One of the reasons I started Love Child when I was pregnant with Bowie was a lack of mama friends. My friends had either had babies years before I got pregnant or were nowhere near thinking about pregnancy. Where did that leave me? Quite isolated to be honest. And I know I’m not the only one who has felt that way. We get so many requests from mothers to host events where they can meet other mothers. We get it! It’s hard, sometimes awkward but always worth it to find your tribe. Founded by Michelle Kennedy, Peanut is the app for mothers. They make it easy to connect and learn from like-minded women through events, meet ups, and chat groups. We chatted with Michelle about the loneliness that eventually inspired Peanut, her experience being a woman in tech, and what’s next for Peanut. Let’s connect–sign up for Peanut here!
Talk us through the concept behind Peanut.
Peanut was born out of two main issues. The first was the emotional aspect of becoming a mother. Before Fin arrived, I felt prepared. I had bought everything I needed, I’d read a few books. Turns out, the arrival of a baby isn’t just about planning. There are feelings and demands that you can’t plan for. My girlfriends weren’t at the stage in their life where they were yet having children, and even if some of my wider friendship group were, we all lived in different parts of the city (and leaving the house to go anywhere further than 10 minutes from home with a newborn felt like a military operation). I suppose what I felt most prominently, which isn’t particularly comfortable for a 30-something woman to admit, is that I was lonely. I had lots of friends, I was successful professionally, and yet, when I was at home, I felt lonely. This was further compounded by the fact that I was working in an industry (dating), where it was my day-to-day to produce products people could use to find a match, or a date, and I was struggling to find a woman who was like-minded to go for a coffee with. A little like dating, I also experienced a lot of “I have to introduce you to my friend, she’s a new mummy too”, only to go through an awkward ‘date’ where you realise the only thing you have in common is the fact that you both have a child. You don’t share the same outlook on life, values, interests. That’s actually even more isolating to be honest. The second was my desire to use tech to build a product for mothers. Why couldn’t we have tech to solve our issues? It existed, it just wasn’t being used for our market.
You’ve talked about how your own experiences becoming a mother fueled your drive to create Peanut. What are some of the big, tough lessons you learned and how does Peanut address them?
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. I’m so happy that Peanut can provide that place for like-minded mamas to connect and learn from each other.
What were some of the big hurdles to getting your idea off the ground?
With successes comes challenges and we’ve had a few along the way. It has varied from waiting for the right team members, who were perhaps working elsewhere, to be able to work with us. Getting people to understand our mission and the vision of the company can sometimes be challenging, particularly when they say “but that already exists”, naming products that have nothing to do with what you’re trying to build. If you really research what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, understand the market and know that it’s not just a gut feeling but is based off actual substance, those arguments become easier to have. Even things that come directly out of the success, where all of sudden you haven’t anticipated growth at the speed that it’s coming and you have to do urgent server work, which means going offline for 5 minutes, that can be frustrating. Often it just takes each member of the team to support one another and we become even stronger because everyone knows we’re on to something.
There has been some blowback around women’s groups and we’ve seen groups like The Wing and Ladies Get Paid served with lawsuits. What is Peanut’s approach to inclusivity?
At this moment, our focus is on women. We are not ruling out something for the future, but currently we wanted to build a product for women who are really feeling frustrated that there is no product out there which satisfies their needs. Our goal was not to be discriminatory, but to focus on where we felt the greatest need is.
We’ve also been seeing lots of stories around some of the dangers inherent to social media and ways it’s been exploited to the detriment of users– of course, Facebook’s issues surrounding the 2016 election come to mind, but there are also more run-of-the-mill challenges like cyberbullying. Considering the sensitive nature of parenthood and the questions that come with it, what makes Peanut a safe community and a safe space for its users?
Online privacy and safety is very important to us at Peanut. We have various safety checks in place to in ensure that Peanut is a secure place for mamas to meet. Users can only create profiles via a Facebook or Google account. In other words, you need an existing account to gain access. Peanut is moderated around the block by a team of the power users that we call MVPs (Most Valued Peanuts) and the community at large, who ensure that the community remains a safe space for all users.
What are some of the big trends you see emerging around motherhood and tech?
I think we’re having more conversations around women in tech, which can only ever be a good thing. We’re focused on highlighting issues, whether that is the funding gap, right through to inappropriate behaviour/power imbalance. There are incredible women who are supporting female founders and having “Women’s hour” drop-ins. There are women in tech initiatives in the workplace. The more we have conversations about women in tech, women in any industry where they are a minority, the easier women in the future will find it to enter these industries. That is the key.
There is always a lot of discussion around how women fit into the tech world, and there’s also statistics indicating that a woman’s treatment in the workplace changes after she becomes a mother– a phenomenon the New York Times called the “motherhood penalty.” What has your experience been like in a traditionally male-centric industry and how has it changed since becoming a mother?
When I started working on Peanut male investors would tell me that there was no market for this app because “mums can meet at coffee shops and drink coffee all day.” Wow.
Things have started to change though and we’re making great strides. Being a woman in any industry where you’re in the minority – or being part of any minority group for that matter – is tough because you have to prove yourself that little bit more. Work that little bit harder. I think it’s crucial we keep having this conversation – about women doing jobs that weren’t historically perceived as female jobs – until it starts to become normalised.
What’s next for Peanut?
More growth! More features! I continue to spend countless hours speaking to the women who use Peanut. To understand what they want. I continue to spend time using other products too. What works? What doesn’t work? Why? Is there something there which Peanut can help with or develop? Problem-solving I suppose, that’s how.