Shaper: Michelle Kennedy

Show aired on 24th March 2018

Transcript

Elliot Moss
Good morning, this is Jazz Shapers, I am Elliot Moss here on Jazz FM. Thank you very much for joining. Jazz Shapers is the place where you can hear the very best of the people who are shaping the world of jazz, blues and soul. In addition to that though, you also get to hear from the people who are shaping the world of business, we call them Business Shapers and that’s the very point of the programme. And my Business Shaper today I am very pleased to say is Michelle Kennedy. She is the co-founder and CEO of Peanut and Peanut is a social network design for women who happen to mums. You will be hearing all about what she has been doing in the last two or so years. Hello.

Michelle Kennedy
Hello.

Elliot Moss
Nice to have you here.

Michelle Kennedy
Thanks for having me.

Elliot Moss
Tell me how you ended up setting up your business. What’s going on? Because you are lawyer by trade aren’t you?

Michelle Kennedy
I was. I suppose I still am although I haven’t renewed practicing certificate for a while so possibly I am not anymore.

Elliot Moss
But on the to-do list?

Michelle Kennedy
Yeah. Just along with the other things I’ve got to do.

Elliot Moss
The other three thousand. So, so…

Michelle Kennedy
It’s not that many.

Elliot Moss
…what is Peanut and how seriously did you move from being a lawyer and we will talk about that in a moment into this new wide wonderful world of running your own business.

Michelle Kennedy
Yeah I think that starting Peanut was genuinely a labour of love. I had started life as a lawyer as you said and then I had moved into working in-house for a very big European dating platform called Badoo and probably just because I am very nosy and I ask lots of questions, I started to ask questions about the business. Why do you do that? What does that mean? And this was at a time when you know tech wasn’t what it is in terms of being cool or glamourous. This was genuinely twenty guys sitting in an office in Soho eating Hula Hoops and drinking Red Bull. And it was a very, very different world, I had never seen it before and it was exciting. There was this very, very small office of people who were building this business that was making you know so much money and more than that at the time that I joined, seventy million users and I couldn’t get my head around it. I couldn’t even think about the number and now I think there are three hundred and fifty million users so you know that just shows the growth. But it was a web-based dating platform. It was at a time when people were talking about dating with a slightly scathing ‘um dating’ you know and you might see people who are on Breakfast TV and they had met on-line and there would be like this very big drama around it and my friends would be like ‘oh Michelle works in dating now’ you know and it would always be through gritted teeth. And then a couple of years on and you see the migration from web to mobile and you see kind of these beautiful native products being built and people would be like ‘Michelle works in dating too’ and it became really cool. And so I suppose just because I was there for so long asking questions, being nosy, being curious, I started to acquire lots of different functions in the business and eventually worked alongside the founder and kind of became his right hand. And I suppose it was through that experience and just really seeing the exciting development and growth, but also having desire to do it in an area where I felt there was another need, I suppose that was the kind of backbone and the kind of route to it. It got to a point where I wasn’t dating obviously in my personal life and I had had my little boy and I had an expectation of using products like the products I was building and the products just weren’t there, they were very different. They were web based, maybe felt a little bit more old school and there was nothing really that was just fit for purpose and really spoke to mothers and in my mind all I could think about was this entire generation of women who were kind of growing up mobile first, having an expectation of a certain type of product and it didn’t exist, so I decided I would do it.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for much more to find out why Michelle Kennedy or rather how Michelle Kennedy took that idea of a ‘where’s my product’ and I may as well just go and make it because no one else had. Time for some music right now before we go back to Michelle. It is Jamie Cullen with What A Difference.

That was Jamie Cullen with What A Difference. Michelle Kennedy is my Business Shaper today, co-founder and CEO at Peanut and we were talking earlier Michelle about how it got to the point where you decided to create this product for people like you, for other young women who happen to be mums. Let me just go back a little bit though. Lawyers are very well trained in the same way accountants are and any other professionals which is a great thing on the one side because there is rigour and there is structure and it is difficult on the other side because that rigour and structure often curtails creativity and innovation, I am giving the cliché of course because it’s not always true, and also curtails risk taking and obviously setting up your own business is a risky thing. Do you think though the good side of what being a lawyer gave you, those many, many years both in private practice and then into, as you have said going in-house into a company. Do you think you could have done what you did a few years ago without it? Do you actually think it has given you a really solid foundation?

Michelle Kennedy
That’s a really good question. I think that being a lawyer, training as a lawyer and then working in private practice gives you a discipline like no other. You work really hard and you have no qualms about working through the night because it’s just what you do. You are working on deals and so it doesn’t even factor in to your thinking about this kind of mythical balance that we all talk about, you are just doing your job. So it gives you good discipline in that way. And I suppose the other thing and you touched on it is risk. You know and as a lawyer you are trained to find risk and avoid it and as an entrepreneur you kind of see the risk and do it anyway.

Elliot Moss
Or you even embrace the risk?

Michelle Kennedy
Right. And I suppose that actually would I be doing what I am doing without being a lawyer, definitely not. I wouldn’t have gone to work at Badoo, I wouldn’t have kind of been asking all of the questions about the business because being the lawyer gave me the licence to go and ask all of the questions and be nosy and people felt like they had to tell me because of what I was doing. And you know there was a time when people used to say to me that General Counsel, if you were a GC you wouldn’t become a CEO because the skill set was too different and it used to really bother me because that was obviously at the time that was my dream, I really wanted to be a CEO so I wasn’t going to let the fact that I was being a lawyer and I was a GC that wasn’t going to prevent me.

Elliot Moss
And let me ask you a question about that. So not many lawyers that I know and I know a fair few lawyers want to be CEOs of companies, they are very happy being lawyers and very happy being experts. Where is that ambition from? It strikes me that you are a very ambitious person, you want to run your own show, you are now running your own show, you want to break the boundaries, you want to stand up for a group of people that weren’t getting what they needed, that relevant sense of product that could do something for them. Why you? Why are you so ambitious? If it is ambition?

Michelle Kennedy
Yeah I don’t know actually. I think my mum is probably, she always made me quite ambitious. My mum is a strong Irish woman from a very big family who kind of pushed me to do all the things that she felt she couldn’t do for many, many reasons so I suppose that kind of gave me drive and ambition and I just don’t like being told that I can’t do something, it bothers me. So if someone says that I can’t do it, then I am just going to try and find a way to do it. So particularly, well GC, General Counsel don’t really become CEOs. Yeah.

Elliot Moss
Red rag to a bull.

Michelle Kennedy
This one will. Or you know even when I was kind of at a later stage and I was fundraising and it’s you know ‘I don’t know whether mums really want this’. ‘Yeah they do’ and I am going to show you. So I kind of, I suppose that just drives me to make it happen. But yeah definitely being a lawyer got me into an industry that I hadn’t even considered, it gave me the opportunity to learn things that I didn’t think that I would have done and then working alongside the founder of Badoo I suppose he taught me to think about things in a different way. So I still use all of my legal training to see the risk, but I think about things. I had never really met anyone who thought like him, I still really haven’t actually. He is quite unusual in his thought process and I suppose that just pushed me to think about things in a different way.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for more from my Business Shaper today, that’s Michelle Kennedy. Don’t tell her you can’t do it because you might get a fright. Much more coming up from her, but before that we’ve got some words of wisdom from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya for your business.

You are listening to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss. Every Saturday here on Jazz FM I get to meet someone who is shaping the world of business and who is doing something extraordinary, breaking boundaries, being unconventional. If you have missed any and you would like to hear more then go into iTunes, put in the words ‘Jazz’ and ‘Shapers’. Any time you want as well, if you’ve got one and they are not laughing at you, you can just ask Alexa and all other information is on JazzFM.com; a whole array of places where you cannot miss Jazz Shapers. And you shouldn’t be missing today’s Jazz Shapers because Michelle Kennedy is with me and she is the co-founder and CEO at Peanut. And Peanut, as I have said earlier, is a social network created for women who happen to be mums. Now, we get to the moment where I now understand a little bit about why you have this drive and it sounds like it’s come from your mum amongst others probably, but a significant influence. I understand that you were with this extraordinary CEO who thought differently and I understand that the legal part has now you know given you a great foundation. So we put those three together, put it in the mixer and out comes Peanut. Tell me about those first few formative months of creating your dream as it were?

Michelle Kennedy
Absolutely terrifying. It’s like that dream where you go into school and you are naked and you don’t know and then everyone knows and it is just the most excruciating time. I didn’t sleep, I didn’t eat, I cared, I still care, but it was such a personal mission for me, I really wanted to make something impactful. So that was the first part and the second part of it was you know I just been running a huge company, there is safety in numbers, whatever your decision is, it might have an impact on the bottom line but so what, you will change it the next month. But this was really small. I mean this really mattered. So that was hard, but I you know I cared, I started.

Elliot Moss
Did it matter, did it make any difference. I mean obviously you had to go and raise some money and I imagine quite early on?

Michelle Kennedy
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
What was it like being a woman in that situation because we read all the time about how difficult it is as a woman to raise money, you are more likely to get money, raise money from venture capital bods if you are a man, there are now female only funds which is fantastic because if women haven’t got access to capital then how is she going to do it. What was your personal experience of that?

Michelle Kennedy
It was hard. You know, I suppose part of it was naivety actually. I hadn’t raised venture before, I hadn’t been through that process you know. I was at a company where we had PE house involvement, but it was more…

Elliot Moss
A private equity?

Michelle Kennedy
Yeah and it was very small. And that was it that was really my exposure. I didn’t know more about fundraising than I had kind of read and listened to a few podcasts about you know I was kind really about being in the business rather than building one from scratch. And so that made me a little bit fearless I suppose. So it meant that because I didn’t really know where some of the pitfalls where, I spoke to lots of different people and every time I spoke to someone I got better at it because I learnt what they were going to ask me, I anticipated the questions, I knew my data, I knew my size of market, I knew my opportunity inside out so that before anyone could even say you know, ‘what about this’, I already had the answer. I had already you know cut it off at the pass. The downside was some of the questions or comments that came up I just didn’t expect. You know you don’t expect to go into a business meeting and someone to say to you ‘don’t you want to do something sexier than mums? You know, that’s weird’. Being honest I was raising pre-product. I had no product to show so it was me and a deck and that was, yes I had experience and my partner had experience, but you know that probably made it more challenging and I just kept going. When I did a formal seed raise which was in November, this time I was absolutely diligent about who I spoke to, why I chose them, so whether they had invested in consumer before or in female backed businesses or in female products. I was really, really deliberate about it and the whole process was extremely quick and pain free and it was better because I had data so I already had a product and I had data that was unarguable. You know women were using our product and they wanted it and it was growing really fast. So it was obviously a much easier sell. But this time I purposefully also spoke to women investors. I didn’t have female investors in my first kind of pre-seed round and this time I went to a female fund who backed female led businesses and that was important and I spoke to female partners at VC funds and they are not the only people who are you know invested, we have some other amazing investors too who are men but I was much more deliberate. And so I suppose as a result of that my advice to anyone whenever they ask me is, do your research and be very, very deliberate about who you speak to because I went through a lot of frogs,

Elliot Moss
Make sure you avoid the frogs if you are thinking about fundraising. There is some really good advice, mainly just keep on going. Much more coming up from Michelle Kennedy, my Business Shaper, but time right now for some more music. This is Hey Laura from Gregory Porter.

That was Gregory Porter with the fabulous Hey Laura. Michelle Kennedy is my Business Shaper today. We have been talking about all sorts of thinks including fundraising because it isn’t easy. Very quickly after you create your business Michelle, beyond your co-founder, you’ve got to create a team. I often talk to people about a team. How did you go about getting the right people, have you made mistakes, what are the two or three key things that you’ve learnt about assembling the gang that can really help propel this business?

Michelle Kennedy
Well the first thing I was always taught is hire people who are smarter than you.

Elliot Moss
People always say that, but I never believe they really do it. Is it true?

Michelle Kennedy
A hundred percent. Everyone in my team is much smarter than me. And I am eternally grateful for it. I couldn’t do what they do. My Head of iOS and mobile Simona is a mum of two and on the side whilst building Peanut she was doing her PhD in machine learning, casual. She is a brilliant, brilliant woman and we understand each other because we understand the need for Peanut but we also understand the need that yeah she has to go and pick up her girls and put them to bed, but we will both be on-line again later on in the evening and I think that is amazing. My one of, Hannah in my team she came with me so she used to work with me at Badoo and Bumble and then came with me and I think that was you know, she has always been this kind of brilliant spark. She is creative and she is young and she thinks about things in a very different way to me and we are probably a very good ying and yang.

Elliot Moss
And do you practice what you preach in terms of the way that you, it sounds like you have a pretty flexible approach. I mean if you are going to pick up your son or if you are going to go and see him do something and they are going to do the same, is it genuinely like that and is that part of the deal?

Michelle Kennedy
Yeah I think we have to be because there are no awards anymore for having your coat on the back of your office chair like it was when I was kind of a young lawyer. No one cares. The work gets done because we want the work to get done because we love it and everyone on the team is genuinely passionate about what we do.

Elliot Moss
Are they all women or you’ve got some males there too?

Michelle Kennedy
No, we are actually a fairly good split. So my business partner is a man, Greg. And he is our CTO.

Elliot Moss
That’s Chief Technology Officer?

Michelle Kennedy
Correct. He is actually based in Chicago. So it just kinds of gives us more hours in the day. We are kind of you know when he is coming on-line it’s half way through our day.

Elliot Moss
It is so utilitarian, it’s wonderful. How efficient.

Michelle Kennedy
Very efficient.

Elliot Moss
I think you should plant people in New Zealand as well.

Michelle Kennedy
That’s the next step. Yeah sure.

Elliot Moss
Good. It’s in important.

Michelle Kennedy
So I think that because of that, flexibility just becomes inherent because Greg’s coming on-line at you know 2.00pm say and he will still be working when Simone and I have put our kids to bed and that kind of thing, so we kind of get more hours in the day, it just means that we work really efficiently and we work smart and there is no awards for kind of being in the office.

Elliot Moss
What would they say about you Michelle. How would they describe you do you think?

Michelle Kennedy
Crazy probably.

Elliot Moss
But seriously, I mean beyond crazy, beyond motivator, what’s the thing that they will say that typifies or characterises Michelle Kennedy?

Michelle Kennedy
I hope they would say passionate because I do genuinely care about what we are doing. I genuinely care about the women who use Peanut. I genuinely care about the fact that the team work tirelessly to build this product. So I hope that they would say passionate and I hope that they would say empathetic you know, it’s not, life isn’t always perfect and you know sometimes your kid gets sick and we’ve got a product release the next day, you know that’s just what happens. And we all work around it and we work to support each other and I suppose that’s the beauty of what we are doing is that we can make sure that we look after each other in that way and still have a best in class/world class product.

Elliot Moss
Michelle Kennedy is my Business Shaper today for a few more minutes, co-founder and CEO at Peanut. I didn’t ask you a question why Peanut. Why is it called Peanut?

Michelle Kennedy
Ahhh, when I was pregnant I used to call my little bump Peanut. Everyone in my office refers to Finn as Peanut. He will always be the Peanut. So really it’s all for him. So I better make it work.

Elliot Moss
You better make it work indeed. We haven’t talked about the money bit and obviously the business is young and you raised money and you’ve got three hundred, three hundred and fifty users now, around the world or mainly UK?

Michelle Kennedy
US/UK.

Elliot Moss
US/UK. At some point Michelle, all being well, this business will make money, you will make money. Does it matter? Are you in it, I mean you’re not going to say yes I am in it for the money purely, but what role does the money play for you?

Michelle Kennedy
In terms of Peanut generating revenue, it just means that we are able to grow and keep growing so of course it’s you know on my road map and of course it is important and of course this makes this move from being a viable kind of social cause business to a business proper. So of course that is something that I want to do eventually, but I am in a fortunate position where you know I have investors who are thinking about the long game and we are thinking about growth and building the product and the best product we can build before we even get to that. In terms of money for me, I suppose the message I always got from my mum from being a little girl was, get an education so you can earn your own money and never be dependent on anyone else. And that’s kind of something I have always carried with me and you know if everything goes wrong tomorrow, I will be knocking on Mishcon’s door and asking for a job as a lawyer back. I can still do that part and I think that was always really important. I worked from the age of fifteen and I have always worked. I have never not worked actually so.

Elliot Moss
Just to be clear you worked at Mishcon de Reya hence the reference…

Michelle Kennedy
I did.

Elliot Moss
…rather than any other reason. Let me ask you a question of being a woman in business, being an entrepreneur in business there is this last six months/twelve months has been unprecedented in my life in terms of the whole #metoo movement, in terms of a real celebration globally and International Women’s Day. Do you ever see yourself as a symbolic person in that or is it just Michelle Kennedy doing what Michelle does who happens to be a woman?

Michelle Kennedy
Gosh. I hope that I use the small platform I have to be able to talk to women and give one woman the confidence or the courage to do something that she wants to do. Whether that is change careers, whether that is a start a company, whether that is to ask for a pay rise, whether that is belief that she can have that promotion, I hope that has an impact and I hope that I can do that in some small way. I suppose more kind of broadly than that I hope that Peanut gives women a platform to have conversations with each other so that women can have that support network and they can have those conversations so that other women will give them that kind of support and affirmation and confirmation that they are doing a good thing or they are doing okay or that’s a good decision. So I suppose that part is important. You are right, it has been absolutely unprecedented what we’ve seen and it’s amazing and it’s incredible. The most important thing to me, however, is that you know feminism means equality, it doesn’t mean woman or men, it means equality and that means that for gender parity to ever be a reality, we have to celebrate brilliant people, not just brilliant women, not just brilliant men, brilliant people because that’s the only way that you know the next generation will kind of move through without any kind of gender bias and I think that’s the part where I am still trying to learn what my role is in that.

Elliot Moss
Michelle it’s been a real pleasure to see you today, to have you here on the programme. Thank you. Just before I let you go, what’s your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Michelle Kennedy
My song choice is Aretha Franklin, Do Right Woman Do Right Man. Very apt for our socio economic climate I suppose. Also something that my dad used to play in the kitchen and sing to when I was younger and now my husband sings to in a very bad soprano. So this is for both of them.

Elliot Moss
Excellent. Thank you. Here it is just for you.

That was Do Right Woman Do Right Man from Aretha Franklin, the song choice of my Business Shaper today, Michelle Kennedy. An apprenticeship within the law and within working for another person, for an entrepreneur. A great way to become an entrepreneur yourself. The person that said to me, ‘don’t ever say I can’t do it’ because if I can’t do it I am going to show you I can. And a lovely thought about feminism meaning equality, no more, no less. Really simple and right on the money. Brilliant stuff. Do join me, same time, same place, that’s next Saturday, 9.00am sharp here on Jazz FM.

Michelle Kennedy

Michelle Kennedy is the co-founder of Peanut, an app for making new mum friends. Prior to launching Peanut, Michelle was a Director at dating app Bumble and had also been Head of Legal, General Counsel and later Director at app Badoo. Michelle graduated from the University of Sheffield with a Law LLB; she became a Corporate Solicitor at Mishcon de Reya in 2007. In 2013, Michelle welcomed her son Finlay. She has modelled for clothing brand Boden as part of the “Wear it Like Mum” campaign to encourage mothers to feel confident about their self-image. Her app Peanut aims to break the stigma around motherhood and help women make meaningful connections based on common values and interests.

Follow Michelle on Twitter @shellkennedylon.

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

“Starting peanut was genuinely a labour of love”

“I acquired different functions in the Badoo business when working alongside the founder. It was through that experience, seeing the exciting development and growth, having desire to do it in an area where I felt there was another need, that was the backbone and route to Peanut.”

“There was nothing that was fit for purpose and spoke to mothers. All I could think about was an entire generation of women who were growing up mobile first, having an expectation of a product and it didn’t exist, so I decided I would make it.”

“As a lawyer you are trained to find risk and avoid it and as an entrepreneur you see the risk and do it anyway.”

“My mum is a strong Irish woman from a very big family who pushed me to do all the things she felt she couldn’t do. I suppose that gave me drive and ambition and I don’t like being told that I can’t do something, it bothers me.”

“I didn’t sleep, I didn’t eat, I cared, I still care, but it was such a personal mission for me. I really wanted to make something impactful.”

“Women are 50% of the population, so of course we have to have better representation of women in venture funds.”

“Be persistent. Don’t accept no. I carried on, I got better, I improved and I met some incredible people. I purposefully spoke to women investors, I went to a female fund who backed female-led businesses and I worked with female partners.”

“The first thing I was taught is hire people who are smarter than you. Everyone in my team is much smarter than me. And I am eternally grateful for it.”

“When I was pregnant I used to call my little bump Peanut. Everyone in my office refers to Finn as Peanut. He will always be the Peanut.”

“The most important thing to me is that you know feminism means equality, it doesn’t mean woman or men, it means equality and that means that for gender parity to ever be a reality, we have to celebrate brilliant people.”