Conquering The Tech Industry With Peanut App Founder Michelle Kennedy
In a primarily male-dominated industry, Michelle Kennedy is breaking down barriers. From helping to launch the wildly successful app Bumble, to becoming deputy CEO of European dating app Badoo, the London-based tech genius is definitely one to watch. Her newest project, Peanut, was designed to connect new mothers who are feeling isolated. Just launched in February, Peanut is already seeing impressive attention from consumers. We chatted with Michelle about what it's like to be a successful woman in the tech industry, motherhood, and the inspiration behind Peanut. Check out the full interview below!
What inspired you to create Peanut?
Peanut was born out of 2 main issues; The first was the emotional aspect of becoming a mother. My girlfriends weren't at the stage in their lives where they were having children yet, 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 impossible). I suppose what I felt most prominently, which isn't particularly comfortable for a 30-something woman to admit, is that even though I had lots of friends and was successful professionally, I felt quite isolated. This was further compounded by the fact that I was working in an industry 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 on my wavelength to go for a drink with.
The second was my frustration with the existing products on the market aimed at mothers. I didn't recognize the tone of voice the products used, or the UX/UI being used. They felt outdated, old fashioned, and in some cases, infantilizing. To me, I didn't feel like I'd suddenly aged, or become less modern or less relevant just because I'd become a mother. Yet, the products seemed to have that expectation. I found that confusing. I still had the expectation of great user experience, from products like Instagram or even the products I’d been working on, but I wasn't getting that from the products for mothers that were out there.
Prior to your work with Badoo and Bumble, did you ever think you’d end up working in the tech industry? What drew you to the industry?
I started my career as an M&A lawyer at international law firm Mishcon de Reya before joining European dating platform Badoo. I became Badoo’s in-house legal counsel, setting up the legal function, before moving to acquire other reporting lines in the business (HR, Finance, BI), and most recently becoming Deputy CEO, working day-to-day with Andrey as his right hand. I suppose it was a gradual progression, as I started to understand the business more. I'm nosy! So the more questions I asked, the more I understood and wanted to know. Working in an industry where I was helping people make romantic connections, it seems inevitable that I would take this to connections for women. I don't know whether I expected to work in tech, but I am so happy that I've used that experience to solve a real pain point.
How have your experiences as a lawyer and mother helped you in your current career?
I suppose being a mama, I am more patient than I used to be. It's a useful skill that I certainly didn't have as a young lawyer. But one thing a lawyer and a mama can do? NEGOTIATE. I suppose that's important to any businessperson. Oh, and I learned to tell someone a story, and take them on a journey.
How difficult was it to gain support for Peanut? What was the biggest challenge when you were starting?
I’ve heard it all, particularly because there were people questioning whether mamas really wanted to connect via an app: "don't moms just meet in coffee shops," etc. The reality is, if you’re breaking into to a world where you’re a minority (whatever that minority is), you have to work harder, you have to know your market better, and you have to anticipate and have a solution for every hole people are going to pick in your business. You have to be tenacious, and have confidence, and have a thick skin, because the knocks come and sometimes they’re tough. But, when you get that moment of “I did it,” when you get that email from the guy who said he didn’t get what you were doing, saying “Can we have coffee again, I just love what you’ve done, I think I underestimated you,” well, that’s enough to keep you going into the next fight.
“You have to be tenacious, and have confidence, and have a thick skin, because the knocks come and sometimes they’re tough."
How do you find a balance between your home and work life?
Right now? I struggle. I am absolutely committed to taking my son to pre-school and making it home most evenings for bedtime. It means a lot of early starts (to try and get some work in before Fin wakes up), and lots of late nights (I start work again as soon as he’s in bed). I also haven’t seen some of my friends in a really long time, but they understand how important this is to me, and my work ethic. The bottom line is sometimes I fail, I don't always get it right, I drop plates. Some days I am superwoman but mostly, I am not. I think that's ok, and we have to keep telling women that it's ok to be imperfect. That's real life.
As a successful woman in a predominantly male industry, what advice do you have for other female entrepreneurs?
You're going to have to work harder, that's true of anyone who is a minority. Know your product and your market extremely well. You're going to have a few more perceptions to challenge, so make sure you really know your pitch, and anticipate any holes/downsides/objections you’re going to face. Change your vantage point. This can be a really hard one, but if you can, try not to think like you. What would your vantage point be if you were looking at your market from a different industry perspective?
What’s changed in recent years for women in tech? What still needs to change and how can we achieve this?
We're talking about it right now, so that's already a change. We acknowledge that there is a conversation to be had about more women in the industry, more female VCs, more female founders, engineers, etc. That's already amazing. What we have to do is keep highlighting the successes of women, as many women as we can, across as many industries and backgrounds as we can. We have to keep doing this until "women in tech" isn't news anymore, it's the norm. Until that day, it's our duty to keep the conversation alive. Not only does it drive resolutions, and drive people trying to solve the pain point, it enables men and women alike to keep trying to find solutions.
What are some misconceptions about motherhood that people might have?
So many! I didn't become a different woman when I had Fin. I became a different version of me. He's made me a better person in so many ways. But I still had the same intellectual needs, the same tastes and interests. I think people forget that. Sometimes the "mom" label overtakes your own name, and that's really really tough. I'm still Michelle - motherhood is part of who I am.
What do you love most about London? And the least?
Everything! I love the smells, the noise, the differences and rivalries between north, south, east, and west. I love that I can walk into a coffee shop and people watch. I love that I know where to get the best chicken soup, or find the coziest bar. I love that my son was born here, and that brings its own memories to the corners of London I visit. My least favorite? Sometimes I forget to be a tourist and really appreciate the amazing history and culture we have.
What does MISSBISH mean to you?
Support, love, grow. We have to keep telling women that only by supporting and loving each other will we each reach our potential. I love that ethos surrounding MISSBISH.
Who is your MISSBISH?
Can I have two? Hollie McNish. I read her poetry and it makes me cry. She captures the essence of modern motherhood perfectly to me. Sharmadean Reid is the number one mom boss, visionary and supporter of women everywhere.
Photographer: Nas Abraham