In a recent post on Instagram, Michelle Kennedy - tech entrepreneur, CEO and now an expectant mother for the second time - wrote of the career-pregnancy-motherhood-melee. “The truth is, this has been a very rough three-plus months,” she said. “I’ve been more sick than I ever thought possible and it’s impacted every area of my life, from the bub to work. Spending time lying on the tiles of your office bathroom trying to engage your brain in building a company, trying to excite your team about the quarter ahead whilst trying to swallow down some dry crackers, then at home trying to build Lego and interrupting it to run and kneel at the porcelain bowl has been, well, overwhelming, and exhausting and humbling... and I say that as someone who is building a company for mothers... I can’t imagine what that is like for women in other sectors. You’re at your most vulnerable, unable to share your news, desperate to keep this little life safe, and yet determined to keep everything going, home, work, life.” It is this ability to cut to the core of being a mother that has made the businesswoman the go-to in female tech influencers...
In February 2017, she created Peanut – a social networking app that connected like-minded mothers and helped them create a conversation and community. One of the first among her group of friends to become a mother (her son Finlay is aged five) she realised what an isolating experience having a child can be.
“I don’t think feeling lonely is a particularly acceptable admission at the grand old age of 30,” says Michelle, who trained as a lawyer. “I certainly didn’t feel comfortable about it, it felt like a dirty secret that I couldn’t verbalise – I mean, I had friends!”
A former deputy CEO at Badoo, a dating-focused social network, and a trusted advisor and member of the board at Bumble, a female-focused dating app created by Tinder co-founder Whitney Wolfe Herd, suddenly her work and home life could not have been more different.
“I loved what I was doing before Peanut,” she says. “I was running a really successful dating business and had fantastic people around me. But I wasn’t using the product I was working on (I wasn’t dating in my personal life!) and yet I had all of these life changes surrounding motherhood, and no products to help me in that. The ultimate catalyst came at a moment when I was dropping Fin at nursery, running to the office, and had all of these questions about schools I wanted to discuss with the other women at the school gates… it just seemed to me this issue of needing community in the palm of my hand wasn’t going away, and if I didn’t get in front of that, how could I keep complaining about it?”
In its first four months, Peanut was selected to feature in Apple’s prestigious Worldwide Developers Conference Keynote. And since its launch, more than half a million women have signed up (Peanut’s algorithm makes introductions based on shared interests, location, mutual friends, and the age/gender of your children), 10 million messages were sent and there were 100 million profile views (as of November 2018).
“The most satisfaction comes always from the feedback we get from women who have used Peanut and their life has changed as a result,” says Michelle. “From women who have found their network, or even their best friend, to women who want to have a better experience of motherhood, and have, thanks to Peanut. Those are the moments that motivate the whole team.”
There are now plans to launch a ‘group’ feature so mothers can form their own communities, and also to support women who are undertaking or considering fertility treatment.
So what does it take to succeed as a mother in the tech world? What has been her biggest lesson? Does she suffer from mom-guilt and how does she deal with it? We couldn’t wait to find out.
Photography: Helene Sandberg