When you’re the deputy chief executive of a thriving dating network, and were instrumental in the launch of another, upon giving birth to your first child, one might think that starting a new firm would be the last thing on your mind.
Not for Michelle Kennedy. Previously of Badoo, and an integral player at Bumble’s launch, this app-land heavyweight is now the boss of Peanut, a Tinder style app for new mothers looking to meet up with like-minded women in the same situation.
An entrepreneur at heart, when Kennedy found her expectations of motherhood to be quite disparate to the reality, a lightbulb flicked, and a tech solution to what she describes as “pain points” was born.
“I had the idea years before I did it, and did nothing with it, which is standard when you have a baby and life takes over,” she says. “Peanut was just this idea and this dream that I had that didn’t really progress. I went back to work relatively quickly, and it got to the point where I was still thinking about it. The problem that I’d had was still there – it had just morphed into a slightly different issue.”
The problem at the heart of Peanut is one of unexpected loneliness in motherhood. Kennedy says that going from being surrounded by friends and colleagues one minute, to being at “home alone at 2 o’clock on a Wednesday with a little person who isn’t giving much” is something that is endemic among young mothers – and particularly so in metropolitan cities.
“We don’t necessarily live where we grew up anymore. We move for work, we move for lifestyle, and you don’t have that support network. Even if you’re lucky and one of your girlfriends did have a child at the same time as you – they don’t live next door to you, or two streets down, they live an hour away on the other side of London. There’s no community feel anymore.”
Having launched in London and New York in February, the platform has “taken on a life of its own”, attracting over 150,000 people across the globe, and growing.
On the morning we meet, a report from the universities of Essex and Vienna found that dating apps like Tinder improve social cohesion – people are increasingly dating and marrying outside of their own race, class, and background due to these apps massively increasing the cultural pool. Kennedy says the same applies to young mothers.
“I think ultimately, the thing that struck me as most obvious was that you don’t just make friends with someone because they’ve also got brown hair, or because they also do the same job as you. That’s not how you connect with people – you connect because they share your mindset or your values or they make you laugh. And so you have a baby, and it’s this expectation that you’ll get on because you’re both mums. It’s the weirdest logic.”
While there are countless apps for babies, the offering for mothers is scant. For a generation used to Deliveroo and Facebook, being expected to use decades-old mothering forums feels like an affront. “Sites like Mumsnet are an institution,” says Kennedy. “They gave women a voice, enabled us to talk, and to seek suport.”
She sees Peanut as natural evolution for the Tinder Generation – those mobile-first 24-35 year old’s who may have met their partner on a dating app.
“What we do also see that’s interesting to me is an older demographic,” she adds. “Maybe their children have got their own lives now or are doing their own thing – the kids are perhaps 11 plus and they want to find their network, their support. For me, this was really about building a community of women, and I think having those more experienced women is so valuable to our network.”
Having been instrumental in creating Bumble, the female-first dating app, Kennedy says she understands the “power of the female market”. Women drive 85 per cent of sales in the consumer market, something she says cannot be ignored.
“We are such a powerful market – we have voice and it’s becoming more prominent. I just wanted to build a product that reflected that community feel, and enabled women in that way. So yes, putting women first is something that I’ve always cared about and will continue to.”
It was reported earlier this year that venture capital’s funding gender gap is actually getting worse – on average just 17 per cent of startups have a woman at the helm.
It’s a systemic problem that shows no sign of abating. Kennedy says that while she was lucky to have “stellar” VCs who believed in the product, woman shouldn’t be disheartened from approaching funding.
“I think that more women should be funded, yes. Not for funding women for woman’s sake, but funding for those who have brilliant ideas. We already know that women-led businesses outperform – the stats are already there – it’s about bringing that to the forefront. I think the most important thing is to celebrate the women who have got the funding and who are inspiring and give courage and confidence.”