Meet the woman whose revolutionary app is shaking up motherhood
Threaded on a fine chain around Michelle Kennedy’s neck is a delicate diamond pendant. Look closely and you can see it is the shape of a small peanut. It’s a pivotal symbol in the 34-year-old’s life, representing her son Finley (Peanut was his nickname when she was pregnant), and her mission to makeover modern motherhood.
In February this year, Michelle launched the breakout social-networking app Peanut. A former director of dating apps Badoo and Bumble she came up with the concept while on maternity leave and struggling to come to terms with motherhood. “Maternity leave was weird for me. We’re told today that we [women] can do anything and rule the world, but you can’t do that when you have a baby. You can’t control their world, they control you. That was a tough time – and no one talks about it.” She’s right. As any mother knows, the all-encompassing job of caring for a newborn can easily make you feel disconnected with your former life. Yet the sense of isolation that can occur with new motherhood is an issue that is rarely discussed publicly. It’s also an admission even more poignant coming from a woman such as Michelle. A glamorous brunette with a blunt sixties-style fringe, she lives in a stunning house in North West London straight out of the pages of an interiors magazine. Oh, and did we mention the high-achieving career and gorgeous three-year-old son? She doesn’t look like the sort of woman who would have a crisis of confidence, but her experience is testament to the truth that the challenges of motherhood are universal. Exacerbating Michelle’s loneliness was the fact that she was the first of her friendship circle to have children. “When I did go on a rare night out with my girlfriends, I felt like an alien. You’re out there pumping and they’re talking about the guy they got with last night. It was a very surreal time. I’d done NCT [pre-natal classes], hadn’t met anyone there, so I thought I’m just going to do the dating algorithms for mums.”
Designed to connect like-minded mothers together, what sets Peanut apart from other apps for mothers, is that it recognises that motherhood isn’t the only defining role in women’s lives. A thought summarised in the company’s tagline: ‘Meet as Mamas, Connect as Women.’ This approach was led by Michelle’s frustration at brands that she felt stopped talking to her when she became a mother. “There’s so much information for women about children, but I didn’t find there was much out there for me.” She was exasperated that there was a presumption that becoming a mother meant giving up your identity.
Being a mother is a slightly different take on me, just one of my chapters
It is a viewpoint that has obviously struck a chord. In seven short months Peanut gained 130,000 women users with 11 million swipes (waves) and 800 000 messages sent. Even so, launching the app was “like that dream that you’re in school naked, but repeatedly for a month. It was terrifying.” Michelle confesses. Peanut may be on the fast-track to success but the challenges she faced in creating the app are not to be underestimated. “There were absolutely moments when I was fundraising when I knew I was up against a double whammy – I was a woman and it was a mum product. And yet I could see guys who were doing products for mums and they were getting funding.” She also came across doubters who questioned how big the market of new mothers really was, something she found incredibly frustrating. “There are 9000 births in the US every day, just to millennials. Women who are mothers are responsible for 2.4 trillion dollars of household spends. Therefore, people who are influencing and making decisions for that market should be those very women – not guys in suits who are saying that’s not what we need.”
Those men in suits might be regretting their comments now. Peanut has taken off so much Stateside that it has earned its own tagline in the US: ‘Tinder for Mums.’ Working on a rapidly growing start-up must bring challenges: how does she balance the demands of a fast-paced career with motherhood? “Balance is bull shit and we have to stop telling people that it exists. As soon as I thought there was balance I started to think I was doing something wrong,” she says with her signature candour. “It’s so hard, but I think what makes it worth it, is believing in what I do. I was the supporting act for so long [at Badoo and Bumble] it’s quite hard to come out and say, ‘I am going to do this’. I want Finley to see that in me and that’s something mummy did and something women do. There’s so many reasons why it’s important. There’s no way of dressing it up though – it is tough. Sometimes I get to nursery drop-off and I haven’t brought the packed lunch. Sometimes I turn up to a meeting with Peanut and all I can think about is Finley. The more we keep telling women there’s no balance and you just have to manage it, the quicker we can make it easier for women!” And there is nothing more empowering than when women support women, as Michelle knows full well. “Amazing stuff has happened but the most exciting is, when you get an email from a girl and she says she’s met her new best friend on Peanut – how cool is that?!”
Written by Amanda Woodward-Brown
Shot by Vicki Adamson
Hair and Make-Up by Jo Adams