Michelle Kennedy is the co-founder of Peanut, a newly launched app that focuses on connecting like-minded mothers in similar locations. With six years experience working in technology for companies such as Badoo and Bumble, Michelle used her understanding of dating apps and the algorithms connecting users to develop an innovative medium for parents to easily meet one another. Catch Michelle speaking at the next FutureGirlCorp event on ‘Incorporating Your Company’.
Journey to founding a company… First, I was a corporate lawyer. Then I went in-house to work for a tech company, which was a huge dating platform called Badoo. I built up the legal team and other support functions, before moving on to do an ops role and eventually becoming Deputy CEO. As part of my time there, I was integral to the launch of Bumble, the female-led dating app. Then dating wasn’t relevant to my life anymore and I felt that I wanted to take everything I understood about the dating model and technology and apply it to a market that I knew more intimately: motherhood. Peanut is about connecting like-minded women, who happen to be mothers, and taking some of the existing technology that’s to do with connecting algorithms, as well as some more mother specific focuses.
On success… We’ve had a number of successes along the way. Completing our seed fundraising was obviously something that was really exciting. Small victories, in terms of getting the right team who all really understand the journey that we are on together, are important. Moving forward to something like release, when you get a product that you know intimately, having chosen the design, colours, words and spent time agonising over everything, to see it out in the world is exciting.
On challenges… 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.
On getting more women in tech... I welcome any conversation about women, whether it’s in tech, business, finance, coding, it doesn’t matter as long as we’re having conversations to help people who might not traditionally have gone into a role experience less barriers to entry. It’s the responsibility of people like me to keep that conversation going. There are many important points on a journey of a woman’s career that can be helped. One of those is that you shouldn’t feel that you’re on this set course because you can change. I changed so it’s possible. Growing up, my parents wanted me to be a doctor, a lawyer or an accountant. That was their mentality because they weren’t from that world. They worked different jobs to give me better opportunities, so you feel that you don’t want to let them down by attempting something new but you’re not. Now is the time for women to go out and try regardless of the result. Try, learn from it, do it again, work harder. That’s a really important message, that every woman at whatever age can feel like she can try.
On fear of failure... Women don’t like to fail. We’re used to multitasking. We don’t want to let ourself or family down so we think we must not fail. That’s quite damaging thinking and the best thing is to have a go. What’s the worst that could happen, it doesn’t work? That doesn’t matter, as long as you do it with integrity and haven’t been foolish about it. There’s an amazing article written by Lauren Laverne that I really identified with. It’s about ‘Imposter Syndrome’, where women feel like they are going to get found out as a fraud. I always feel like someone is about to turn around and say, “you’re not really good at doing that” or “that’s not really what you do”. I was so grateful that someone in the public eye had the balls to write that because a lot of women struggle with this issue. But if we can help those who are coming through feel like they can try, then you’re not an imposter, you’re giving it a go. Impossible is nothing. Work your ass off and you’ll get there. You might end up doing something incredible or you might not, but either way you’ll learn from it.
Keys to running your own business… Firstly, having focus and that end point vision. Always understanding what I’m doing, why I’m doing it and never detouring from that. Knowing what else is out there but focusing on your end goal. Secondly, if you don’t have people on the journey with you, you can’t do it. Create a team that share that same vision. Thirdly, understanding that there’s going to be a period of time where things are sacrificed. You can’t have it all and something’s got to give, whether it’s not going out for dinners with friends for a while or neglecting your partner. It’s a huge sacrifice, one you have to be sure in your own mind that you can make because if you’re going resent it or feel like it’s pulling you away from your family or your social life, then it’s not for you.
On inspiration... I have lots of female mentors that I’ve surrounded myself with from when I was a lawyer through to today. My first law lecturer was this incredible woman with all these Manolos and totally owned it. Even though she was so out of place in Sheffield University, I thought she was incredible. I try and channel parts of her, as well as the other female lawyers I’ve worked with who were ball breakers. Also, several of our investors are these clear-thinking and direct men. That’s inspiring. One in particular challenges me on everything, so if I ask for his opinion he’ll question me on three reasons why I want to do it. It pushes me to think. Finally, my own mother who worked hard to give me opportunities and my friendship group. I draw influence from all these people. If you can, find a mentor who you have a rapport with. It doesn’t matter if they’re in the same industry but if you like their brain and they like yours, it’s invaluable.
Favourite sayings... Be good to everyone because you never know when you might need to call back on it. Help when you can. I was always told that if you have any success in your career it’s your job to pull another woman up the ladder. Make sure the cycle continues because if you didn’t have those opportunities, you might not being doing what you’re doing. Fake it till you make it. Someone said that to me and when I think about guys, they’re mostly doing that all the time. Work harder, that’s the best one. Everything is possible if you put the work in. If someone is working till 9pm but you’re working till 11pm, as long as it’s productive, you’re giving more!