Meet the mums behind Mush: the app helping new mothers stave off loneliness
Motherhood can be a lonely experience. Beneath the excitement of raising a living, breathing human, there’s an often unreported sense of isolation that comes from spending long hours indoors looking after a baby. Last year a survey by Action for Children found that the majority of 2,000 mothers and fathers surveyed felt cut-off from friends, family and colleagues.
Mush has been described as ‘Tinder for mums’, which goes some way to capture the app’s mechanisms, if not its intention. The growing social network matches mothers, based on proximity as well as age of child. The idea is that users can use the tool to find mums in their area, with children at a similar stage, to hang out; make friends; share the burden of young children.
Mush recently graduated Facebook’s 12-week LDN_LAB incubator, based in the social network’s London offices. As the company looks to hone its idea and grow its community of mothers, we talked to the company’s co-founder Katie Massie-Taylor about where they came from, and where they’re going.
Where did your big idea come from?
Mush came about from a playground meeting, believe it or not. Sarah [Hesz] and I each had two babies under two years old, and were whiling away yet another long day alone when we stumbled across each other and struck up a conversation.
We swapped numbers and hung out every day, making those early days with kids far more fun and sociable. It occurred to us that the loneliness we had experienced wasn’t uncommon (we have since seen statistics that 90% of new mums admit to feeling lonely) and that there should be technology to address it, especially since dating apps were so mainstream. We started on the path to create Mush, and help all those other new mums out!
(Sarah Hesz and Katie Massie-Taylor. Credit: Mush)
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve managed to overcome so far?
We started Mush with zero tech or fundraising experience. As an ex derivatives broker and advertising exec respectively, we had no idea where to start to raise funds or build an app. We drew on contacts and their experience to find funding and a tech team, whilst juggling small kids on maternity leave.
Once we achieved those things (through hustling, picking up the phone, lots of meetings, ‘wireframing’ around a kitchen table), the rest was about setting the tone of the brand and marketing it to mums. These were things that were 100% guided by our own experiences and those of our friends.
What was the most important thing that you took away from your involvement in Facebook’s LDN_LAB?
LDN_LAB gave us a chance to take a helicopter view of the company. We were able to revisit hypotheses we made at the start of Mush and question our processes. It’s rare you have the chance to do this and it is so valuable.
We built data dashboards, honed our marketing plan, looked at the company values and could get reassurance on our tech roadmap. Having experts and mentors from Facebook and Bethnal Green Ventures available as we were doing that was a huge help, and we couldn’t have done all that without their time investment.
What criteria does the app use to ‘match’ mums? Has this mechanism evolved in the app’s lifetime?
Our app gives mums the tools to make connections with mums they like, based on the two most important criteria for a new mum: age of kids and location. If you can quickly arrange to meet a nearby mum whose kids are at the same stage, you will have a good time. Connecting around shared interests is secondary to that, but we see our superusers do that for meaningful connections.
Have you had any startups before? What went right, and wrong?
We had both had startups that we learnt from. I had an art commissioning website where you could request a painting based on a photograph. Sarah had set up and run an advertising company with a friend (now her husband!). We both thrived on the excitement of building something of our own but we realised that building something scalable from the start was key to success. Services apps are great for that. Once it is built it doesn’t require many other moving parts. It just needs users.
What’s the best advice you can offer about seeking investment?
Seeking investment is a time-consuming process and you can get knocked back often. The key thing is to spend time on your pitch deck and the way you deliver it. This includes the content: story, problem, solution, team, targets, logistics, execution. It includes layout: get a designer and invest your time in prototyping and making it appear tangible.
Finally, confidence: no one will back you if you don’t come across as an expert in your field and portray determination that you will deliver on their money.
Where do you see yourselves in five years’ time?
In five years, Mush will be the niche social networking tool for mums, just like LinkedIn is for business, Facebook is for friends and colleagues and Fishbrain is for fishermen. We will have established communities around the world and cater to every pain point a new mum encounters.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Wow, so much advice, every week. So firstly, to take advice, often! But one of those gems was to focus on the things that count and forget the things that don’t. Similarly, don’t worry about the things you can’t change. You can be pulled in so many directions with a start up and ultimately end up doing an average job of everything rather than one thing well.
Internationalisation, feature diversification, new audiences… we have lost days considering all of those things, when you just need to focus on what will get you to the next step; creating something your core audience, in your core market, will love and use every day. When you get there, you can widen the remit.
Who do you admire in business?
So many people, from the young entrepreneurs with a can-do attitude and dogged determination to the people who put their careers and money on the line later in life to start up something they really believe in.
Most of the founders of the technology companies we have all heard of fall into the former camp, but the richest man in the UK only started his business aged 46 (industrialist Jim Ratcliffe). Recently we were fortunate enough to meet Nicola Mendelsohn as she was one of the Facebook mentors in LDN_LAB. She’s someone who we were in awe of, particularly for juggling her job and her family so incredibly well. We could see the efficiency that she lives her life by – every slot of time is accounted for and has an objective.
What book would you recommend?
The Billion Dollar App by George Berkowski and Principles by Ray Dalio. Sarah gave me the former and it was fascinating as an intro to the metrics that guide all apps as well as the funding cycles we are likely to encounter. Principles is a fascinating book about management, process and values, from the founder of Bridgewater Capital.