Whistles Women: Michelle Kennedy

Dubbed the app for “women who missed out on Tinder” by The New York Times, Michelle Kennedy took the gamified dating app format and created Peanut, a first-of-its-kind app designed to connect like-minded mothers.

By matching women based on their location, interests, ages of children and experiences, whether it’s having a child with special needs or being a single mother, Peanut looks to create meaningful real-life interactions in the hope of tackling the feelings of loneliness and isolation mother’s can often feel privy to.

We grabbed ten minutes with tech-entrepreneur Michelle in her Hampstead Heath home to talk all-things app, the best thing about children and the pressure on women to “have it all.”

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Congratulations on the success of Peanut! Can you remember the moment where you thought: I need to make this app?

It all started when I had my son Finlay. It didn’t make sense to me that my profession - I was Deputy CEO of Badoo and Director of Bumble at the time - was to enable people to find dates, yet I couldn’t find a like-minded mum to grab a coffee with? That just felt really wrong. It was also bizarre that, as a woman in tech, I was used to interacting with all these slick apps to order taxis or deliver food, but once I’d had Finn I was forced to use all these twee products marketed to mums that just didn’t feel like ‘me’. It felt like I had lost part of my identity. So I’d probably been thinking about Peanut for about two years before I pressed ‘go’.

The reaction has been incredible, has it taken you by surprise at all?

We all believed in the concept that women want to hang out with like-minded women, particularly during the baby part of their lives. It’s a moment in time where women want to feel solidarity more than ever. Although I’m not sure any of us expected it to explode the way it has, or how quickly it would take off! We’re still only nine weeks old, believe it or not.

The big stuff is really cool - like when when you get supported by Apple or see all the crazy download figures. But the most exciting stuff for me is when you get an email from someone and they say “this app has really changed my life,” or somebody tweets or Instagrams about us. That stuff is the best because you simply can’t manufacture it. And it means it must really be working.

It’s an outdated view that women cannot juggle both successful career and having children. Having done both, what are your thoughts?

I think it’s really dangerous to keep telling women that they can “have it all”. I’m not sure what ‘all’ means exactly but there’s this perception that ‘all’ means everything is perfect, and if it’s not perfect then you are failing somehow. So can you be a mummy and work? Of course. Can you be a mummy and work, while juggling a social life and still being a brilliant daughter/ wife/ sister/ friend - yes you can do all of those things, but you’re not going to be perfect at every single one of them all the of time. And that’s normal.

That’s why this “have it all” thing is so damaging to women, because it breeds feelings of guilt and failure. Sometimes you’ll get the balance slightly wrong - but it’s ok because you’re doing an amazing job. If you’re a stay-at-home mum bringing up your children - you’re doing an amazing job. We have to be kinder to ourselves. I’m all for leaning in, but let’s lean in to a point and stop with the emotional burnout.

Talk to me about being a woman in tech?

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.

Bumble is such a great concept - twisting traditional dating etiquette on it’s head and placing the power with the women - what impact do you think it’s had on dating culture?

Any product that challenges what is socially accepted is often tricky at first but always very welcome in the end. When I started out at internet dating site Badoo, dating over the internet was still pretty taboo. Then Tinder came along and they changed that. Watching the group of women at Bumble take dating to the next level and challenge another social norm was brilliant. People find it difficult at first when you’re challenging social norms, but if the message is strong and powerful enough then it pushes through.

What does a ‘typical’ working day look like for you?

It starts early to check in with my business partner Greg Orlowski [co-founder of Deliveroo], he’s based in Chicago so is always going offline as I go online. Then I head into the Peanut office once Finn is up and off to nursery. We’re a small team so we all muck in and do everything, so there’s no typical day really. We might be working on the artwork for a poster or an ad, or chatting to a brand about a potential partnership. It’s very varied and everyone has a real sense of pride and ownership over what we’re creating.

And how do you unwind?

Definitely a few glasses of wine! And spending time with Finlay most of all. That’s one of greatest things about children, when you’re with them you are just 100% locked into that moment. They’re all-consuming in the best possible way.

What advice would you give anyone looking to launch their own app?

Know your market, do your research and have the thickest skin going.

Any great stories from Peanut mamas?

Ah so many. Every tweet you receive from someone to say they think they’ve made a new best friend is just so rewarding and really does make this whole thing worthwhile.

What’s next for Peanut?

Well… we’ve got new app features launching soon, which are all super exciting, and we go live on Android in the next couple of weeks. As for the rest? You’ll have to wait and see…

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