This interview series features inspiring female entrepreneurs who have launched and run successful businesses. Through our peers’ experiences, we can learn practical lessons and insights to empower us on our entrepreneurial paths. Crucially, storytelling de-risks entrepreneurship so we believe it is an essential pillar in closing the opportunity gap for female founders.
Hannah Hardy-Jones on…
- How her postnatal mental health journey led her to leaving her corporate career to help others
- The step by step process of building an award winning app
- Why the criteria for funding needs to change for women in business
Hello Hannah! Tell us a bit about you.
Hello – I’m Hannah, founder of the Kite Program, a practical wellbeing app for mothers (the world’s first). I live in Christchurch, New Zealand with my husband and two children (5 and 2).
My professional background is in Human Resources, and I have spent the last 14 years specialising in leadership development and coaching across a range of industries including publishing and health. I left my career mid last year to focus primarily on Kite, which felt like a huge leap of faith at the time.
When I had my first baby in 2013 I suffered from some serious mental health issues. This was completely out of the blue, having never suffered from any form of mental illness, and was extremely traumatic for the whole family because I was so acutely unwell. This experience and my journey to wellness was a huge driver for me wanting to give back and create a resource for others. Going through something so challenging absolutely changes your perspective of what is important.
As well as my app business I also dedicate some of my time as maternal mental health advocate- writing, blogging and speaking at events. I also write articles on a range of topics including motherhood, business and wellbeing. And of course there is also juggling life with two little children!
Tell us about your business, The Kite Program.
Kite is a personal development program which is broken down into daily bite sized practical activities- and delivered by a beautiful app. The program is completely user led and is centred around 14 mini programs (called Kites) based on the typical challenges mums face. Kite is aimed at all mothers at all stages. These include mum guilt, stress, confidence, juggling life and reconnecting with your partner.
The app is designed to look like a beautiful book and is full of thoughtful imagery. It was important that Kite didn’t look like a typical app, or function like a typical app either! Before it had launched Kite won an international design award for best visual design of a mobile app which was incredible as it was based purely on screenshots.
The Kite Instagram community is growing rapidly and the goal is for it to be an inspiring and supportive community for women that isn’t based around posts and images of children and parenting. Kite is dedicated to looking after the mother as an individual rather than focusing on the motherhood role itself.
We are also in the process of developing Kite into a corporate wellbeing and coaching solution, a project that will also be launched globally.
What was the moment that everything changed for you? Describe that moment when you decided to fully commit to your idea and the first few steps you took to make it possible.
I was introduced to a woman at an event who was training to be a life coach who was fascinated when I told her how much I loved my career. But when I got home that evening it felt like something had been sparked and I started questioning whether this was how I wanted to spend my future.
I spent the next three days writing notes and brainstorming any chance I could get- with a loose idea that I wanted to create something for mothers with an HR slant. By doing this I realised I wanted to create a program for mothers based on the everyday issues they had. I set about creating a survey aimed at mothers of all stages, to explore the issues they were facing, and this survey group quickly grew to almost 500 women. From this feedback a mobile app became the most obvious way to deliver this program and the app development journey began.
What were the initial challenges you came up across and how did you overcome them?
The first step was finding a developer. This proved to be difficult as the options were either suited to large corporations with extremely big budgets, or were very small boutique agencies. I eventually settled on Appster- a multimillion development firm in Melbourne, who specialised in start up ventures. This was invaluable to me at the beginning as they had a wealth of knowledge on the global app market, marketing strategies and investment- as well as the straight development skills. Unfortunately two weeks before Kite was due to launch, Appster went into liquidation. It was such a huge blow so close to launch, and there was a big cost to us financially and it delayed the project significantly. The work was transferred to a team in Dubai, which in itself was challenging simply with the time difference to New Zealand. Throughout this time I had to focus on the WHY, and keep the end goal in sight.
One of the other challenges was funding. I was really surprised (naively) at how costly it was to build an app, and the initial quotes almost put me off. I also learnt the very daunting statistic that only 0.05% of apps make a profit at all. However my dream for the product and the potential impact it could have for so many women was a huge driver, and so we decided to fund the entire project ourselves.
What was the first win that made you feel you were onto something?
Winning the Davey Award for best visual design of an app was a huge confidence boost around the aesthetic of Kite- which is so pivotal to the concept. However even more significant was the reaction of mums when I told them about Kite, or when I shared it on social media. There was such an overwhelming positivity about the concept and the need for a resource like this.
When Kite launched it received a lot of media attention- because of my mental health journey but also because of the uniqueness of the program and the fact there isn’t anything like Kite on a global scale. I realised then that the path ahead was looking truly promising.
Did you take the investment route for your business or are you self-funded? Can you share some insights on your decision and the process?
Kite is self funded. It’s very difficult to get investment for a product still in the planning stage (especially as a woman which is a sad fact). As I mentioned only 0.05% of apps are financially viable so they are a hard pitch for investment! I also had such a crystal clear idea and direction for Kite that sharing that with someone else was not a viable option for me at that point.
What has been your best investment?
I hired a PR firm for the launch and whilst it potentially wasn’t the best ROI (a lot of it I could have done myself) it did give me a huge amount of confidence and techniques to use- as well as helping me become very clear on my story. The PR launch resulted in me being on the front page of our national newspaper, a prime time TV appearance, multiple magazine features and I also guest co hosted a radio show. This publicity then made it much easier for me to take over the PR for Kite.
I also hired a fabulous creative designer who not only created the brand guidelines, but she also built my website and photographed many of the images within the app itself. Its so key to find someone who truly understands the brief and the direction and has the same aesthetic tastes as you.
Have you made any mistakes or faux pas? If so, can you share with us?
I’ve made more than a few! I made a number of decisions based on how I wanted the users to feel which in hindsight were not the best commercial decisions! I tend to go with my heart over my head so that is a work in progress.
What’s been the greatest lesson you’ve learnt since starting your own business?
Self care becomes even more important when you start a business as it can be all consuming. You need ways to be able to switch your mind off. I also make sure I write down ideas just before I go to bed so I have a clear (ish) mind for sleep.
Have you had any role models or mentors along the way?
When I first started Kite I connected with another female app founder who had been on a similar journey- we are quite rare species! She is much further along her business journey and has a community of over 50,000 women so she has been invaluable support for me.
I am also part of a Female Founders group here in Christchurch and we meet regularly. It’s so wonderful to be surrounded by women who are doing incredible things and I always come away from those meet ups feeling inspired and motivated.
What’s your experience of being a woman in the start-up ecosystem and what in your mind needs to change?
Women are hugely underrepresented in the start up space- there are many reasons for this but it is widely acknowledged that only 2% of female founders receive investment. The criteria for funding is often that you give full time commitment- whereas many women need flexible hours for their families. This view needs to change.
I would also love to see more collaboration between women as we are so much stronger together. Sadly there are still many situations of competition and judgement rather than building each other up.
What can we do to support your business?
By spreading the word about Kite to any mums you know! We are also soon launching a Kite corporate wellbeing offering and a separate suite of resources to support parents in the workplace so if you know any organisations wanting to improve the wellbeing of their people in a very practical and tailored way then keep Kite in mind!
What books, podcasts or resources would you recommend? (Please include hyperlinks)
At the start of my Kite journey I read Traction this is a great resource for anyone with a startup!
For a podcast recommendation I love How I Built this
What advice would you give anyone about to start a business?
Validate your idea. Talk to as many people as possible about your idea and make sure it is the answer to a real life problem. Focus groups, surveys and as much market research as possible.
How can readers get in touch with you?
Thank you Hannah! – Lara
Hannah has shared her postpartum bipolar journey in her blog which you can find here – www.thekiteprogram.com/blog
About the Author
Lara Sheldrake is an entrepreneur and co-founder at Found & Flourish. Lara writes and speaks on the topics of entrepreneurship, motherhood and social media for business. She also hosts the Bossing It podcast, aimed at empowering the next generation of female founders in the UK. Send Lara an email.
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