Closing The Gap

This executive raised $9.8 million for a 'mom-friend' app— here's her strategy for getting money, even when male investors say 'no'

Peanut founder Michelle Kennedy.
Photo credit: Peanut

Michelle Kennedy is a lawyer, entrepreneur and former Bumble board member who knows what it takes to successfully grow a business.

While serving on the board of the female-focused dating site in 2014, Kennedy realized that as a new mom there were few resources for her to connect with other like-minded mothers. To fill this void, she launched a social networking app for moms in 2017 called Peanut. To date, Peanut, which is commonly referred to as "Tinder for Moms," has raised $9.8 million in venture capital funding, and the app has attracted more than 1 million users. 

Kennedy, who quit her job at Bumble in 2018 to focus on Peanut full-time, tells CNBC Make It that the key to her company's success has been knowing and understanding the void they're trying to fill.

Peanut founder Michelle Kennedy poses with her two kids.
Photo credit: Peanut

"I think you have to be absolutely dogged in your determination for what you're trying to do," says Kennedy, whose app has received investments from companies like Ashton Kutcher's Sound Ventures, Female Founders Fund and Index Ventures.

She adds that her "dogged determination" to fill this void in the motherhood space is why she ignored early advice from peers to launch another dating app or an app that also catered to dads. 

"They weren't even an option because I knew [the motherhood] market inside and out," she says. "I had done my research. I knew the stats. I knew the data, and I knew the opportunity."

Finding a gap in the market

At the start of Peanut's launch in 2017, Kennedy says, the market for motherhood apps was almost nonexistent. "The products that were out there were not very good," she says. "From a tech perspective, there wasn't anything. It was either really old school forums or it was a Facebook group or Yahoo group or an email list."

Using her knowledge from the dating app world, Kennedy created a similar algorithm that would connect mothers together based on experiences, location and interests. Within the first year of Peanut's launch, Kennedy says the app attracted 300,000 users. 

While studying the conversations that were taking place on the app, Kennedy noticed that love, intimacy and fertility were popular topics. "It was from women who were experiencing secondary fertility," she explains. "So they had a baby however many years ago and they were trying to have their second or third. They were running out of options and they were going through surrogacy, or adoption, or they were on round four of [in vitro fertilization], or they had just suffered another miscarriage."

Noticing that these conversations were taking place by women who were already mothers, Kennedy says it clicked for her that there was no place for hopeful first-time mothers who were experiencing fertility issues to have this conversation. So, in 2019, she expanded her company's focus to include Trying To Conceive, known as TTC. The new platform, which is found on the Peanut app, offers a space for all women to share their experiences with infertility, pregnancy loss and adoption. 

"This is an enormous market," says Kennedy. "There's a lot of money and investment going into the medical intervention, but no one is building anything around the emotional well-being and support, and that's bonkers because this is as much a mental health and well-being issue as it is physical."

For every 100 couples in the U.S., 12 to 13 report they've experienced trouble getting pregnant, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With an increased number of women relying on in-vitro fertilization, the global IVF market is expected to be worth $37.7 billion by 2027, according to business consulting firm Grand View Research. 

Peanut founder Michelle Kennedy.
Photo credit: Peanut

Not taking 'no' for an answer

After launching Peanut, Kennedy received a lot of push-back from male venture capitalists who didn't think her app was a good idea. But, she says, knowing the market for her company has been key to staying motivated after receiving several "no's" from investors.

"The first conversation I remember having was with one guy who said to me, 'You know, the last thing my wife needs is another social network. Then she'll never talk to me,'" Kennedy recalls. "So, you know, that conversation ended pretty quickly for me." 

Though she's faced a lot of bias along her fundraising journey, Kennedy says her determination to not sway on her company's goal or mission has helped her to overcome these setbacks. 

"Part of the test sometimes is, 'What about if we did this?'" she says, while reflecting on the suggestions she's received from peers to change the mission or expand the audience of Peanut. "But, I just never swayed in that way."

Kennedy advises other entrepreneurs to be just as determined as she is in sticking to their company's mission and understanding their market value because it will be key to growing a brand that investors eventually believe in. 

"Know [your market] and know it better than anyone else around the table," she emphasizes. "So that you can at least educate them if they don't know, and you can tell them why they should know and why they should care." 

Correction: Michelle Kennedy raised $9.8 million in funding for Peanut. The headline on an earlier version mischaracterized that figure.

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