Founder in Five: Q&A with Peanut’s Michelle Kennedy

Peanut founder Michelle Kennedy Image credit: Peanut

Michelle Kennedy is the founder and CEO of Peanut, a social media platform that provides a safe space for women to connect.

Kennedy founded Peanut in 2017 when she had her first child but no one to turn to with her questions. The Peanut app provides forums for women to connect and discuss topics such as fertility and motherhood.

The London-headquartered startup has raised $17m (£12.7m), with the most recent round of funding coming in a $12m Series A in May 2020.

In the latest Founder in Five Q&A, Kennedy shares her top tips for raising funding, explains how communication is an important tool for Peanut to tackle burnout, and why women’s healthtech is an underserved market ripe for disruption.

1) What funding advice would you give to a first-time founder?

Michelle Kennedy: The general advice I would have is that the earlier you are, the more of a numbers game this is. Not only to raise money, but to refine your pitch. Pitching is learning every time you do it – from the moment you describe the problem you are solving through to the ask in terms of what you are raising and what you are going to achieve. It also allows you the opportunity to learn which questions are frequently coming up and address them early and head-on in your pitch.

The other point I would make is, energy and conviction are really important, and as fewer face to face pitches take place, pitching through the lens of a camera can be draining. Trying to demonstrate your energy and ‘special knowledge’ therefore requires higher energy than the in real-life pitches.

2) How do you prevent burnout for yourself and your staff?

MK: For myself and team Peanut, the pandemic has forced us to work from home meaning it’s even harder to find a work-life balance. I don’t know that preventing burnout as a founder is entirely possible, what you can do is ensure you are hiring the right people, delegate as effectively as possible, and be aware and alert to how you feel. Are you making poor decisions? Are you feeling frustrated? Take some time out. That requires confidence and discipline – I’m still learning!

For our team, the key is how you communicate your culture. Is everyone in the team aware that you value their mental and physical health, do they know that you support time away from work, flexibility in hours? We offer coaching to all team members, we have monthly virtual meetups, and smaller team meetups too. You can’t pour from an empty cup – communicating that to the team is vital!

3) What’s the best way to promote diversity in the workplace?

MK: The most important factor in diversity is that it’s essential for a successful business and product. Diversity is just great business. Diversity brings diversity of experience, thought, and articulation of ideas. That means not everyone in Peanut is our target user, and that’s intentional!

For Peanut, it’s even more essential – our team should be as diverse as our userbase is, and, for everyone who uses Peanut to feel safe, supported and able to have a voice, we have to foster that in our team too. We’ve also built processes which we’ve coing ‘anti-hate by design’ and ‘safe by design’ into our product ideation and design. That continuous process means we will always strive to foster inclusive habits, and confidently navigate issues like bias, privilege and identity.

4) What’s a fact about yourself that people might find surprising?

MK: I actually started my career as an M&A lawyer at Mischon de Reya. There are literally no barriers to entrepreneurship and to being a CEO other than your own perceptions. You might have to work a bit harder (lawyers have the very opposite risk appetite to founders!) to change your belief set, but doing that work means nothing can stand in your way.

5) Excluding your own, what’s a sector that’s ripe for disruption?

MK: Women are 50% of the population, yet the technology supporting their health is not where it needs to be. Up to 45% of women suffer from specific chronic conditions, such as PCOS, endometriosis, autoimmune diseases and hormonal disorders. Yet, only 4% of global medical research spend goes toward women’s health.

There is an evident need for investment in the market and increased investment will help change the perception of women’s health from niche to essential.

Founder in Five – a UKTN Q&A series with the entrepreneurs behind the UK’s innovative startups, scaleups, unicorns and tech companies – is published every Friday.