App wants to help moms make new friends without all the awkwardness

Image: Peanut 

One of the hardest parts of motherhood, aside from the sleep deprivation and wild emotions, is the stinging, sudden realization that few friends get what you’re going through.

That loneliness inspires plenty of women to join mom’s groups, postnatal yoga, music classes basically any social activity that might lead to a new friend.

Except what follows are often awkward social interactions between moms eager to make a connection but unsure whether the other person wants the same, or whether they’re even a good fit for each other.

A new, free app, Peanut, aims to take the guesswork out of that agonizing process. Much like a dating app, it uses an algorithm to match moms with similar interests and experiences.

Image: Peanut

Michelle Kennedy came up with the idea soon after her son was born three years ago. Kennedy, a founding member of the dating app Bumble and former executive of the European networking service Badoo, felt lonesome even though she frequently saw new moms in her neighborhood and interacted with them at classes.

But group settings often felt intimidating to Kennedy. “I dont think they [the other mothers] looked how I felt. They looked quite together. I felt like it was a mystery,” she says.

Peanut, which is available as a beta download in the Apple store and is ad-free, is designed to eliminate these awkward social dynamics. The algorithm serves up matches based on data contained in a user’s Facebook profile, including a woman’s location, education and profession. She also chooses three “badges” from a collection of tongue-in-cheek icons. A user can describe herself as a “dance machine,” “hot mess,” “spiritual gangster,” “adrenaline junkie” and “city gal.” Additionally, she can indicate whether she’s a “single mama” or if her child has “special needs.” Newer moms might get the most out of Peanut, but women with children up to age 16 can join.

The point, isn’t just to match moms who have parenthood in common, but to help women make meaningful connections based on common values and interests.

Those selections feed the algorithm, but they’re also meant to convey a user’s personality. Candid profile photos help with that, too. Since the app is integrated with Facebook, it pulls a user’s profile photos, both past and present, which brings a potential match to life with images of her competing in a marathon, taking a goofy selfie or tenderly kissing her newborn. Users can delete and add photos as they like.

The point, says Kennedy, isn’t just to match moms who have parenthood in common, but to help women make meaningful connections based on common values and interests. That’s partly why users can’t just scroll through potential matches without having to decide whether to connect. Only one match is presented at a time. Swiping up sends a “wave” to the other mother while swiping down triggers the next match. If a mom waves back, a seamless messaging function makes it easy to start chatting. (Users can still message moms who aren’t matches, but those notes are sorted into an “other” folder.)

Dana Warner, an American expat living in the London area, recently started using Peanut and describes it as a welcome break from the uncomfortable work of trying to make a new mom friend.

“You know the person youre waving at …[is] looking for a friend too,” she says.

Warner, who has a 2-year-old daughter, has connected with other moms, including American expats, and plans to meet them in person soon.

Image: peanut

Katherine Wintsch, CEO of the consulting company The Mom Complex, says Kennedy has tapped into an underserved market. Wintsch’s research shows that moms are eager to find like-minded friends, but often don’t have the time to nurture those bonds. Companies and marketers also overlook that challenge and the potential for innovation because of stereotypes about motherhood.

“I think mothers have been left behind because there is a glossy veneer that sits atop motherhood,” Wintsch says. “People think we all have it figured out and that is not true.”

In order for Peanut to survive in a highly competitive app market, Wintsch says it’ll have to earn loyalty from its users so that it’s “main screen and top of mind.”

Peanut’s beta version is focused on discovering matches, messaging with friends and arranging meetups. It’s also designed so that moms can use it with one hand, because the other hand is always occupied, of course. Similarly, the message function makes it easy to poll people about when they’re available to meet. Once a time wins out, the app generates an invite that goes straight to a user’s calendar.

Kennedy plans to add select features to the app, including parenting-related media coverage curated for a user’s interests. She is open to considering a fee-based premium version of the app, but aims to keep it free. Generating revenue, she says, will follow efforts to grow the app’s user base.

Though it’s available to all in the app store, most of the women on Peanut live in London or New York. Users who don’t have any matches in their neighborhood or city will still see matches from elsewhere. Kennedy knows building a critical mass of women across the country and in the UK will take time, but she welcomes that challenge.

“I genuinely think that good things happen when women do stuff together, but its not always that easy to find your natural home or natural group of women,” she says.

She’ll have accomplished something special, she adds, if she can help mothers do that when they most need a crew of friends to cheer them on.

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