring mom-entrepreneurs.
Find an idea that resonates with a group and doesn't yet exist.
When creative, ambitious, and curious people are looking for something and they can't find it, they become inspired to create it. While Kennedy stresses she didn't have an "aha" moment—she did see clearly there wasn't anything like Peanut available anywhere else. Then she asked around to make sure other moms wanted this type of community, too.
"Motherhood is an absolutely seismic life change and there is no product out there that helps [women] deal with that from an emotional perspective," says Kennedy. "And every woman I spoke to and gave that pitch to said that makes sense."
When thinking about your startup brainchild, make sure you're promoting it to the right people. You can identify who this might be by determining your ideal customer: are they male, female, or both? What is their income? Where would they most likely interact with your service or goods?
Create a fundraising strategy.
When Kennedy first had the idea for Peanut, she started saving money. "Not every entrepreneur thinks about building business in that way, but as a mom, I felt that I had to since I've got responsibilities," she says. "I put money aside so I could pay early engineers before I went out to raise institutional money."
And raising money was done with a very intentional strategy. "It was a real learning curve in terms of choosing an investor," she says. "In the early days when I would pitch to a man, he'd say, 'I am going to ask my wife, or my daughter, or my assistant,' and that was frustrating."
Be ready to make sacrifices.
As Kennedy puts it, starting a business is like having another baby: it's all-consuming, it's all you can think about, and it requires sacrifices. Kennedy wants future entrepreneurs to know that it takes major commitment to lift an idea off the ground. This means expecting long hours, some disappointing lows, and learning how to create healthy boundaries.
When Kennedy had her first child, she wanted to jump back into work as if nothing had changed—but everything had. "So if someone put a call in my calendar at 6 p.m., even though I knew that was bath time, I took the call. I was miserable and my son was miserable," she shared. As she built Peanut, she prioritized figuring out a happy medium. "I am definitely more strict with myself. I want to leave the office and go home and put my babies to bed and do story time and have those times together," she says. "It's about building that flexibility in, because I have to practice what I preach."
Don't give up.
You're going to want to give up, Kennedy says, but if you stick with it, hustle harder, and allow the business to bloom, it'll be worth it in the end. "When I started Peanut, it felt like a horrible mistake. It felt very, very hard for many months," she shared. What helped her push through the muck of doubt and anxiety was really believing in her mission.
When you start a business, understanding your "why" is what will make the hardest days bearable and the brightest ones that much sweeter. "If ever I have a moment of feeling low, I just have to look at the app to know that it's actually making a difference," says Kennedy. "There was a mission behind what we're doing and it makes the long hours and the sacrifice worth it. Even though I've had moments of feeling… crazy. It was still worth it."