Business

By listening to her customers, this entrepreneur found a larger audience and an even greater mission.

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Michelle Kennedy She arrived for lunch and was nervous about the conversation she would have with her best friend. It was 2016 and Kennedy had just made a big career decision: quitting his job as technology manager to launch a new app for mothers. It was exciting, a new adventure with a huge market and a lot of growth potential.

By listening to her customers, this entrepreneur found a larger audience and an even greater mission.
By listening to her customers, this entrepreneur found a larger audience and an even greater mission.

But there was a negative part: her best friend, the journalist from the BBC Sophie Sulehria had tried to become a mother for years. In fact, he had just finished his third round of fertilization in vitro to no avail, and this took its toll on his sanity. Kennedy didn’t want to add more weight to his situation.

“It was a very bad time. My husband and I really suffered,” says Sulehria. “When Michelle told me she had something to say to me, I thought, ‘Oh god, she’ll have another child! ‘But she told me about the business and she was very concerned:’ I don’t want to be the best friend who doesn’t just have a child, but whoever has a whole business for mothers doesn’t want you to feel alienated. ‘”

But Sulehria supported her. She knew the business was a great idea, even though it killed her not being in that audience. So she asked Kennedy for a favor, as a friend and a hopeful mother. This would be the first feedback Kennedy would get as an entrepreneur, and although she didn’t know it at the time, it would set the tone for how she would build her business: listen quickly and respond to the needs of the community she serves .

“I said, ‘Make a promise: if this app is successful, it will create a part for people like me, a place where women with fertility problems can find support and friendship, as well as discussions and information. Why shouldn’t it be amazing? ‘”Remember Sulehria. “And literally Michelle looked at me and said, ‘I promise you.'”

Today Kennedy’s company is called Peanut and has one million users and $ 9.8 million in funding. But in 2013, before Peanut was even an idea, Kennedy was a star in the world of dating apps. She was the executive director of a European dating network called Badoo and had played a role in launching the Bumble brand, which was to become one of the largest players in the industry.

Photo: peanut on the Internet

Kennedy’s life changed. The days of dating were long gone. She had just given birth to her son Finlay and didn’t have many friends with children in London. She wanted to find other women who thought like her and were in the same phase of life, but all she found was archaic messages on Facebook groups.

“The products that were available to me were … well, shit,” says Kennedy. “Nothing represented me like mom.” At the same time, he watched the flood of utility apps coming onto the market: new ways to order groceries or send clothes to the laundry, and he felt that there was a great opportunity that nobody was taking advantage of.

“The last time I checked, 50 percent of the population were women and somehow motherhood touched everyone’s life,” she says. “But nobody is taking advantage of this space?”

He came up with the idea of ​​a network app for mothers and called it Penaut, as he called his belly when she was pregnant. But she didn’t feel ready to make the leap … until three years later. “There were signs on the market,” he says. “People talked about motherhood in a different way because we talked about women in a different way, and I felt it was the right time.” In 2016 he started to think seriously, brought three trustworthy members to his team and got to work.

Peanut wanted to embody the modern voice of millennial motherhood. The team wanted it to act as a friend, someone who understands that being a mother is a big part of a woman’s identity, but she isn’t all Your identity. They spent a lot of time defining his voice. For example, users would be called “mom”, who works in both the US and the UK and has a playful touch.

In February 2017, a few months after Kennedy shared her plans with her best friend, she launched Peanut in the UK and US with a very simple beta version that women could profile. Explore other mothers’ profiles (like in a dating app) and chat.

The reaction was instant. Thanks to the advance coverage of London Evening StandardThousands of women reached beta and Kennedy quickly received confirmation. However, the new users also discovered a security vulnerability. Just like with dating apps where happy couples no longer need the app, women haven’t used Peanut anymore when they have met a new friend. “And why shouldn’t they stop?” Kennedy says. “You don’t have to find a new friend every day, and in that case you might not have to continue using Peanut.”

This was a problem that had to be solved. And it turns out that users have already suggested it. “Many users asked us how to ask questions all Women in the app or how to share an article all the mothers of your neighborhood? We always planned to build a community, but our users have told us that we have to do it earlier than planned. “

Therefore, the team worked on starting community-wide message boards (called peanut pages) and group chats (peanut groups). Kennedy and his team believed they knew exactly how these rooms would be used: they hoped for discussions about typical early childhood problems such as tips for sleeping babies or how to deal with the symptoms during pregnancy. But what they received was very different.

“Women started to share really intimate things: relationships, love, sex, work, money, social problems,” says Kennedy, whose team oversaw the development of conversations through a combination of artificial intelligence and human surveillance on message boards. “We had to stop and say, ‘Wait, are these conversations taking place in Peanut?’ And it’s because they don’t take place anywhere else, not because you went to Yahoo Answers for postpartum sex or because of frustrations with your partner. It had to be on your own private network. “

Photo: peanut on the Internet

Although some popular topics were fun (“breasts and books”), most had a more solemn tone, and there was one in particular that was discussed more than the others.

“A lot of women talked about having the second baby and not having it,” says Kennedy. “Maybe they had tried in vitroor had suffered a loss or faced infertility, or were diagnosed with endometriosis or polycystic ovarian syndrome. Whatever it was, it was talking too much“”

Kennedy immediately thought of her best friend Sulehria. He knew the facts were brutal: one in eight women would have fertility problems and one in six would have an abortion. He also knew that the emotional charge was very heavy. “The most moving thing Soph has ever said to me was, ‘You know? I would really like to be able to talk to someone other than you about it, “says Kennedy.” So we were at Peanut and when all these women talked about how difficult it was to have a second or third baby, what about the women who couldn’t have gotten the first? “

Kennedy had thought about taking part in this audience at some point, after all she had promised her friend. But I thought it would happen in a long time and that it would be a small part of something much bigger. Well, considering what her users were saying, she realized she was wrong. He had to keep that promise much faster, and the opportunity could be great.

Women struggling with fertility problems had already given their community a name: TTC, “trying to conceive”. There is evidence on the Internet that these women need to connect. Search for #TTC on Instagram and you will find 1.4 million posts. #TTCcommunity has over half a million posts and #TTCaftermiscarriage it has almost 82,000.

But as the Peanut team found, these communities weren’t working. “Women use existing social media but can’t find a real community,” said Hannah Hastings, director of growth and marketing at Peanut. “Instagram is a public space. If you choose a private profile, the chance of being found is minimal. So you either share your information publicly or you’re on the go. It doesn’t solve the need. “

Sulehria agreed. She found no support on major social media, and the live support groups were too far from where she lived. “It’s also so daunting to do it face to face: go into a room and say hello; I have this mental problem, “he says.” I just wanted something that I could see and relate to while I was in bed. “

Peanut had identified a problem that was worth solving, but the team knew that it couldn’t just create a new message board called TTC and invite users. The psychological struggles of the TTC community are important and nuanced, and the Internet can quickly become an emotional minefield.

“There are many articles that say,” If you’re dealing with fertility issues, shut down Facebook, “said Barbara Collura, president and CEO of Resolve: The National Infertility Association in the United States.” Because at the inevitable moment in someone uploads an ultrasound photo, it’s like … My goodness Women feel bombarded by it every day. People no longer go to shopping centers, restaurants or even family events. You want to feel safe in a digital space. Anyone trying to involve an audience of people trying to receive must be extremely sensitive. “

Photo: peanut on the Internet

For this reason, Kennedy has decided to protect the TTC community from the rest of the app. Peanut TTC would almost act as a separate platform and have its own login process. This way, TTC users would not accidentally stumble across conversations from happy mothers (although they could watch them at any time if they so wished).

After this decision, the Peanut team had to deal with the nuances of the TTC world and relied heavily on Sulehria’s leadership and instinct. Kennedy also asked her friend to connect with other women who had difficulty getting pregnant and who may be willing to share their experiences. Slowly but surely, a small but strong focus group helped her to develop this new product with great care.

For example, the team learned that there were many tensions within the TTC community that Peanut had to convey. “A woman who has been trying for five months and a woman who has been trying for five years are in completely different positions,” says Kennedy. Do you put them in the same place? This is not the experience we want to offer our users. “

Kennedy had started to see evidence of this much earlier. In Peanut, where some women had already created fertility-related message boards, there was always discussion about what kind of messages belonged there. “A woman who had become pregnant would upload a picture of her positive test, which can be very annoying for other women,” she says. “We received notifications and reports, and other users said, ‘Hey, maybe you should upload your picture to another board.'”

For Peanut TTC, the company has developed UX solutions for these sensitivities. Fuzzy filters can be applied to potentially sensitive content (filters that can be set by the content creator itself or by other users), and women would choose to see these messages. The team developed its own artificial intelligence to monitor group discussions and identify warnings about comments that do not fit the brand ethics. “When a user writes a comment and we find a negative element, the app asks you: ‘Hey, are you sure you don’t want to change that? Peanut is a place for conversation and support, ”said Hastings.

After nine months of development, the company started Peanut TTC in November 2019. The community grew quickly and user engagement increased by leaps and bounds. Interaction with Peanut was 60 percent above average.

It’s a good start, but Kennedy knows there’s a lot more to do. She wants Peanut to expand its sensitivity tools, improve the way groups are proposed to women, and create a space where women can celebrate their pregnancies when they occur. And most of all, you want to further explore that mindset by watching how people use your product and responding with new solutions. And you’re already looking for new opportunities: women who use the app to talk about parents of teenagers who have a chronic illness, talk about sex after 50, and more.

“Women have different phases in their lives,” says Kennedy. “We can be the product that helps you find other women who live just like you.”

Peanut is still at an early stage in the life of a technology company, where user growth exceeds profit generation. You can say that the app is free and does not charge or earn anything. However, Kennedy is developing a monetization strategy based on premium products or in-app purchases. Imagine users can pay a small fee for direct access to a good doctor or an expert who can quickly and personally answer a health question.

Photo: peanut on the Internet

It may or may not be a great idea. Women may be interested in using it, but not so much in paying. In any case, Kennedy is certain that as long as she remains committed and listens to her users, she will find the answer.

To achieve this, his team is working on repeating TTC’s success with other communities. For example, later this year, they will release Peanut Meno for women who are approaching menopause.

And they go beyond simply monitoring conversations in the app. Peanut has just officially hired some of its most dedicated users as Most Valuable Peanuts (MVPs). The ambassador program rewards users with a bag or shirt if they share the app with other women. Other MVPs do their work in a more structured way, e.g. For example, distributing flyers in local cafes or bookstores or organizing local meetings. These activities are paid for (“If I’m willing to pay someone else to work, why not pay my users?” Says Kennedy) and selected by the users. Some have earned up to $ 500 a month.

In Kennedy’s eyes, it is a small edition to collect the information they receive from members who are most committed to Peanut. And its 1,500 MVPs are really valuable. “They are the women who create the product,” he says. “We watch the data, listen, interact and implement. We get feedback, iterate and repeat it. And if we don’t do it right, we have 1,500 women who tell us how to fix it. And these 1,500 women know this because they have direct access millions of women who interact with them in a natural and organic way every day ”.

Kennedy calls this “constant user feedback loop” and no one can represent MVPs better than Tricia Bowden. As a former marketing manager, she returned to New York in 2017 after spending a year on the West Coast with a one-year-old child and completely new to staying at home when many of her friends weren’t mothers yet. “Google ‘Meet Mum Friends’ and met Peanut,” says Bowden. She got together, planned trips, and before she knew it, she already had a network of friends she could count on.

Her love for the brand grew quickly and she soon became Peanut’s most valuable MVP and one of the most important voices in promoting Peanut and the “Meno” community. Kennedy was impressed and gave her a new position: In January Bowden started a full-time position as Director of Strategic Growth and Alliances in the New York market, where the company plans to open an office later this year.

Bowden’s first job is to optimize and scale the existing MVP program and deploy it at hyperlocal, local, and national levels – that is, Bowden has basically become a feedback loop. She is a user who helped shape Peanut, who later joined the Peanut team and is now helping Peanut find and attract more people like her, and of course she will continue to shape Peanut.

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