Without a doubt, becoming a mum is the loneliest thing I’ve ever done.
As many others do I gave up a thriving career – I led a marketing team for a big media company – to spend time at home with my baby. A baby who cried at everything, never slept more than two hours straight and near enough chewed my nipples off, natch.
I was the first person I knew to have a baby so felt very much on my own with the whole thing. I missed my old life and felt sad that my friends were getting on with theirs as if nothing had happened, and I resented the fact I was expected to sit in draughty church halls and make friends with other mums over stale biscuits. Newsflash: just because you’ve expelled a human being from your body doesn’t automatically mean you’re going to want to bond with every other woman who’s done the same.
Which is where Mush comes in. Mush is a free app for mums to meet like-minded women in the same geographical area. It’s absolute genius: I’d be screwed if I didn’t have Tinder or Bumble to meet men so why not apply the same logic to mum friends? I was lucky enough to eventually meet my bestie on Twitter when Elfie was a toddler, and had I an app like Mush back then I think my social life would have been revolutionised.
I wanted to find out more about the forces behind Mush, Sarah and Katie, who met by chance on a London playground. Read on as they share their thoughts on launching a start-up business, the ongoing work/life juggle and how to create an app when you’re not all that techy…
Hello, Sarah and Katie! Can you tell me a bit about you and your work backgrounds, please?
Sarah: I’m Sarah, I live in South West London with my husband and two kids Rosie, 4 and Leo, 2. Before Mush, I worked in advertising for 10 years working on lots of different amazing projects, with a stint living in Boston.
Katie: I was a derivatives broker on a City trading floor. I did Spanish at university but now find myself living half a mile from Sarah’s house, and not on a South American peninsula as per the plan. I am married with 2 little girls, Tilly, 4 and Lyla, 2.
What was the ‘trigger’ that led to you starting Mush? Have you always wanted to launch your own business?
Katie: Sarah & I met on a rainy day in a London playground with tiny babies and she chatted me up. Frankly, we were both desperate for someone to spend the day with, and all our real friends were at work, or miles away! Thank God she did, fast forward a few months and we had kept each other sane in the early days of 2 under 2 each. It occurred to us that lots of mums also feel lonely (80% to be exact!) and everyone needs an easy way to find other mums nearby who know what you are going through (crucially having kids the same age). We started researching it, and NCT or random playground/ playgroup meetings were the only options. Time for a mum meet-up app.
As for harbouring ambitions to have our own business… We definitely had an itch to scratch, and it’s amazing how kids can give a new perspective on things. Maternity leave can be a good excuse to detach from your career and think up something new.
I imagine it takes a lot of knowledge as well as passion to launch an app. How does one go about even starting this? Did you have the input of developers and investors?
Katie: We knew the solution would be an app- what with the geo-location malarkey that mobile phones are capable of. We also knew that existing tools were 15 year-old websites, so we had to break through the fusty dusty user experience of those. But we had absolutely no idea about how to build an app and we quickly understood that they didn’t come cheap.
We did a local beta website asking mums if they wanted to meet others with kids the same age, and had 300 local mums sign up in 2 weeks. That gave us the proof we needed for a pitch deck, which we touted to over 50 potential investors in the space of 6 months to eventually land on a group of people who shared our vision. We started building the app with a developer team in Kiev (who had come recommended) shortly after. Launching the app a year ago was only the start of Mush in the public domain, but it had already been an 18-month journey already to get there. And yes, it required a lot of passion, a lot of energy and a lot of learning.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Katie: We have an office in Battersea (our latest investment round in December 2016 allowed us to hire a team!) We get here by 9, after what feels like an entire day already with the kids, and we try to get back to them for 6pm. At Mush, we have a varied day of product meetings and commercial meetings with the odd delightful occasion to reflect on it all with an interview like this!
We have a lot going on at Mush, with partnerships launching, US growth, an Australian team, a book deal, and some great new functionality on the app. It is really exciting.
Who else inspires you in the world of business?
Katie: My Dad is a pretty amazing guy. He works with Entrepreneurs and is incredibly helpful. He is also an Accountant and takes charge of all of our serious stuff, for which we are eternally grateful.
Sarah: All the mums that are doing amazing things in the world of work whilst spending any ‘down time’ frantically Googling Paw Patrol Birthday Cakes that will inevitably be made at 10pm the night before.
What one piece of advice would you give to someone thinking of starting their own business?
Katie: My one bit of advice is would be to test the concept as much as possible before you take the plunge, but to take the plunge if your eyes light up when you talk about it.
Sarah: I wish I hadn’t wasted so much time assuming I was the least qualified person in the room. What I now know is that everyone is winging it 90% of the time. Once you realise that we’re all mostly making it up as we go along then it is much easier to do things you never thought you could.
What’s been the biggest surprise to you in the process of starting Mush?
Katie: The surprise has been how well mums have received this, and how long mums had spent relying on serendipitous intros previously. For the first 9 months, we couldn’t believe we were the only people doing it.
What’s your favourite part of running your own business?
Katie: Not having to answer to anyone apart from Sarah! On the whole, being able to make decisions about how and when and why to do things. It turns out I’m not so patient when it comes to taking instruction from others… I sincerely apologise to my old bosses.
Sarah: That it never really feels like a job.
And the least favourite?
Katie: Never switching off. I check emails until last thing at night and within 5 minutes of waking up in the morning. Mush is our responsibility, and the service we provide for mums lands squarely in our hands. It’s wonderful, but there’s not much time for anything else!
Sarah: The flip side of it never feeling like a job is, as Katie says, all consuming. I spend way too much time looking at my phone when I should be focusing on my children.
What’s next in 2017 for Mush?
We celebrated our 1st birthday last week and have some announcements to make in early May. But we plan on being the go-to app for parents and all of their social needs, around the world. So we are busy. Watch this space!
You can download Mush for free – it’s on Apple and Android. Go here to find out how.