A dating app for mums
For Katie, the germination of Mush was deeply personal. She had given up a high-flying career in the City, with all the recognition and salary that went with it, to look after two small children. It was lonely and tiring.
How it started
In a rainy playground in West London, with a toddler and a young baby in tow, she met Sarah Hesz, who was in the same boat, bored and isolated, stripped of a corporate career (in advertising) and immersed in the unending and capricious demands of small children.
They swapped numbers and made a plan to meet up the next day. From then on, they “did all the things we’d normally do alone, together”. They realised they’d hit on something big: new mothers needed to connect and there were better places than a rainy playground to do it.
The problems of loneliness can be profound. Research suggests that more than 90% of mothers feel lonely since having children and more than half feel friendless. It can cause mental health problems and impair a mother’s ability to parent effectively.
Massie-Taylor says “When babies are small, there is no obvious place to go. Mums tend to stay in the house for long periods of the day and this social isolation is a key driver for poor mental health. It’s why many mothers suddenly feel floored. In this day and age, we live apart from our families, our job makes up a key part of our identity and we often don’t know the ‘weekday life’ of our neighbourhoods. The change to becoming a full-time new mum is all-consuming”.
Katie and Sarah put their heads together to address the problem. Mush - named after “what mums’ brains sometimes feel like, what babies eat and an old slang term for friend” - started as a kind of dating app for mums, allowing them to connect with people in their local community, meet up, organise get-togethers. They spent their early years building an audience, getting critical mass in specific areas so people could meet and make friends.
How it’s going
It proved particularly important during the pandemic. Mush has extended its offering, with a new ‘Your Companion to Motherhood podcast’, now in its 21st episode. The pair has tackled everything from miscarriage to sibling rivalry. They have written blogs about some of the important mental health challenges facing mothers in lockdown. Earlier this year they forged a partnership with Roleshare, highlighting companies with job-sharing opportunities.
The early years took a lot of hustle. Both were raising small children, childcare was ad hoc. Katie was doing what she could during nap time or in the evenings. Building the app was the easy bit – there were plenty of people with the right know-how – it was raising capital and selling the concept that was the tough bit.
They managed to raise £250,000 from a blend of angels, private investors and the VC Mustard Seed Impact. Katie said it never felt like work, they were constantly busy, flying around London to investor meetings, developing the product, building relationships, at the same time as trying to get ahead on what mums wanted as well as what would satisfy the next set of investors. “We were ruthlessly efficient in the early days to juggle it all without a team.”
Eventually, after some time working out of a coffee shop, they started to get real traction. It became self-reinforcing. They built an army of supporters who would do their marketing for them.
The group has raised money incrementally since inception. First, it raised £1m through Crowdcube in December 2016, which helped it look at Facebook advertising, then another £2m from a group led by Octopus Ventures in 2018, which enabled it to increase its staff count. Mush has also built a number of commercial partnerships, including one with the NHS that will lead midwives, health visitors and GPs to recommend Mush to mums in their care. The value of strong partnerships and word of mouth played a huge part in the growth of Mush.
Mush now has hundreds of thousands of users across the UK and Australia. At the start of the pandemic, its 600,000th user signed up. It says three million friendships have been formed through the app. The priority from here is profitability. The investment world has become more cautious, says Katie. “It is no longer enough to build a huge, engaged network and keep pushing monetisation back. Investors want to see profitability.” The group was taken over by Mumsnet in September of this year. At the time, Mumsnet founder Justine Roberts said she planned to introduce Mush to its network of more than a million pregnant women who visit the site each month, adding: “Mumsnet has always been about making parents’lives easier by allowing them to connect and share support, wisdom and friendship and the Mush app is bang in line with that purpose.”
Both groups recognise the unique needs of mothers. The pandemic has brought a raft of additional challenges and exaggerated many of the difficulties of new motherhood. The service Mush provides is more important than ever.
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