London can be a cold and grey in more ways than in the weather. For newly returned local, Katie Massie-Taylor, being pregnant and back in what felt like a foreign city made for a lonely few months. “When I moved back to London from New York, I didn’t know anyone and I was in a very late stage of pregnancy. Mums here may see each other in passing, but it’s not easy to just walk up to another expecting mother and strike up a conversation,” she tells GrowthBusiness.
“On a rainy day, I happened to run into a mum in the playground (Sarah Hesz), and we struck up quite an awkward conversation–you end up talking mush! We realised we had kids the same age and we had a lot in common,so we became really good friends and kept each other sane.”
It was from that chance meeting that Massie-Taylor and Hesz came up with the idea for a social app for mothers, Mush. The platform lets users see other mothers in their area and connect through a “mush-matcher”, organise meet-ups, and stay in touch with their new friends.
We can offer an engaged community of mums to brands that want to build awareness and advocacy of their products.
Now, nearly a year since it’s launch, co-founder Massie-Taylor talks through the ups and downs of starting a mum’s meet-up app, and growing quickly in the app economy.
What does your business do?
Our mission is no mum does it alone, and our vision is to be the most widely used platform for mums. We’re all about building local communities for mums who have a face and personality, to facilitate real life meet-ups. Also, mums trust other mums, so word-of-mouth referrals are everything for us. It’s also why brands struggle to connect with millennial mums in particular, technology in all areas of their lives. With our product, we can offer an engaged community of mums to brands that want to build awareness and advocacy of their products. We launched the app in April 2016, and we expected slow growth in London, but Mush gained 20,000 users in the first month alone after being promoted on the App store.
How did you raise funding, and why?
After our haphazard meeting in the park about two years ago, Sarah and I brainstormed and worked out nothing like Mush existed in the market. We started looking into the competitive app landscape and found someone who can help develop it. The technology doesn’t come cheap, so we were looking for investors.
Sarah’s background is in advertising, and mine is finance, so together we cobbled together a business plan. Pregnancy is a very isolating time, so when we were looking for seed funding, we found a social impact fund that saw the idea of bringing local mums together as very attractive.
Parent-tech is a new space now, and since then there’s a been a wave of innovation, and we’re among them.
It was passion and a pitch deck got us the first round of funding. Even at that point, it was based around the context of the market. Since Sarah was in advertising, it was a strong sell for investors to know how brands were marketing to mums and how much they spend on mums. As well as that, we could show that there had been no innovation in this space. Parent-tech is a new space now, and since then there’s a been a wave of innovation, and we’re among them.
With this round of investment under our belt, we went on to make sure we had a good story to tell in time for the next round.
In the early days it was hard to separate us from a pet project. There is no doubt there were a few people who were reticent. They didn’t believe that that there was a market for this, and that’s from both men and women. The seed funding scene is great, especially with SEIS, but there’s a gap for post-seed money. If you’re quite established, you can get institutional investors interested.
We’ve just closed our second round of investment on Crowdcube, and we were phenomenally overfunded! Crowdfunding was the best option for us, and we were supported by over 650 investors – especially women and parents of young children. We raised nearly a million to start 2017 with a bang.
“Mush is built on word-of-mouth, and the early adopters who love us and talk about us to our friends.”
It was very adhoc at the beginning, with freelancers and help we were getting. But now we’ve hired a team, so we really feel like a real company. We were only about five months old when we started to have conversations with VCs but we didn’t have the data they needed to make a decision. The thing is, we could very easily be a global app. All we need is to make sure there’s a strong local community from the get-go. We have a pocket of users in Melbourne, purely due to enterprising mums out there who’ve spread the word to their friends and family.
“We went to our local MP, Zac Goldsmith who put us in touch with his brother in banking. From there, we got in touch with Mustard Seed.”
Being on a crowdfunding platform is quite a daunting experience, but it gives a lot of exposure. We’ve had a lot of brands approach us in the process. We are now going to enter a phase of hunkering down and make sure we get everything right.
Describe your business model in brief.
We’ve aways wanted Mush to be free. Every mum deserves to make friends nearby and get in touch with the community. We plan to commercialise through sponsorships. We were at the Cannes Lion last year, and the head of marketing for Johnson & Johnson was talking about how hard it is to reach millennials mums. They’re the most lucrative group for brands, and many big company have allocated a budget to help them launch baby products. We’ve worked with Johnson & Johnson to launch a product since then, and we’ve also worked with Unilever. We’ve learned a lot from these relationships. Mush is built on word-of-mouth, and the early adopters who love us and talk about us to our friends.
Mush is built on word-of-mouth, and the early adopters who love us and talk about us to our friends.
Mums trust other mums, and we can harness our community to spread the word, although brands have to pass the stringent “Mush panel” first. If it makes mums feel good, as well as being kind and ethical, it fits the bill. We’ve got 200 mums signed up to our Mush panel and their feedback is always taken into account. They’re sort of our super users, out of our 41,000 users.
What was your first big milestone and when did you cross it?
As non-technical people, having an app is a major milestone. That second round of funding felt like we’re certainly on to something. There are daily milestones, too, like when I had my laptop out at a cafe and someone saw the Mush logo and came over to talk to me about the app. This mum was so happy with the app, she was like “I don’t know what I would have done without it. I met five of my best friends through Mush.” That’s the kind of genuine feedback that makes me feel like we’re going in the right direction.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
We looked at how many free programmes there were to build an app without the technical expertise. For example, Marvel is a great platform to mock up what you want your app to look like. You can start developing it like it’s a real app, and once you get some investment – which you are going to need – that’s when you can actually build it. Make sure you have someone on your side who understands tech, or has a computer background.
Also, be open minded and pick up the phone. Not enough people use the phone anymore, but it’s such an effective way of communicating.
If you weren’t an entrepreneur, you would be…
Probably a full-time mum. I was a broker in my previous life in the City, and that’s definitely not something I’d want to go back to now.