The Business Owner: Katie Massie-Taylor and Sarah Hesz, Mush
Just two mums who met in the playground, Katie Massie-Taylor and Sarah Hesz dreamed big, and now have international attention
Founders: Katie Massie-Taylor and Sarah Hesz
Proposition: We all know that being a mum is many, many things. It’s amazing. It’s hilarious. It’s hard work. And sometimes, it’s downright lonely. But there are tonnes of mums around you right now who are in the same boat. Wouldn’t it be great if there was an easier way to meet them?
How is your business different from what’s already out there?
We founded Mush from personal experience. Loneliness and isolation is one of the least-discussed aspects of early motherhood, even though four in five women with newborn babies admit to feeling alone.
Before Mush there wasn’t any real way to find other mums in your area. Mumsnet is great, but it’s not the same as the human companionship that is so often missing in the dreaded “fourth trimester”.
We were two lonely mums who met on a cold and rainy playground – both of us with a toddler and a newborn, but no-one to keep us company. We swapped numbers – more out of desperation than anything – but as we spent more time with each other over the next few weeks, we realized how such a simple thing as having a fellow mum to hang out with can lift the loneliness of early parenthood.
It wasn’t long before we decided that we should find a way to help other mothers find new friends with similarly-aged children.
How did you finance your business?
We initially raised money £250,000 from various angel investors (only a few of whom we knew before the journey began), thanks to our passion and our pitch. One institutional seed investor was Mustard Seed Social Impact, who focusses on companies who do social good.
Once the app launched we started getting significant national media attention which resulted in very rapid growth. After just a few months we had 30,000 members in various cities such as London, New York and Melbourne. We’re just completed our latest crowdfunding campaign to raise £1m to launch nationwide.
What is the most important thing to keep track of in business and why?
Starting a business while looking after two children each is certainly an extra challenge that most entrepreneurs don’t have to deal with! But at the same time, it’s not so different from any business founder: you have to learn to manage your time and workload, and this means keeping focused on the things that really matter.
In a way, having children has helped, because it makes us focus only on the most important parts of the business – we simply don’t have time to worry about peripheral or non-essential stuff. At the same time, we don’t have time to switch off.
What is the biggest day-to-day challenge you face?
In the early days, funding was the biggest and most time-consuming challenge. We’re not coding wizards – we don’t have any technology background at all, really – so we needed help to develop the app. We could only afford that with significant investment.
The focus of our early days was developing a winning pitch that demonstrated a fierce passion in our idea and a deep understanding of our audience. Even then, it was hard going: we must have had 10 meetings for every one investor we eventually secured, all on top of our day-to-day childcare. But we did it – and we learned so much along the way.
What marketing techniques do you use to attract new customers?
Initially, it was very low-tech – we just handed out fliers and put up posters in playgrounds around the area of South West London where we live. But things really took off when the App Store featured Mush as “An app we love”, and that was down to the app itself – how it tapped in to a real desire among new mums everywhere.
Our rapid growth led to coverage in national media, from the BBC to the Daily Mail, the Sunday Times to the Guardian, and that’s been a huge help. Obviously we are developing a more formalized marketing plan to support our national growth, but the most powerful form of marketing will always be word of mouth – nothing beats endorsement from mums who have used the app to make new friends and grow their circle of companionship.
Do you think it’s important for small businesses to export, any tips?
It depends. Clearly, it’s great to expand your market to the widest possible audience, but at the same time it’s really important to develop a proof-of-concept backed up by a loyal user base – and sometimes you can only do that locally.
With an app it’s somewhat different – there are more opportunities for organic overseas expansion without many of the costs and risks associated with developing a new market. What was great for Mush is that Katie had just moved back to London from New York, so she had contacts in the US who could help with spreading the word, which is why we’ve already got a strong foothold in the US.
What’s the business app you couldn’t do without?
We have become avid users of Slack- this is how we keep in daily contact with our development team, based in the Ukraine. We couldn’t have managed the ongoing changes to the app without it. There is a ping every few minutes with updates and questions!
Otherwise, we use Marvel, a brilliant piece of software designed to show prototypes of apps before they are live; we bring it out in all investor meetings and it is a great way to showcase product before it’s built! Citymapper is also key, we have so many meetings all over London on a daily basis and it helps us plan our days.
Describe your company’s culture in three words:
We are friendly, progressive and understanding. All of our hires have been parents of small children and we intend to champion flexible work and making it work for our employees. If we, as an app for parents don’t, who will?!
What would you like the government to do for small business?
There are a million and one things that the government could do for small businesses if the cash and commitment were there, but the one thing that would truly benefit entrepreneurs in this country is an investment in technology skills.
We’ve made some progress, with coding becoming a core subject at school, but if the UK is to remain competitive on the world stage, we need to give our future entrepreneurs the skills they need to succeed. Certainly, starting Mush would have been much easier had we had good digital skills.
Who’s your biggest small and medium enterprise hero?
Martha Lane Fox – for her vision, her commitment, and how she’s fought through adversity to achieve her success.
Where do you want the business to be in three years?
Our ambitions for Mush are directly linked with our mission – to end loneliness for new mums. So while we want to become the national companionship network for mums, we also want there to be many, many fewer mothers out there suffering from isolation.
What’s your top tip for keeping it lean and making profit?
Focus on the essentials; keep clear goals and focus on achieving them. Dream big, but understand what you need to do to get to the next stage of your business’s development