What do Peanut and Pankhuri have in common?
Lots of things, as it so happens. Both are startups. Both have a natural connection. Pankhuri means a petal in Hindi.
Both were founded by women. Peanut is based in London, while Bengaluru is home for Pankhuri. Both startups work on a fundamental principle—women need specific, and safe, spaces to discuss, deliberate, and purchase things that are important for them.
Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, Peanut raised $12 million in Series A funding from financers like EQT Ventures, Index Ventures, and the Female Founders Fund, while Pankhuri picked up $3.2 million as part of Sequoia Capital’s India accelerator programme, Surge.
They are not the only ones. Around the world, and in India, numerous groups and communities are being created to cater to specific groups of women, and then sell them the things they need, easily, and without any questions asked.
Peanut, for instance, started with the idea of creating a social network that connected women who had newly become mothers with one another, and has swiftly become a home for all things related to motherhood, used by around 1.6 million women users. Pankhuri is dedicated to the idea that women not only want the easiest way to buy but also, they need a 24/7, easy-to-access guide for all things related to beauty, wellness, and fitness. It is replete with simple but spunky videos, teaching as well as selling to women—especially those who might have some hesitancy in accessing information and buying online. It has around 250,000 users, a majority of whom have bought goods and services on its mobile app.
This is a relatively less discussed aspect of a new kind of market being opened by tech. Despite all the empowerment movement for women around the world over the years, the coming of digital technology, especially social media, has been both a boon and bane for women. While access has certainly grown, so has patriarchal lash-backs, control, and perhaps even more, severe online hate and bullying.
The need for safe spaces for women to express themselves—intellectually and financially—has grown exponentially.
Entrepreneurs have responded by creating communities for women where there was no bullying or hate, and a high level of empathy and guidance. From India, another example is Sheroes (a play on ‘heroes’) which pitches prominently the idea of a safe place for women, and has, according to Crunchbase data, raised $2.6 million in funding.
The rise of such communities tells us a lot of where some of the most interesting work on the Internet is likely to be. They are also a vivid depiction of the continuing inequity faced by women—even those elite enough via education and social background to be using smartphones and Internet apps—every day.
Such communities where women can function without judgement or gaslighting and apply their cultural and financial choices is an empowering aspect of the Internet—though their persistent and growing need must pause us to reflect on male behaviour online.
One of the most interesting upcoming products I have heard of is Salt, a for-women financial network to address, specifically, their financial needs in India. The idea came from the realisation that data showed even working women often do not feel in control of their finances.
The most exciting thing about such products and services, and communities, is that increasingly there is funding available for them, and a recognition that such communities could deepen the engagement of women with the internet, and through the Internet with many other vital aspects of their personal growth and freedom.
The internet and its tools, including social media, have been mostly driven by men, reflecting a male gaze, and a masculine (sometimes toxic) culture and agenda. For the Internet revolution to have a deeper impact, there is an urgent need to change this and bring in much needed feminine perspective and products to this world.
This is truly a revolution worth having.
Views are personal. The writer is a historian, a multiple award-winning author, and a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader.